Magic and the physical art of release

Person doing aa releasing yoga pose

Those of us involved in mystery traditions are routinely compelled to examine our inner landscapes and confront our own bullshit, in the name of making ourselves better humans and better magical practitioners. We call this “self-work” or “shadow-work.”

But it’s easier to talk about how important those concepts are than to actually do them. Over the years, I’ve had good success with talk therapy and journaling, but something always seemed missing. Despite these intellectual approaches, I still struggle to let go of hurts and anger sometimes, which can be deeply distracting from other things I’d prefer to focus on, like magical work.

Like many practitioners (and people living with anxiety disorder), I recognize the importance of mindfulness in working with our less-pleasant emotions. I have an almost-daily meditation practice, which has been really helpful, but I also wanted a physical component to my mindfulness practice, which is why I keep being drawn to yoga classes.

Unfortunately, I’ve really struggled to maintain a regular yoga practice, as parts of me just don’t seem well-suited to it (many of the poses aggravate my chronic wrist pain). I keep trying different classes, though, as I understand yoga’s benefits for honing focus and mindfulness, and also for building needed strength and flexibility.

Last September, I decided to attend a yin yoga class for the first time. It was promised to be slower and gentler than my other classes, so I thought it was worth a try.

The teacher started the class by telling us that yin yoga was different from other types of yoga, in that it’s more focused on gentle fascial release and mindfulness than building strength by holding poses to the point of shaking. She went on to say that we’d be holding each pose for between 30 seconds and 6 minutes.

I was unsure if I’d be up to the task, but thankfully, all the poses were floor-based, and we were encouraged to use blocks and blankets to support us.

During the opening meditation, the teacher noted that it was a New Moon, an excellent time to release things, and encouraged us to choose a mantra or an idea of something we wanted to remove from our lives, and focus on it for the duration of the class.

I immediately thought of the anger I was feeling related to my work with my coven. Our Acting High Priest had just stepped down, leaving our High Priestess to lead the coven solo. She’d recently informed me I was now her second-in-command, and would have more responsibilities to support the coven than I had previously.

I was pretty unhappy about this, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I figured what she wanted me to do was a lot of thankless organizational and administrative-type work – the type of things I’m good at, but find draining in my day job and with my band. I felt like I was being punished for having those skills, like I would never be able to escape people asking me to do more, more, more in every facet of my life until I was beyond exhaustion.

I’d been trying to think my way out of the anger, to try to logic or talk my way out of it, but those efforts proved unfruitful at best, frustrating at worst.

So, as my focus for that yin yoga class, I chose to repeat, in my head, “I release that which does not serve.” And in the course of the class, through the poses, and the breath, I called up the anger, felt it unfurl itself, and saw it for what it truly was: insecurity, and fear of what the future held. I knew I was capable of what was being asked of me, but I just couldn’t envision a future wherein those responsibilities didn’t wreck me. So, I spent some time letting those fears express themselves within my head and my heart. I spent some time grieving. And during savasana, the final resting pose, I thanked those feelings for working to protect me, and I let them sink into the earth.

I left that class in a daze. Though I had put in very little physical effort during that hour, I felt like I’d just had a full-body massage (who knew such gentle stretches could be so effective at loosening up the muscles?), and I felt emotionally lighter than I had in ages.

That night, during the pathworking in my coven’s Mabon ritual, I received a very clear message from the deities we were working with that day: That if my High Priestess expected me to take on more responsibilities for my coven, I should ask for the title of Acting High Priest. To my own surprise, I was not only okay with this idea, but convinced it was the absolute right thing to do. The fear and anger were gone, and replaced with feelings of peace, clarity, and certainty.

I spoke with my High Priestess after the ritual, telling her what I’d experienced, the messages I heard, and adding onto it: “I’m nonbinary. If the only thing standing between me and the title of Acting High Priest is a penis, that’s stupid.” To my surprise, she agreed. (For context: Currently in my tradition, each coven is expected to have a High Priest and High Priestess, roles that have traditionally been aligned with the person’s presented gender.)

And I’m pleased to say that so far, the experience of leadership has been far more fulfilling than draining. My High Priestess and I have worked together effectively as a team, helping the coven move forward and become stronger. Also, I’m actively seeking out spiritual experiences outside my coven, where I am not responsible for anyone but myself: places I can fill my own cup, so to speak. Yin yoga is one of those places, and I continue to attend weekly.

What this experience taught me is that sometimes, to break through mental/emotional barriers, a physical component is necessary to truly release that which no longer serves us. Movements, combined with focused mindfulness and intention-setting, can be effective in breaking down blockades within our selves.

And yin yoga is freakin’ awesome.

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