Anubhūta visayāsampramosah smritih
Memory (Smrti) is the calling up or retaining of past experiences.
YS 1.11 - The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
The reasons for holding a secret – a kept and unspoken memory or piece of knowledge – are many: to surprise a loved one, to not hurt someone’s feelings; we keep secrets out of fear, pride or embarrassment. Those are the conscious secrets, the ones we are aware of, they are often silent and surface by a trigger, or a reminder in the form of a smell, a sight, a sound, a texture.
There are also those secrets we keep that we aren’t aware of. Unknown secrets that hide deep within the cells of our bodies: memories from before we had conscious memory, memories that have meanings which are too hard or subtle for us to understand and make sense of, memories unregistered by the conscious brain because of a trauma; memories and samskaras (impressions from past) leave subtle impressions and unconsciously affect our habits, self-perceptions, expectations or disposition.
Neuroscience shows that, in a traumatic event, the parts of our brain involved in memory formation and speech shut down. It is a form of protection, what we sometimes call “selective memory”. Our bodies, however, remember everything, so that input into our senses activates these hidden memories that might bring up images, but other times just affecting our mood or nervous system making us anxious, angry, scared or sad without an explanation at the conscious level.
Interoception is the brain’s ability to sense the internal state of the body and become aware of its feelings and needs. Interoceptive awareness opens up the pathways for secrets to be communicated, received and understood by our minds so that then they can be processed and or released. The most essential tools for this to happen are movement and breath, asana and pranayama. With these, stored memories arise, ideally within the safe space of our yoga practice, so that we can work through them and free ourselves from the impressions.
Different parts of our bodies hold different types of messages and feelings: It is believed that – the hips hide fear, anxiety and sadness or any moment related to them; the shoulders, where we “carry the weight of the world”, store the inability to let go and carry our burdens; the lower back keeps our guilt and repressed feelings; the knees are the joints of ego and pride, of the inability to bend; while neck pain is stubbornness, refusing to see the other side of the story. The chakras are keys to understanding our world of relationships. When the wheels turn they let the energy flow, when they don’t the energy gets blocked. Memory can be felt in the pain of a body part or in the blocked chakra, and can also be released through its movement.
In trauma therapy, addiction recovery, or in the treatment of mood disorders such as depression or anxiety – yoga allows practitioners to reconnect with the bodies they have often lost connection to. It provides an opportunity to rebuild the trust that was broken when it did not protect at the time of an accident or abuse, or when it did not warn of a disease. The repressed memories, mistrust in oneself and the surrounding world can resurface opening the way up for recovery, cleansing and moving forward. Yoga can allow us to become aware that we are able to know what we need and that we have the tools to give it to ourselves.
Many of us have been in a yoga class and felt emotions unexpectedly surface in the form of anger, stress, sadness or happiness. Often we don’t need to have suffered a traumatic event to experience disconnection from our bodies. For many of us, when we begin our yoga journey, simple instructions such as “right foot forward” or “bind left arm around right thigh” can seem like mathematical equations to get to the moon. Becoming acquainted with our hand, foot, or hip is the first step to opening up the lines of communication with one’s body and the emotions and memories it stores.
Yoga is that friend who sits across the table from you when you have a secret and can’t help yourself from telling them. Yoga is that friend who helps make sense of it all.