Title: "Playing at the Edge: Using Yoga to Explore the Somatic Mind"



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Title: “Playing at the Edge: Using Yoga to Explore the Somatic Mind”
Katherine J. Piper

3002 Bolgos Circle

Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Home and Office Phone: (859) 248-1472


Adjunct Faculty, Language, Literature and the Arts

Jackson Community College

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Jackson, MI 49201


Abstract:

This paper explores the application of yoga to composition theory and pedagogy, arguing that yoga is a composing process. The paper draws connections between composition theory and yogic theory, using Kristie Fleckenstein’s definition of the somatic mind to frame yoga as an embodied composing process which works to construct and deconstruct the undulating, shifting and playing meanings made by pranayama and asana. It also includes pedagogical connections for writing instruction, using yoga as a tool for composing in the classroom. Throughout the essay, I hope to highlight this dual purpose of yoga in the composing process—yoga is a useful tool for composing, a useful simile for conceptualizing the composing process, and it is composing as we understand it to be a dialectical, embodied and playful process.





Much has been written over the last 26 years about the psychosomatic quality of composing. From E.T. Gendlin’s work on felt sense to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to more current trends in mindfulness (Strickland) and performance (Anne Bogart’s work comes to mind, as does that of

Pleasure or Pain? A yogic duality which it is the work of yoga to deconstruct. Yoga’s goal is to get us thinking past duality and to recognize that we can’t have one without the other (see the Persson article, pg 808-810). It is this ability to deconstruct through bodily experience that makes yoga unique—both a post-structuralism lived metaphor for semiotic deconstruction and a post-postmodern way of understanding the world. Ex.—pidgeon pose confuses our knowledge of pain and pleasure by intensely stretching hips open, which for many people is not only painful, but liberating. It hurts, but in the words of one of my favorite yoga dvd personalities, Brian Kest, “it hurts good.” It also becomes a moment of multi-modal representation, as noted in the Wiki-post below:
I've been doing yoga for a long time, but there aren't many moments when I really get what it's all about in a really intense way.  I did on Monday.  We told Jenny, the instructor, that we all needed hip openers, since most of us run and are also take ourselves too seriously.  She worked us through several vinyasas and some twists, opening shoulders and necks and getting us ready to open up the hip sockets.  We moved into half-pidgeon pose which looks like this: starting in a lunge, you fold your front leg so that the shin is parallel to the front of your mat.  You extend your other leg along the floor behind you.  Then you gradually forward bend over your front leg, feeling a strong strectch in the hip, inner thigh and often the lower back as well.  It burns.  She told us that we would be here for awhile, so we might as well breathe into the discomfort.  The longer we stayed in the pose, the more I wanted to panic.  I could feel my heart rate jumping as I thought that my hip would tear if I stayed any longer, that the pain would remain if I stayed here any longer.  I kept breathing.  I want to say that the pain diminished as I continued the pose, but I'm not sure that it did.  I did gain more confidence.  The longer I stretched, the longer I knew that whatever happens would be fine.  I found confidence in my body to adjust itself to adversity, and that lent me a sense of calm.  That calm felt good. And to be honest, the pain began to verge on pleasurable pain, pain that was intense, but felt good, like when you are sore from a good workout. Pressing on the sore spots feels wonderful.

We got the call today that the house we previously walked away from had reconsidered our offer and wanted to give us everything we asked for.  I had already become comfortable with not buying a house.  I liked the fact that we would be nomads a little longer, renting and moving as we wanted.  It worked for me.  But Dan is ready to sit in pidgeon pose for awhile, and he wants me to sit with him.  It is scary and it hurts a lot.  But it hurts in a good way--a blessed way that makes me want to try.  So if I learned anything from my hips this week, it’s that I can jump fearlessly into this part of my life just as I jumped fearlessly into my relationship 5 years ago.  So here's to Katie and Dan: HOMEOWNERS!


In this wiki excerpt, pain becomes necessary to the pleasure of release. The pain doesn’t always disappear into pleasure, and the pleasure of freeing limbs and knots is never without some pain. The post itself deconstructs the distinct definitions of these words, requiring that we can’t use one without the other, that we can’t get away from either in the practice. I remember writing notes on Derrida in my first semester of graduate school and coming away from the reading just as I felt after this kind of intense yoga session; loose, stretchy, and both fatigued, but happy about it. I remember writing that in my graduate seminar and my fabulous graduate director asked, “Interesting. How do you physicalize Derrida?”

In this wiki excerpt, I look at yoga in both its prescriptive and metaphorical contexts; sitting in pidgeon pose helped to heal the physical anguish that my body was experiencing, and it helped me over come an emotional issue by thinking about pidgeon pose as a metaphor for adversity, or newness, or discomfort. However, I did not simply conceptualize this particular performance in “as- if” logic—for me, pidgeon pose was the very real moment when I released my anxieties…not just the muscles themselves, but the actual emotions pent up in them. At this moment, yoga was life—not just ‘like’ life. It is this power of yoga to work on both the level of indexical sign, but also iconic sign, “as if” logic and “is” logic.



In their book Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson use these guys more efficiently to discuss metaphor in more detail. This isn’t really working as it is right here argue that metaphor is how we make sense of the world (2). Metaphor plays a strong role in how we think about writing and creativity. As Twyla Tharp so matter-of-factly suggests, creativity requires work, routine and habit. The metaphor simile—this is ‘as if’ logic of writing-as-work is not necessarily problematic in and of itself; writing requires making time, space and energy to sit, think and draft. But for many, the routine of writing has become associated with painful suffering. In her book, Doing Emotion, Laura Micciche notices that many of her students describe writing as a physical sensation of conflict; a few responses related writing to “a heart attack” and a “vomit-like process” (53). Could really stand to use more Micciche—this is a great source, and you barely mention it. If you go in emotion direction, you will need this Even Kafka recommends that we “read only those books that wound and stab us” (Davis, 138). These physical metaphors for writing suggest that writing is intrinsically physical and that it is often violently so. Perhaps more importantly, these metaphors also suggest that writing becomes ritualized, often painfully, through the body. In these examples, the metaphor of writing-as-work collapses in favor of such possible metaphors of writing-as-pain, suffering, or perhaps even death. The drama of these examples is telling; the work of writing has become a physically traumatic aspect of our identity as writers. In her essay, “Before Belief: Embodiment and the Trying Game,” Donna Strickland nicely illustrates the extent to which the “flight or fight” conditioning of the body is related to writing and personal baggage:
Positions [opinions], then, whether positions of believing or doubting, are ‘residue’ of bodily movement. We believe when our bodies move toward something; we doubt as our bodies recoil and move away. Of course, after years of social conditioning, those things we move toward and those things we move away from become habituated in the body. My body had become habituated to recoil as it writes, to tense up, to get ready to run away as soon as possible. I’m working to retrain it, to notice that recoiling, to relax the body, to take breaks…Our schooling often sends the message that writing is hard work, that to write well demands that we give up comfort and give ourselves over to that suffering. Our bodies hold on to that message. It takes something other than belief to loosen that hold: we need to try to move. (84) I think you should keep this article—ask Laura for another copy—but you should also focus on the ability of the body to lead us to discovery, the edge, play and eventually, belief in the not-yet-said.
Strickland’s observation that our bodies hold “residues” of social conditioning is at the heart of the issue; the metaphor of writing-as-suffering exacerbates the process of finding and putting words on the page. Strickland suggests that writing becomes constructed physically through ritual. However, implicit in this passage is also the possibility that physical ritual can also be influential in undoing the writing-as-suffering construction. Ritual can be liberating or limiting You should use the Iyengar essay here—or eventually—to discuss the ways that ritual can lead to power over self and hopefully empowerment of self. The Foucault I think really works here, and brings to light the difficulty of arguing for yoga as purely prescriptive—because only you can do this believing, trying, practicing for yourself. Following ritual up to a point can be good, but past that point, ritual leads to enslavement of mind and bodies, which is not what we want.

In this paper, I am heeding Strickland’s call to motion by making a case for yoga as useful in the examination and revision of the physical rituals that creep into writing work. Although I am taking a specific stance for one type of embodiment—yoga—it is important to note that I am not the first and by no means the only person examining how bodies affect thinking1. These goals need to be revised somewhat, after you figure out what you are really going to do with this essay. This is lit review material, and needs to be more expansive and current. I like the Hawhee article, but it might be better served somewhere else. You should include—Gardner, Perl, Gendlin, Fleckenstein, and others in the articles that are really relevant to you. In her essay “Bodily Pedagogies: Rhetoric, Athletics and the Sophists Three R’s” Debra Hawhee revives the integrated pedagogy of the ancient Greek sophists. Not only did sophists teach rhetoric in gymnasiums alongside athletic training, oratory and physical education were taught as an integrated pedagogy. Isocrates observations show that the sophists’ pedagogy was centered around rhythm, repetition and response: a “distinctive approach to rhetorical pedagogy derived from physical trainers” (Hawhee, 145). Hawhee is quick to point out that the connection between rhetoric and athletics does not lie in the type of material taught; rather, rhetoric and sport were learned in a similar kind of manner, “a kind of habit-production based on movement. This movement begins with a rhythm” (Hawhee, 145). In other words, Greek sophists taught rhetoric through physical ritual. Kairos is a moment of the somatic mind at work—when the felt sense of the body and the body itself articulates meaning inherently. This is the kind of training that many see yoga providing to writers—Davis among them. This might be the place in the intro where you separate yoga into its two categories –‘as if’ logic’ or simile and ‘is’ logic, or metaphor. You will of course need to put the somatic mind up front in this little lit review as well.

Most writers are aware of the rituals that occur before, during and after writing. In my graduate assistant orientation, each incoming graduate student was asked to illustrate their individual writing processes. Most every process involved some kind of physical ritual; from drinking coffee to smoking cigarettes to cleaning house to going for a run, physicality pervades the writing process of my colleagues. In many instances, writers turn to physical ritual in times of frustration. Smoking cigarettes, going for a run, walking the dog all seemed related to the moment when writing becomes the most painful. In my drawing, I discussed my drafting process of running and writing, using running to break up the physically and mentally exhausting bouts of writing. For others, the many rounds of physical ritual were forms of painful procrastination, necessary for getting the work done. This exercise showed many of us that we have pre-conceived notions about our writing identity and that many of us stick to our rituals, whether they are working especially well for us or not. When those preconceptions hit the page, the result is often messy and convoluted—sometimes, our rituals “wound and stab” us more than the texts we create.
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It’s likely that my readers are experiencing some type of conflict with the idea of using a Hindu-based fitness regimen to teach writing skills. For this reason, I want to stop and practice the first of the ideas which yoga offers as a solution for inhabiting conflict with your ideas. Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe. In for five counts. Out for five counts. Repeat several times. Breathe in through your nose, out through nose. Let the breath go all the way down into the lungs, feel the diaphragm expand. For just this moment, think about the breath. Keep breathing for 2-3 more minutes. If you get dizzy, by all means, stop. Then think about the misgivings you have with this argument. What makes you squeamish? Where do you find value? Where do feel inadequacy? What do you want to know? How do you feel about these questions? How do you feel physically? Emotionally? Open your eyes. Write down your ideas. Keep breathing.

If that felt like free-writing to you, then you are correct. It was also yoga. Without bending your arms into a pretzel behind your back or standing on your elbows, you’ve done one of the most essential branches in any yoga study: prānāyāma, or mindful watching of the emotions and breath.
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Yoga provides a mental and physical place for our writing rituals to come under scrutiny. Yoga can make a connection between the ways we embody our identities as writers and how we perform those on the page. More importantly, I think that yoga allows writers to confront those ritualized identities, examine how they are constructed and revise them. If we are to view rhetorical education as directly linked to cultural studies—and it seems undeniable when we consider the power with which rhetoric has emerged in the works of Foucault, Butler and Bhabha, to name a few—then we need a place to do this work. In “Writing Bodies: Somatic Mind and Composition Studies,” Kristie Fleckenstein demands a new type of discursive theory that places discursive power back in the body while acknowledging the many insights concerning identity construction that postmodernism provides. In fact, Fleckenstein argues that the body is the place from which this theory must emerge (281). Yoga fosters this development by disciplining the body—and thus the mind—through ritual. You need to complicate this idea—yoga can be freeing or limiting, so you need to bring in that section on yoga after this introduction, I think. You also need to bring in the idea of writing, play, edge and yoga here, because you need to hint at your final conclusions (although I’m not sure this is final, or what my final conclusions are yet)! The yoga section should definitely discuss blockages—because that is what your panels are aimed at fixing and that is also how this becomes both a pedagogy paper. The theory is in the metaphorical work; the pedagogy is in the panels, the fixes for writing problems, and the personal accounts of using yoga in the classroom.


Getting Started With Prānāyāma
For many, the most painful part of writing is getting started. Staring at the blank screen or even the blank bluebook is enough to trigger “flight or fight” instinct in many writers. An undergraduate professor of mine—a well-respected scholar—divulged the story of her own paralysis as a freshman writer to my (equally terrified) freshman humanities class. In her freshman year of college, her petrified fear of taking final exams kept her from even attending the exams. In her case, the fear of getting started, and perhaps not knowing something, kept her from even trying—she reminded us that not showing up for her exam was not an option. While this story was told as an attempt to comfort my class (I think), it had varying effects. On one hand, we were relieved to know that terror—and the pain that comes with it—was a part of academic life. We weren’t alone in that suffering. On the other hand, my professor’s story did nothing to assuage that terror. In fact, it only reinforced the metaphor of writing-as-suffering, especially when faced by a blank page. Legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp hits the nail on the head. For many writers, the empty page is a space of terror and physical pain, even paralysis:
To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying. It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer)…Some people find this moment—the moment before creativity begins—so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer…They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people. (6)

While movement is what I want to focus on this paper, I do want to take a minute to discuss how yoga’s deep breathing ritual, prānāyāma, can help to decrease the physical and mental terror that accompanies approaching an empty page. Breathing becomes shallow when we experience stress; hyper-ventilation is a very real disordered breathing rhythm. When panic takes over for reason, the breath is very often the first place we see the physical trauma. However, what is most powerful about the breath is that it can be used to direct mental panic. The ability of breathing to work the other way around lies at the center of Jeff Davis’s work. Throughout his book, The Journey from the Center to the Page, Davis argues primarily for our body as an immediate and limitless creative muse (ix). For Davis, the mind can be negotiated through prānāyāma; he states that “Our breath and body—these in part can be the muses that help us learn to navigate our fluttering minds, our tricky imagination, and our unpredictable hearts as we write (and rewrite)” (ix). Davis’s insistence that the mind is affected by both the body and the breath is essential to my argument because breathing is simple for most writers. Basic prānāyāma can be attempted with much less physical trepidation than a full-fledged vinyasa2 practice. Aside from our heart beat, breath is essentially the rhythm of our body. Noticing the rhythm of the breath is the first step in developing a new bodily ritual.

I discuss prānāyāma before the more overtly physical aspects of yoga primarily because it is the easiest aspect of yoga to incorporate into the classroom. This has been done successfully. In Writing With Power, Peter Elbow uses breath as a metaphor to work personal experience into expository work—to create a “draft to believe in,” in Elbow’s words (351). Elbow describes his writing rituals through the body, he states: “I finally realize I must go back and put all my effort into feeling those thoughts. As I do this I find I can gradually remove dead language and put in live language, words that I can feel, words that have breath in them. This process of reinvestment usually involves trying to speak the sentences I found on the page, feeling how awful they are, and then trying to say the thought in language I believe” (351). For Elbow, attacking the terror of the blank page depends upon a “breath of experience” (352). This is fine, but the idea of pain and terror is still troublesome here. In fact, I might reframe the paper around Micciche’s concept of stickiness and the variety of emotions that it entails, and then discuss pranayama as a tool for noticing those emotions. Sometimes chanelling, sometimes letting them run away on the page. Also needs some theory about how pranayama allows us to notice the somatic mind at work.

Although “breath of experience” is a metaphor that separates his “live” and “dead” language, Elbow implies that there is more to breathing belief into drafts than metaphorical thinking. Physical breath is involved as well. His actual breath as it creates the spoken word is essential to finding the right words. Often, those breathing words are the words that come during free-writing. The prevalence of free-writing in composition programs is testament to the metaphorical presence of breath in the classroom. However, Sondra Perl’s book Felt Sense employs much actual prānāyāma3. Like Elbow, Perl is focused on finding the breathing words—the words that posses “an internal click of rightness” (51). Perl’s “Guidelines” for writing bring Elbow’s breath metaphor quite literally into the physical ritual of free-writing. In the work of both of these theorists, prānāyāma is already in the writing classroom in both of its physiological and philosophical forms. Shows that writing=yoga! Good example for theory section.

For the remainder of this section, I want to explore briefly the physiological and philosophical reasons for prānāyāma’s ability to help writers restructure the writing-as-suffering metaphor. First, and perhaps more concretely, deep breathing has been shown to induce relaxation in the presence of stress, whether that stress is physical or mental. In her study on yoga therapy and childhood learning disabilities, Molly Kenny convincingly cites much anecdotal evidence for deep breathing’s ability to enhance student learning, especially among children with autism, for whom the mind is especially prone to exacerbation in conventional educational settings (72). Autism is characterized by a distinctly disorderly set of physically manifested rituals that interfere with an individuals’ normal brain function. Internally, the “flight or fight” synapse patterns which Strickland describes as culturally ingrained in our psyches are actually productions of abnormal brain function, creating the characteristic communication issues so common to children with autism. These students come to writing instruction with trauma that they often don’t know how to manage. This study suggests that deep breathing, even without the philosophies and asanas of yoga, benefits learning because it changes brain rhythms4. Describes how the physiological becomes the philosophical, and vice versa. Here the self is both object to be constructed and reconstructed by the breath, and the vehicle for the construction. This echoes Fleckenstein and the Iyengar article so much!

I will return to Kenny’s study later in the paper to discuss her argument for yoga as a counter-ritual to abnormal brain patterns; what is most important is that the work of re-ordering brain function begins with deep breathing, just as the work of yoga begins with prānāyāma. The benefits of connecting the mind with the body through breath are not purely physical. Prānāyāma is capable of connecting us to our deepest levels of consciousness, and thus our creative core. Perl calls this place “felt sense” although there are many other terms for it. Whether one chooses to call it “enlightenment” or “soul” or “God” or simply “self” is immaterial; prānāyāma philosophically gets us thinking about thinking, and thus the conflicts that arise in that effort5. B.K.S. Iyengar refers to prānāyāma as a dual pathway for understanding conflict, which he refers to here as retention and renunciation:

Thus, in each cycle of breath, we have two paths towards understanding the existence of God [or felt sense]. They are known as the path of creation and the path of renunciation. Pravrtti-māgra, the outward path of creation, is in inhalation, and nivrtti-mārga, the inward path of renunciation, is in exhalation. On the basis of this philosophy, the yogīs were trained to reach a balance between these two states. Thus renunciation is brought together in cohesion in the practice of retention.” (59)

In this description of prānāyāma, Iyengar asserts that prānāyāma is capable of balancing the conflict of holding onto perceptions and misconceptions (retention) and examining and releasing that baggage (renunciation). Iyengar continues to define prānāyāma as “the movement of the self to come into contact with the periphery: the core of being moves with the breath and touches the inner layer of the skin—the extreme frontier of the body” (59). In other words, prānāyāma connects the mind with the body. In that connection, baggage can be examined and released.

Iyengar’s words are important here: it is at the periphery of understanding where prānāyāma provides the most beneficial insights. Perl discusses this edge of understanding in Felt Sense; ultimately, Perl argues that Gendlin’s notion of felt sense is the heart of authentic writing (2). In her conclusion to Felt Sense, Perl claims that contacting this edge of understanding and working with it is the core of moving past the postmodern impasses of unoriginal creation and nihilism: “Gendlin’s philosophy of experiencing refutes the view that nothing new ever emerges by showing the connection between language and the body. According to Gendlin, every time we engage a …. [periphery], every time we go to the edge and pause, we are engaging the not yet said…At this edge, new words, new phrasing and new insights can and do come. When they do, we come upon newness: what we may have never thought of or said or written before in quite this way. Sometimes it is what no one has ever thought, spoken, or written before” (58). Gendlin and Perl place creativity within the body. The edge of bodily understanding, where felt sense works most effectively, is where ritual—in this case, postmodernism—undergoes revision.

In yogic philosophy, post-modernism has yet to exist. The theory here needs to be revised; this might be an ideal place to start the yoga section, so that readers can see and understand the difference between classical yoga—which emphasizes the separation from the body—to Westernized yoga (Satyananda and Iyengar). You may also want to briefly mention the other branches of the tree of yoga that focus on other parts of lived experience, which you can take from the Iyengar and the Presson article. This is primarily because yoga has never been terribly concerned about how human consciousness is constructed NOT TRUE!!! It is entirely concerned with phenomenology, and it does so through the body. The body is the starting point for unwrapping the layers of the self; it has always assumed that knowledge comes from the body, as Iyengar describes in his definition of prānāyāma. This is where it starts to feel like you are reinforcing mind/body dualism. Revise to argue that the mind and the body work dialectically—somatic mind style. Yoga extends the premise that the human body has an infinite experience; our different bodies and different lives provide a diversity of life experience that explodes notions of construction and deconstruction and thus gives us an infinite number of possible things to say and ways to say it. Beautiful. Keep this. Prānāyāma is designed to help you to turn towards those impasses, analyze them, and think through them. Pedagogical application now. In his mystically lovely chapter on prānāyāma in The Tree of Yoga, Iyengar leaves his discussion by reminding us that “prānāyāma is at the frontier between the material world and the spiritual world, and the diaphragm is the meeting point of the physiological and spiritual body…when you inhale, the self comes into contact with the body….Exhalation is the surrender of our ego. It is not the expulsion of air but the expulsion of ego in the form of air” (129-131). Excellent for the discussion of immersion/emergence that Fleckenstein argues for. Prānāyāma trains the yogi to give up constructed identity, and the pain, anger and fear that accompanies that identity, for the possibility of an id-based existence. When we are at the edge of what we know, or what we can say, prānāyāma helps us find the breathing words to fill in the blanks. The breath begins the link between our bodies and our creative potential. Excellent conclusion for the pedagogy section of the paper. 6



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