When founder of humanistic psychology and person-centered therapy, Carl Rogers, said that “all experience is valid,” he hit the nail right on the head when it comes to the definition of yoga. When hearing the expression, “hit the nail right on the head”, an image may appear of a hammer hitting a nail, square-on, and driving it further into a surface. This image may then be formed into words which may then create more clarity around some basic understanding of the idea. In this case, it means that when Carl Roger’s said that “all experience is valid,” he really captured the meaning of yoga, which means “union.”
In the early 1980‘s, Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT), recognized how these two ideas could merge to create a therapeutic healing modality that could help people feel more wholeness and therefore, a greater sense of purpose in their lives. When certain parts of personal experience are dismissed as in-valid, less connections are drawn between all the different aspects of life and may create a sense of fragmentation and meaninglessness.. Like a connect-the-dots without the lines, visions of life can become random and vague, with no real sense of clarity.
In Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, all experience is valid, and images can paint a clearer picture about self in relationship to life. During a class, private session, or group experience, an image can show up in a variety of different ways such as through colors, memories, future insights, analogies or metaphors, or residual images leftover from the day. Similar to the process of interpreting a dream, generating curiosity around images can serve as a gateway to discovering deeper insights about who you are, how you live your life, and what things may need to change in order to live in closer approximation to your own personal truths. A PRYT facilitator may say something to the extent of, “consider that how you are on your mat, is also how you are in your life.” Acknowledging validity within all awarenesses on the mat, may serve as a segue into working with these awarenesses in everyday life.
The following imagery experience came to me during a Phoenix Rising Yoga class in the form of an analogy. To clarify, in a Phoenix Rising Yoga class, experience is kept internal, whereas in a group or private session. the option is given to speak out loud about what’s happening from moment to moment. I experienced the following imagery in a class setting, internally, and was then able to write about my experience afterwards during an optional journaling time. Every PRYT yoga class starts with a guided centering and ends with a guided integration and includes a series of poses and thematic language in-between. This is a glimpse of how my experience unfolded along the way:
Facilitator: “In the same way that you notice what’s standing out about your physical body, also notice the not-so-standing out parts. The parts that seem a little more quiet, or more subtle in some way, however that shows up, or doesn’t show up for you right now.”
On this particular morning, this showed up as a sense of a void in the area of my chest that I couldn’t quite figure out. It was an uneasy sense that something inside of me was non-expressive, closed-off, senseless, and empty.
Facilitator: “If you could internally describe your experience, what words might you use?”
I kept trying to inwardly find the words to describe it when instead, I surrendered to an image a bulb residing deep below the earth’s surface; hidden, closed-up-tight, dark, and dormant.
Facilitator: “Bring your awareness now to that part of you that knows you without thinking, the part of you that knows what’s best for you, like a trusted friend, or a wise teacher, and to whatever extent it’s possible right now, imagine receiving some piece of advise or wisdom from that part. What would that advise be?”
The advice I received this day was to seek nourishment. I then imagined taking in the nutrients from the dirt that surrounded me. I imagined water pouring over me and drinking it in.
Facilitator: What’s it like to receive?
Not only could I visualize receiving my advise to seek nourishment, I could also feel it in my body, cells cleansed and replenished, like the feeling after drinking a big glass of water. With this imagining, I could physically feel my heart start to open up to the experience. I felt myself starting to breathe deeper, my lungs expanding to feelings of nourishment, and my chest feeling more open and supportive of my heart. I then imagined roots growing out from the bottom of the bulb which I could also feel physically in the base of my spine in my sitting position. I immediately felt more grounded and stable which allowed me more strength and stability to shoot upwards, breaking up through the ground and into the sunlight above. All of my senses felt invigorated and alive. I sat with this feeling of being strongly rooted, stable, and driven towards the energies that fed me; the dirt, the water, and the sun. I thought to myself, “this is what it feels like to receive.”
Facilitator: “Take a falling-out breath here by drawing a deep inhalation in through your nose…”
I drew in the strongest breath of my practice that day, still remaining with the image in my head. Before I knew it, the flower of my existence had grown its own nose and was reveling in the smell of its own sweet essence.
Facilitator: “…and let your breath fall out of your mouth with a sigh or a sound.”
I exhaled into a smile of relief that encapsulated my entire being, silently chuckling at the thought of a flower with a nose.
Facilitator: “Take a moment here to generate some gratitude towards yourself for practicing today, and to notice to what extent that’s possible.”
Like the flower, reveling in the smell of it’s own sweet essence, I too generated profound gratitude towards myself, reveling in the smell of my own sweet essence, the wisdom and clarity of my own sweet knowing.
In Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, time is given during integration at the end of a group, class, or private session, to notice the one thing that stood out the most about practicing that day and to notice how it shows up, or maybe doesn’t show up, in everyday life. If what stood out was an image, a description of the qualities surrounding it may then be used to notice how it relates to life outside of practice. This connection may then be used as leverage to draw upon some inner knowledge or self-advise that needs to be received. You are then asked to use your imagination to envision taking that advise in the form of a tangible action step, one that may be carried out within the same or following day. Like planting seeds that will someday blossom into fruition, this is where change and manifestation begin.
Facilitator: Imagine all the details that will surround you as you are carrying out your action step. What will you be doing, or not be doing? Where will you be? What will your breath be like? How will your body feel? What will you be thinking? Who will you be with? Will you be alone? If you will be outside, how will the weather feel?
Imagery about the future can bring things to life by creating forward momentum, internally creating a subconscious drive to make dreams line up with reality. This is how inventors invent, painters paint, and writers write, It is how tasks are carried out and how goals are achieved. The action of imagining can be compared to the action of turning up the sides of your mouth when you’re feeling sad. Somehow, when you do this your brain associates your mouth turning up with feelings of happiness, and you start to feel better.
How images show up during a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy experience and their relationship to breath, body, emotions, thoughts, and all other aspects of awareness, may vary greatly from person to person, from day-to-day, and from moment to moment. Like a painting or a silent film, a story can have meaning without words. Imagery can lend us clarity about our lives when words aren’t so apparent. Whether in the form of a memory, a future insight, or an analogy, each new awareness gives us one more point to plot as we connect-the-dots of our lives, create new associations, and find greater meaning and purpose when we stand back and find our place within the big picture.
Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Teacher