Any spiritual endeavor--in fact, any kind of creative act--is a process of transformation. The definition of transformation is “a change in form, appearance, nature, or character.” In yoga therapy, we talk about the everyday process of transformation as changing our state.
But before we talk about changing our state, we need to talk about the most foundational principle in yoga therapy: our true nature. Yoga philosophy posits that we are spiritual beings having a human experience; that we are made of the same stuff as Nature; and that when we know this to be true about ourselves, we experience our true nature as peaceful, easeful, balanced, whole, and complete.
According to the teachings of yoga, suffering occurs when we feel separated from our true nature. Daily life brings us experiences that are out of alignment with our true nature; these experiences accumulate in our system, and move us further and further away from the truth of our being. The practice of yoga is intended to restore us to the peace, ease, and balance of our true nature. In yoga, transformation is the process of coming back home to the truth of our being.
Changing our state means returning to an experience of our true nature--or, at least, moving closer to it. This happens on a micro level--say, when we come to our practice agitated and bothered, and feel calm restored after. But it also happens on a macro level: over years of practice, we spend more and more time getting closer and closer to our true nature. We become more of who we truly are, and less of who the world tells us we need to be. Our lives and our bodies function better.
This is a highly condensed explanation of the process, and it sounds neat and lovely: yoga is a process of transformation that brings us closer to the peace of our true nature. Cool! Where do I sign up? But in describing here how we come from and return to a peaceful nature, I am glossing over the entire middle process, which is anything but peaceful. It’s often messy, gnarly, and painful. Coming home to peace often feels like going out to war.
The classic symbol of transformation is that of a caterpillar turning into a moth or butterfly. The process is often painted as neat and tidy: in the classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it’s described this way:
“He built a small house called a cocoon around himself, he stayed inside for more than two weeks, then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out, and he was a beautiful butterfly!”
We often wish our own transformation were that neat & tidy. “Good vibes only” culture sells this as a possibility. The classical image of a (usually white and thin) woman seated in meditation with a smile of bliss on her face suggests that inner and outer bliss is the name of the game. Don’t feel bad if your internal experience doesn’t match those external images. They’re not an accurate representation of the process any more than Eric Carle is an entomologist.
While that description of the process of transformation is factually accurate--these are the stages in which a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, in the order in which they occur--it glosses over the actual work of transformation. That long, radical, painful change in state is completely hidden inside the cocoon.
No less an august authority than the Scientific American journal explains what happens in the cocoon: "First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out."
Do you feel like your life is turning you into caterpillar soup? I sure do, most of the time. This business of transformation is wildly uncomfortable. Not only do we feel like our insides are liquified, everything we know dissolving into a messy puddle, but once we’re reconstituted, we need to forcibly break out of the shell that’s been protecting us. We need to break free from the confines that saved us as we were in the process of becoming.
One of the most feared cards in the Tarot is the Death card. But when the Death card shows up, it doesn’t mean the literal death of you or a loved one. Death is the card of transformation; Death is the ultimate change of state. Death isn’t the end of the journey: Death is the cocoon, it’s the dark stage before the new state of being emerges. As the 13th card in the 22-card Major Arcana, Death is a necessary step in the journey to coming home to knowing ourselves as being part of the universe, and knowing our true belonging, in The World. But the fact that Death is a necessary part of the journey doesn’t make it easy or painless. Often it’s anything but.
We need tools to help us withstand the intensity of being broken down into our most essential parts before we are rebuilt and emerge into the stunning and free creatures we are meant to be.
What I call Yin Yoga Magic is a set of principles and practices that help us affect the process of transformation. It consists of three principles: ritual, knowing, and surrender.
This is based on the concept of kriya yoga found in yogic philosophy. Meaning “yoga of action”, kriya yoga is how we affect transformation in ourselves, and in the world. The three principles of kriya yoga are:
Tapas: Defined as zeal or effort, this is the fiery energy that burns away what is inauthentic. It consists in the aligned actions we take that remove the obstacles that prevent us from experiencing our true nature. Tapas can be viewed as the rituals--the daily gestures and practices--we engage in, through which we participate in the creative movement of the universe.
Svadhyaya: Defined as study of the self, svadhyaya consists of seeing our current state or condition as it is, and encompasses the practices of tuning into and following our intuition, or our knowing. Our knowing is best found in stillness and quiet; by spending time in nature; by writing or journaling; or by working with archetypal tools, such as the tarot.
Isvara-pranidhana: Defined as surrender to Source, or to that which is greater than us, Isvara-pranidhana is the recognition that, although we have agency to change our state, ultimately we have no control over our circumstances. It affirms that change is the only constant in life, and that change will inevitably bring discomfort, and that transformation requires from us that we soften, yield, and surrender to the forces of change. We can do so because we know that we are part of a greater whole, and that support is available to us. The most effective way I have found to practice surrender is through the practice of yin yoga.
Yin yoga teaches us how to recruit the support of the earth as we soften into discomfort. Magic is a practice of co-creating with the Earth and with Spirit. Combining as Yin Yoga Magic, they create a framework to initiate, guide, and support the process of transformation.
This is the first of a series of posts exploring the principles of Yin Yoga Magic. Want to know more now? These are the principles and practices that inform my 1-on-1 yoga therapy offerings. Click here to sign up for a free exploration call to find out more about the process, and how Yin Yoga Magic can support your unique transformation process.