“Hidden in the heart of every creature exists the Self. They go beyond all sorrow
who behold the glory of the self through the grace of the lord of love” -Katha Upanishad
My path to yoga therapy has been varied and circuitous. It has been filled with amazing teachers, students and patients. I started as a physical therapist wanting to heal people with my hands. I was fascinated by chronic pain and fibromyalgia, the patients that others often thought were complicated and would never heal. After years learning manual therapy and studying with truly amazing physical therapists, I began to become disillusioned at these techniques to heal the complicated chronic pain patient. People felt better for a moment, a week, a month or two months, but the issues always returned. I saw people stay in a cycle of pain no matter how amazing the therapist and how “right” the manual technique.
In my search for another answer to healing, I found yoga. I eventually found my way to Kripalu where I met Yoganand Michael Carroll. I remember my first experience – it was his pranayama course, 4 ½ days of pranayama. It blew my mind, I remember feeling like this is what yoga was, this is what could change patterns in people and create healing on a deep level. It could potentially change the cycle that kept people in pain. I began to study with Yoganand and immersed myself in the texts and philosophy of yoga and the practice of Pranakriya Yoga.
Yoga has shown me the potential for deep healing and transformation of the body and mind- not just through a physical change, but an energetic change in being and experience of who we truly are.
The Katha Upanishad says: “Know the self as lord of the chariot, the body as the chariot itself, the discriminating intellect as the charioteer and the mind as reins. The senses are the horses, selfish desires are the road they travel when the self is confused with the body, mind and sense- he seems to enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrow. When the mind is undisciplined the senses run hither and thither like wild horses. But they obey the reins like trained horses when one has discrimination and has made the mind one pointed.”
Training the mind is the first stage of healing and transformation. Yoganand calls this strengthening the container . We have to first find the capacity to observe ourselves completely and without judgment, to fully accept all that we sense, feel and think in the body and mind without shutting down or blocking out. In our everyday existence our senses pull our mind down a path. We see and hear and feel experiences and pay attention only to certain stimuli which validate our sense of who we are. Over time our body is also shaped by these experiences. For example, if I have a low self esteem, a low sense of my worth- as I look out into the world I will find the stimuli that validate that. I will see the ways I don’t measure up to others, how I have failed. My senses continue to take me on the road of how I am not good enough. My mind is validated by this sensory input that I am not good enough and my thoughts and emotions are created from this input. Overtime this input becomes rooted in the way my nervous system functions, how I breathe and in my body. My body can become shaped by my thoughts – I might slouch, become weak in my core, tight in some muscles and weak in others. These “roads” are our samskaras.
Strengthening the capacity to notice, to see how the body and mind and senses interact in the world and how we interpret stimuli is the first step to creating changes in our patterns. Cultivating sensitivity and raising energy are the second and third parts of creating healing and transformation of these patterns.. As we become more sensitive to these pathways, how we interact with sensation, feeling and thought we can begin to change these paths. Even neuroscience is finding how plastic these pathways truly are.
“With a discriminating intellect as charioteer and a trained mind as reins they attain the supreme goal of life to be united with the lord of love”
In Tantra- at every energy level we see the world completely different. When we have high, clear and vibrant energy we live in a world that can be free of tension and free of fear. The Upanishads say it is this illusion of separateness which creates and perpetuates our fear and suffering. Once we strengthen our container and train our mind we can begin to create new worlds where we pierce through the illusion of separateness where we become connected to our deepest sense of truth and Self inside which the Katha Upanishad calls the lord of love.
“The self is the source of abiding joy. Our hearts are filled with joy in seeing him enshrined in the depths of our consciousness. When one realizes the self in whom all life is one changeless, nameless, formless. Then one fears on more. Until we realize the unity of life we live in fear” -Taittirya Upanishad
As we pierce through the illusion of separateness, as we come underneath our samskaras, our patterns that we travel in the mind and body we come to this space deep in the heart of truth, connection, and joy. Cultivating sensitivity and changing our energy through yoga is what heals us from the inside out. This connection into the heart space which then can change the neural pathways that our mind travels is a path of healing that is unique to this wonderful journey of yoga.
The integrated practice of pranayama, asana and meditation can create this healing and transformation process. It can create the realization of deep joy and love within ourselves that can heal our suffering and our pain, it can change the way our nervous system works, how we see the world and others, how we hold and move our bodies.
Marlysa Sullivan directs the Pranakriya Yoga Therapy program with Yoganand Michael Carroll and others. She teaches teacher trainings, anatomy, therapeutic yoga, and meditation at studios across the country. She teaches yoga to the physical therapy programs at Mercer and Georgia State as well as the psychology of yoga in the graduate program at the University of West Georgia. She is a consultant for a low back pain study at Walter Reed military hospital that is working with integrating yoga ideas into a traditional back pain protocol. She teaches at Decatur yoga and pilates and sees private students in Atlanta. Learn more about Marlysa at Anatomy of Yoga