Communication can take on many forms — as it turns out, it may be even more flexible than it seems.
Yoga and meditation can be restorative and liberating practices. “Yoga means ‘to join’ or to ‘yolk together,’” says Hetal Patel, studio manager and yoga instructor at Seva Yoga Yorkville. “It’s supposed to be a harmonization between your mind, body, and soul.”
“Our body is a vehicle through which we meet the world,” Colin Matthews, founder and director of Kula Yoga, says, adding, “Part of [the yoga practice] is about influencing your own vehicle or your vessel through what you’re choosing to focus on… choosing an intention about how you want to meet yourself.”
The introspective practice, of meditation further contributes to personal growth. Though it takes a long time to master, it can be liberating to narrow the mind’s focus to certain ideas, or even just to focus on the inhale and exhale of the breath — leaving worries outside of the studio altogether.
“Meditation is about cultivating a space of listening that’s non-reactive,” Matthews says, explaining that it’s important to consider how we deal with our varying emotional states.
“Being able to traverse [different] personal terrains in a non-reactive way is a really important skill to be able to cultivate as a human being,” says Matthews.
According to Patel, individuals who enter the yoga studio often leave with a complete shift in perspective, a “renewed sense of purpose” week by week. The connection between that purpose and self-expression is essential.
“If you are practiced in organizing your thoughts and maintaining a state of calm, decision-making and expression becomes more authentic,” says Jessica Darzinskas, instructor at IAM Yoga, adding, “You are communicating from a place that is more connected to your values, goals and dreams.”
In order to express themselves, individuals must be able to open themselves up without fear of judgment; an accepting environment is crucial for this process.
“We want to make sure [the environment is] non-judgmental, non-competitive, somewhere people feel comfortable,” Patel says. “That they can work on their mind and body without really feeling judged or feeling like they lack skill. We want to make sure we give everybody the option to be able to practice at their full potential.”
Yoga studios are constantly developing new ways of creating this type of environment for their students. IAM Yoga offers a variety of mental health-focused programs, including neuro yoga, which uses targeted breathing techniques to encourage positive brain activity.
Kula Yoga’s positive space initiatives advocate for the acceptance of all of its students, regardless of ethnic background, gender, or body type. The emphasis is placed on a judgment-free environment, and relies on specialized classes — such as queer yoga — to create a safe space for students who may otherwise feel marginalized or excluded.
“We’re trying to create an environment that supports introspection and curiosity within,” Matthews says, “and the ability to go to excavate in places that may be hard to excavate in on a regular basis. …The philosophy behind some of the positive space initiatives [is] to create a space where people can feel safe… where they’re gonna be valued for the process that they’re going through.”
However, Matthews clarifies that yoga is about more than just an “it’s all good” mentality. It’s equally important to provide a space for individuals who are struggling or going through hardships: a space of healing as well as positivity.
“We’re multifaceted beings and we have a whole variety of things that we go through and we deal with on a regular basis,” Matthews says. “Having an environment that allows for the full authentic expression of what’s going on for you, as opposed to just an isolated spectrum, [is important].”
Yoga can be a driving force for expression, creativity, and personal freedom. According to Matthews, this is something that individuals should certainly take advantage of.
“I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that little kids are so mobile and so imaginative,” Matthews says. “[And] I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as we age and we get a little more set in our ways, we also get more set in our body… Part of practicing yoga is to stay supple in your body, in your imagination, in your relationship to possibilities,” he adds.
“Yoga really taps into that inner creativity,” says Patel, mentioning that many artists, like actors or singers, practice yoga for the same reasons. “It’s a positive, open space. You’re open to new ideas… And that [helps] you become a little bit more creative, helps you find different ways you can express yourself,” she says.
Patel mentions the unique bridge social media can build between yoga and self-expression—one that spurred her own process towards becoming a yoga teacher. Social media platforms, like Instagram, allow individuals to document their day-to-day journeys. Users can post pictures of yoga poses to express their thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics.
Yoga poses in themselves are symbolic: they can represent anything from independence to introspection to revelation. The poses offer an unconventional means of communication for individuals who may not be able to put their feelings into words.
“[Yoga] allows you to really not be afraid to tell people, or be public about, how you feel,” Patel says. “I definitely think it has given me a lot of self-confidence.”
The principles taken from yoga and meditation practices can easily translate into everyday life. Subtle changes within an individual’s mindset can be enough to solidify more positive forms of self-expression.
“I find people are really negative on a day-to-day basis,” Patel says. “Whether you know it or not, you engage in a lot of negative words, like ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t be able to’… With yoga and meditation… you’re making yourself able to do something… ‘I can, I am happy… I don’t have any fear.’”
By encouraging positivity, self-compassion, and personal growth, yoga and meditation tie together the necessary elements for self-expression. These strategies can be applied to overcome personal obstacles in other areas of our lives.
“How you do anything is how you do everything,” Matthews says, quoting one of his favourite phrases in yoga. “When you come to practice yoga, that’s an ‘anything,’ that’s something that you get to choose how to do. And then that carries on in your life.”