. . . sometimes words are a powerful means of carrying us into the language of the body.1
—Liz Huntly, Elephant Journal
The art of poetry has changed over time and has been adapted for different languages and cultures, but it has endured for thousands of years. Yoga, too, is ancient. According to Timothy Burgi, instructor and executive director of Yoga Basics, “The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old.” 2
It is not unusual for yoga teachers to recite poems for their classes. Lara Ward, founder of Lotus Gardens Yoga, has read “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver, to her students in the autumn. The reason, she told me, is that her home on Spring Lake Road in Sherman, Connecticut was located on a flight path for geese. She would often wake with the sun to their honking and the sound of wings as the geese made an early morning departure from the lake.
I asked why she thought the poem was relevant to yoga. “Ah,” she replied. “Yoga, to me, is a deep connection to myself, and I am nature. I am time that changes and stays the same. When the geese fly over, it reminds me of how the seasons pass, life passes and everything is temporary, just as Buddha teaches.” Then I asked what she thought about the poet’s intention. Lara said, “She sounds like she is speaking to someone she wishes to deeply connect with, for them to be real. I think of yoga sutras that state we are in our truest nature when we are quiet. We are not our worries, our fears . . . Oliver is saying, ‘Be who you are and tell me who you are. Show me who you are, stripped of the judgments.’”
The poses of yoga help the body to open and expand and, ultimately, allow for deeper relaxation. Labored breathing is an indication of working too hard. Lara often reminds her students to let go of judgment. She tells us to work at our own level, to follow our breath throughout our practice. Yoga allows us to retreat from the noise of the modern world. It reminds us of how breath connects us: to life, to our emotions and, in our most intimate moments, to other people.
During National Poetry Month, it occurs to me that poems, in their rhythms and in the way they interweave space with words, also breathe. We can overlook them for a while, distracted by the clamor around us and the din in our heads. But we return to poetry because sometimes we need to set aside judgment, reconnect with our truest nature, find calm and quiet within. We return because, sometimes, the breath in a poem will lead us back to who we are.
1. Liz Huntly, “Words to Breathe By: 10 Poems to Ignite Your Yoga Practice,” Elephant Journal, (2013): http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/words-to-breathe-by-10-poems-to-ignite-your-yoga-practice-liz-huntly/
2. ”History of Yoga,” Yoga Basics, accessed April 24, 2016. http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/history-of-yoga/