Yoga: Learning the Language of Our Bodies

As a yoga teacher, I consider myself a linguist. I study the language of the body through the practice of yoga. I believe we are already fluent in our body's language but can lose touch with it, so it is crucial that we have practices in place that allow us to hear that subtle yet powerful language.

To relearn the language of our bodies is to recess from a cerebral space of analysis and reason to a more present, quiet space that extends into our deeper layers.

As we become adults and live more in our minds, we accumulate thought patterns, stories and experiences which have the potential to cover our true nature, our raw and essential materials. Yoga has given me the gift of shedding the build up to reveal those poetic, creative qualities I have held all along.

And how do we relearn the language of our bodies? How do we find that thread which weaves together the fabric of this language? How do we begin to understand those deeper layers of being?

We can start by actively listening and knowing that this practice of listening takes time, just as learning any language takes time and practice. Susan Stewart says, “Hearing is how we touch at a distance.” So if it feels like our deeper layers of knowledge are too far to touch at first, hearing is the answer.

Actively listening to the language our body speaks - through sensation, breath and movement - is how we can start to access those greater, more profound points of connection with self. When we first learn a language, we start by using those textbook phrases, those beginner words and subjects. Eventually, with more listening, speaking and practice in general, we get to have those deeper conversations with people. 

In yoga, it's the same. With consistent practice we create a deeper connection with self. Each time we get on our mat, we have a conversation with our body. Some conversations can seem the same. This side is tighter. Why can’t I get into this pose? But again, those are cerebral. If we drop into a bodily conversation, the dialogue feels newer, fresher, more authentic. We become curious about our underlying experience. We can still question but the questions become more about exploration rather than needing to know the answer; more about the journey than the destination.

And this is why we call it a practice. Not every day feels inspiring or fluid. Whether we are beginners or advanced practitioners, we still experience days when it is hard to articulate ourselves. Days when we just can’t find the words. Days when we just can’t seem to enter the flow state and transitions feel choppy or our minds take over and we constantly lose the awareness of our breath and the present moment. Some days we become more cerebral and start to think about to-do lists or fall into zones of judgment, doubt or frustration with our practice: all of those things that are too easy to name.

But the more we practice and actively listen to everything that is occuring in our immediate experience on a bodily level, the more we experience those articulate moments; we find true states of flow. In this state, our bodies know where to go next rather than our minds, and we are just along for the ride, enjoying those smooth and uninterrupted rhythms. We discover uninhibited self-expression. The poignancy of our body’s language feels like remarkable magic. The eloquence and elegance with which our body transitions into and holds poses is inspiring in the way a gorgeous poem lifts us right past the borders of our skin.

The conversation is graceful in this state because we are tuning into the space within us with active ears. We soak up the millions of sensations coursing through us and we talk back with breath. And then we continue this conversation between sensation and breath. The conversation gets juicy because we are completely and utterly present. We are able to - if even for just a few moments - leave the constricting mental space and enter the expansive bodily space.

In a world that relies on labeling, analyzing and reasoning, it can be hard to express physical sensations that we cannot name or that whispering voice of guidance within us. This is why a home practice is so valuable. It allows us the time and space to have more moments like this. It allows us the space to hear what we can’t name. More importantly, it gives us the space to trust those things we cannot name.

Yoga teaches us how to trust that guidance. It teaches us how to recognize those powerful voices that point us in the right direction, even if we can’t name or describe them. Yoga teaches us the language of our bodies so that we may begin to more fluently converse with what is happening in those deeper channels of our being. This practice helps us come into alignment by putting us in contact with the self - that one who carries the luscious knowing of our own creativity, artistry, joy and love: our potential.

We start by aligning the physical body. We write our sequences and frequently reference them the way we would reference a dictionary. We break down the posture by physical principles and alignment cues, the way we would break down and conjugate a verb in a language. We get reaquanited with our body, with this complex system of communication. With more time and practice, we start to align naturally without having to look at our notes or make too many adjustments. We start to look less and less at our written sequence because our bodies begin to move more on their own, transitioning smoothly from pose to pose. We then align our everyday, Earthly self with our higher, divine, celestial self.

Whether we are having an on or off day on our mat, it is always our responsibility to listen. The guiding voice is there no matter what. Some days she is just harder to hear. This is why we stick with the practice and remember why it is called a practice. It is why we continually show up with the intention to listen and keep learning the langauge. Yoga is the devotion to what Ann Hamilton calls embodied knowledge, the movement from thought quality into felt quality. We travel into a place where we trust ourselves. Listening lets us ride into the frighteningly beautiful and vast space of all the things we cannot name. To me, this is the most exquisite language.