Areality TV show on the Arts and Entertainment channel is called, “Storage Wars.” In it, a group of bidders look for five minutes at the contents of abandoned and locked storage units, but they can’t go into them. After competitive bidding, the winner is declared the owner of everything in that locker. They rush in with great hope and begin looking through boxes, drawers, and accumulated piles of mishmash.
Sometimes they find valuable coins or artwork, antique toys, or newspapers; however, their newly-bought pile could be old tee-shirts, magazines, or dirty linens and parking tickets, vestiges of life in transit. More often than finding gold, the winning bidder digs up a clutter of left over’s from a human pack-rat.
Storage Wars is popular because it’s a modern day version of the mother-lode gold strike. And in rare cases, the winning bidders of Storage Wars make hundreds of thousands in profit. One discovered Spanish gold coins dating back to the 16th Century valued at half a million dollars, another winner found a model grand piano, and a third uncovered classic toys worth nearly $13 thousand.
It’s widely understood in yoga communities that our bodies are storage units of past experiences. These include mental and psychological trauma along with physical injuries. And if one attends yoga consistently, it doesn’t take long before they discover through bodywork that they have something in common with TV treasure seekers. Both run smack dab into accumulations of worthless junk and are faced with the cleanup.
In the yogi’s case, the storage container is his/her body and the leftovers are emotions. These emotions, and the stress of life, are held in ganglion (a concentrated mass of interconnected nerve cells). Often this ganglion is deposited in the neck or jaw, shoulders or hips, and lower back.
Knowledge that our physical bodies are repositories for trauma and stress is corroborated by Dr. Bruce Lipton, who writes about the mind and memory of cells in The Biology of Belief. Lipton believes at our cellular level, our life-history is recorded and stored. He cites many examples, but he tells one stunning story in the experience of a young girl who was a heart-transplant patient.
“She began having nightmares of murder following her transplant, and her dreams were so vivid that they led to the capture of the murderer who killed her donor.”
This is a dramatic example, but numerous experiments affirm the psychological insight that our body is intelligent and it’s a large repository of awareness and memory; not only individual memory but the entire memory of the species. Carl Jung worked a lifetime examining this wider application of cellular and psychological memory and he called it the collective unconscious.
If our bodies hold memories, some of them simply junk, a worthy yoga effort will be quite the opposite from that of the Storage Wars bidders. Yogic work compels us to open-up the storage units that are our bodies, and dump the junk.
This work isn’t easy. But the good news is that it happens in small degrees every time we go to the mat. During a regular yoga practice, our joints along with skeletal and muscular structure are opened up, and as with the body, so with emotions. Yoga is evolution by involution, esteemed teacher B.K.S. Iyengar once said.
The factual announcement made by some teachers at the start of a pose suggests that trained yoga instructors take this as a given. I’ve heard teachers on occasion say, “This pose might bring something up in you.” That something could be any person, place, or event from the yogi’s past that hurt, limited, rejected or doubted the yogi. But this is only the start of yoga’s emotional rescue.
As for the good memories of our lives, sure, it’s there too. But nobody needs help to deal with good memories aren’t buried under a cloud of shame or blame, not hidden, not stored negatively in our necks or jaws, hips, back, shoulders or forehead.
This is a big learning curve for many, as our education is often compartmentalized into physical activities or mental activities. It’s not easy, for example, to integrate emotional intelligence into a physical education curriculum. Yet yoga teaches heightened mind/body/spirit awareness. The proof is in the remarkable healing curriculum yoga offers.
Let me provide a specific example from my own life so that this moves beyond the theoretical. I’ve noticed three specific areas in my practice where body and emotions are connected.
First, I tend to hold tension from professional and intellectual work in my shoulders. This tension is aligned most closely, but not solely, with jealousy.
Second, I hold family and tribe tension in my hips. This is associated most closely but not solely with guilt.
Third, I hold self-esteem and the effort to establish and maintain positive self-worth in my lower back. This is associated most closely but not solely with sadness.
I’ve learned these truths through yoga and meditation along with a disciplined writing practice attentive to yoga’s insights. I own the results, and I work to clean out – as a lifelong project – these small storage lockers that still exert big influence on me.
A yogi truly wins when they empty their storage bins of anything unnecessary and when they eliminate – or at least limit – the effects of emotional refuse even if only for a brief time. And if one really thinks about it in the larger picture of yogic consciousness, is there really anything worth storing and placing under lock and key?
When a yogi wins by losing, eventually devoid of clutter and stored trauma, bodies respond more efficiently, the mind becomes sharper and stronger, and the yogi’s spirit is refreshed and energized by the emptying out.
But by living in yogic breath, and embodied, mindful moments, the yogi gradually releases trauma and unwelcome energies from the past. They grow free from the weighted burden of holding on to junk and grow toward an unburdened state of wholeness, health, and strength.
Lipton, B. (2005). Epilogue: Spirit and Science p. 155. In The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Carlsbad, CA: Hay house.
Iyengar, B.K.S. (2005). Yoga As Involution p. 211-227. In Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. Rodale.