Learning Yourself Through Yoga

My long-time yoga teacher, Bill Hunt, taught me so many things that I’ve remembered and that have helped me, not just in yoga, but in life.  A lesson that has had a big impact on me related to paying attention to how you practice yoga and learning about yourself as you do it.

Each major category of postures relates to a stance you take in life or a way you deal with life.  If you pay attention to which postures are hard for you to do, which postures are easy to do, which you don’t like, which you love you can see a lot about how you are in the world.

Forward bends relate to inwardness or being introverted.  If forward bends are hard for you to do or you don’t like them (regardless of whether they seem easy or hard)  there’s a good chance that you have trouble looking inward or delving deep into your psyche or that you’re extroverted.  If you easily do forward bends or favor doing them you’re probably introverted or inclined to look inward.

Back bends relate to openness or letting yourself be out there and/or seen in the world.  If you struggle to do them or just don’t like them you probably have a hard time putting yourself out there or tend to be introverted.  If you love them and do them easily it’s likely that you’re extroverted and/or have no trouble being out in front of people.

Strength postures literally relate to strength.  If they’re hard for you to do that says something about whether you show strength in life or a firm ability to hold your place.  If they’re easy and you like to do them you probably face the world from a place of strength.  If your muscles are so strong that you are held rigid there’s a good chance that you have issues of rigidity or inflexibility in life as well.

Balance postures (mainly the standing balances) reflect something about whether your life is balanced–emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually.  A flexible spine reflects your ability to be flexible in life and a spine that doesn’t move well reflects rigidity or inability to bend.

Way back when I took yoga classes from him (1986-1991) I quickly realized back bends were a major issue for me.  I could barely get an inch off the floor in, say, cobra pose and since I was about as introverted as could be and virtually incapable of speaking in public I could see how my inability to bend backwards reflected the state of my being.

I began to work at back bend postures — slowly and lazily.  Over the course of some years my ability to do them improved (still an upward curve for me).  When they’d gotten to be pretty good I looked at my life and realized I’d been taking on leadership roles and teaching and feeling at ease in front of people for a while.  I worked on lots of other stuff over those years so I can’t claim it was only the change in my ability to do back bends but I think it played a big part.  Or perhaps the decision to work on a certain kind of postures reflects some internal decision to make a change.

Strength postures weren’t easy for  me either and, although I could do them, I really didn’t like them.  For some reason that didn’t bother me as much as the back bend issue so it’s just been in the last six or seven years that I’ve really worked at developing my ability to do postures like chair pose or my ability to hold downward dog for 50 breaths.  The results are more subtle, but I can feel myself holding a stronger inward space, holding my own center with strength.

I find it fun and interesting to check in periodically to see where I am in my practice and what it’s telling me about my life.  Check it out, you might learn something new about yourself or help yourself make a change by focusing on postures that support the direction in which you want to go.

See also:

Yoga and the Story of Balance


15 thoughts on “Learning Yourself Through Yoga

  1. I don’t have much experience with yoga, but of the poses I’ve tried the one I struggled with the most is downward dog. I can never feel comfortable in this pose, what do you think this could mean? By the ways I really liked this post, I’ve reblogged it. I blog about self-discovery through creative means and I’d say this is definitely a creative mean for self-discovery.

    • Downward dog is one of those poses that addresses so many things there could be many explanations. For the arms it’s quite a strength posture so it may be saying something about strength. It’s also inverted (which I left out of the post) and some people have trouble with inverted poses because they don’t like being upside down — which can reflect a dislike of big changes (“turning things upside down”). Those seem the two likeliest areas to explore. Hope you find something good from the discovery process.

  2. Great post! I practice yoga for about 13 years and it’s balancing my body, mind and soul, but when I got my menopauze, my whole body was completely out of balance for 2 years. My body became rigid, painfull and out of balance, but now I finally begin to find peace inside myself and my body is flexible and balanced again. Yoga is great!

  3. I agree most people are drawn more to some asana than others, and have their favourite poses and pet hates. There is also the purely physical aspect. I’d love to relax into a forward bend (in fact I once dreamed about lying blissfully down along my legs in Paschimottanasana!) but with lopsided hip joints, a compacted lumbar spine and a touch of scoliosis, it’s not going to happen regardless of my personality/svadhyaya. Yes, I can keep patiently working away with my short hamstrings and I will go further forward than I currently can – but I’ll always reach an anatomical limit long before the full classical version of the pose. I’m just grateful that my quarter century of yoga practice seems to keep me mobile and pain-free, even if I can’t go far in either forward or backward bends!

Please add your thoughts; love a good discussion!

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