In honor of this Fourth of July, I decided to start with a quote of lyrics from a popular tune of the 1990s. The group who sang it (En Vogue) received a lot of radio air play, and I appreciated the single’s catchy hook and its anti-discrimination message. The line, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow” lends itself not only to encouraging acceptance; it also reflects, albeit unintentionally, the aim of yoga and other spiritual practices.

Around the time of this song’s popularity, I was transitioning from the world of dance to the world of Pilates and soon thereafter, yoga. I was becoming familiar with and adept at movement and bodywork that served to unlock psychological and emotional obstacles and defenses. Often, I would write or draw unbidden words and images that arose from the shaking loose of such blocks.

A particular drawing from that time often reprises itself in my mind. When it does, I may feel some sadness for the younger me who felt what the image depicted; more often, however, I feel grateful that I have, throughout the ensuing years, learned myriad means to assuage and resolve inner pain and conflict.

The colored-pencil line drawing revealed an exquisite female form with a somewhat alien-like, yet seductive visage: This creature (me) floated mermaid-like, with a small Mona Lisa smile, within a trapezoidal casket. Around her (my) neck was a thick chain of links that held her potential captive.

Cut to 10 or 15 years earlier. As a teenager, I was fraught with the self-doubt that typifies adolescence. In my attempt to seem self-contained and physically self-accepting, I somehow stymied the free flow of energy within my mind and body. Apparently, this rigidity had become visible to outside observers. One day, walking our family dog through some neighboring streets, I noticed a group of “tough,” slightly older teens, a bit ahead on the other side of the street. I turned on whatever switch I had come to believe would radiate my self-control and detachment. As I walked by, one of the young men shouted, “It’s okay to breathe…!”

I recount these memories, as I imagine that everyone can recall some image or scene that, if not immediately, eventually revealed itself to be a harbinger of future challenges. And for me, these previous reflections of self-imprisonment speak to how one can create their own physical, mental, and emotional traps over time. Even if one is financially independent; comfortable being alone; and self-sufficient during challenges, freedom remains elusive if one is bound to societal demands, self-limiting thoughts, and narrow, exclusionary perspectives.

So, in order to establish independence from confinements born during our stay in the material realm, we need to release the accrued binds that show up in the form of muscular tension, habitual thought and movement, and hampered breathing. Part Two will provide a routine that I have created with special attention to the hips/low back and neck/shoulders: These anatomical areas correspond to the Second and Fifth Chakras, which are associated with the abilities to create and express, respectively.

Next time: Practice to Free Your Mind…and Body

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