It is ironic that the very word that relates to the act of concealing something or making it more difficult to understand is one that not many people have heard of: obfuscation. To obfuscate – as defined by Wikipedia– is obscuring the intended meaning of communication by making the message difficult to understand, usually with confusing and ambiguous language.
This happens all over the place. The medical profession has a tendency to speak in medical jargon that can often prevent patients from understanding what is happening to their own bodies. Lawyers speak in ‘legalese’. Academia deals with highbrow concepts in highbrow ways that only academics understand. Or pretend to. I’m not even going to mention Brexit.
FOUNDATION FOR CHANGE
At Foundation for Change, we work with individuals with histories of addiction – which we see as a rational response to trauma and not a disease – and use education in psychology, philosophy and feminist theory combined with the sharing of individual experiences to bring theory to life. We teach sophisticated concepts in a way that is accessible, stimulating and engaging – what is the purpose of knowledge if it isn’t something that can be lived and breathed? Knowledge is only power if it is understood!
The world of yoga is particularly prone to obfuscation. Concepts are often defined within the context of Sanskrit terms. Scriptures and proverbs are freely quoted, dating from a time and a cultural context that is alien to most people in the West. One that I frequently see quoted is – and I’m deliberately notquoting the Sanskrit here – “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. Personally, I see this as something that sets ourselves up against our own minds, implying that we should be all heart and no head. It creates conflict within ourselves when we go to yet another yoga class and fail yet again to have achieved the state of bliss and tranquillity that we’re apparently supposed to be experiencing.
Our approach at Foundation for Change is different. We teach individuals to develop healthier, more integrated relationships with themselves by gently encouraging people to encounter themselves through the theory they learn and through the perspective of others in their groups, both of which lead to the building of self-esteem and self-compassion. We understand that a lot of our emotional pain is self-created but know that it’s not enough to simply quieten the thoughts or ‘choose’ not to buy into them. People need to understand where the thoughts are coming from, why they have the beliefs about themselves that they do, and understand that actual change is possible. As an example, I teach a day on developing a healthy relationship to anxiety – we look at what it is, what causes it (from death, to the responsibility of living and everything in between) and teach those we work with to tune into it, learn to identify what it’s about and respond in a healthy way. It is a signal to listen to rather than rather than a feeling to numb through medication, drugs, alcohol or any number of activities intended to distract.
BRINGING THIS INTO YOGA
What does this have to do with yoga? Everything. Instead of trying to shut down or destroy the ‘noise’ of the mind, I encourage people to listen to it as a way of developing self-understanding. Yoga can be a profound way to learn about your life and how you live it within the confines of a yoga mat. It is a safe space to practice tuning into the thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise as you go through a sequence of poses: frustrations, impatience, resentment… and over time, learning how to respond to yourself in healthier, more compassionate ways. Remember that these are part of a whole spectrum of emotions however – it is just as much about tuning into the bits that feel great when they’re stretched, the joy that can arise from simply taking a deep breath. Learn to be in the world by learning how to be on your mat.