Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lost Memories

I have trouble remembering things. I have very few solid memories of my childhood, and sometimes I forget conversations with friends last week. I have a feeling I am going to be one of those people who tells the same story several times to the same person because I can never remember if I told it before.

I have a friend, however, who remembers everything. She can remember what her family ate on a vacation 20 years ago. I know that when I need to remember an event in college, I can ask her. These past few years, I have thought about this a lot and wondered why some people have great memories and others do not. 

Moreover, it is not as simple as saying that I have a bad memory because that is not true. For some reason I can remember case law and case names, but I cannot remember the incredible adventures I have taken around the world. For that, I take photos. And I take a ton of photos – over 3000 since arriving in New Zealand in January. I want to remember. Traveling around the north island with new friends when I arrived, one of them did not take a lot of photos. Instead, he said, “I am remembering it.” I tried. Then I whipped out the camera. I did not want to forget. 

Of course, some photos were to share asana with the rainforest and prove that I was really doing Tree Pose Around the World.

But recently, especially through yoga, I have found my memories. They are not in my brain. They are in my muscles. When doing asana, I often have memories of these trips, memories of the past, even memories of my childhood. I remember things I thought I had forgotten. 

When you Google muscle memory, you get information about golf swings. After all, the best golfers use the memory of a previous game to play today. But that is not the muscle memory I mean. We actually store memories in our muscles. Emotions as well.  

At its simplest, pain is energy that is stuck in the body. Along with that stuck energy is the memory of what caused it to be stuck. When I started yoga teacher training, I was angry at the way yoga had become so body-centric in the United States. It was not until I began to truly understand the body and its knowledge that I learned to love asana for its ability to help us go deeper. When I learned about the koshas, I finally understood. Our bodies are the gateway to our inner selves.

But that means we have to deal with our bodies. We hold these memories in the body for any number of reasons. Often it is because we do not want to deal with them. Stress, something with which modern society is intimately associated, is our number one muscle memory. Headaches, lower back pain, and tight hips can all come from stress. With that pain, however, is the memory of that stress. Releasing the stress in the body can release those emotions and memories.

I hope it is obvious from the previous 100 posts that I think yoga is an amazing tool for handling our modern lives. It has so much to teach us from breathing techniques, to meditation techniques, to new ways to use and understand our bodies. But I also think that we need to be conscious of what it means to begin to tune in to these new ways of seeing the world. It means opening up memories we have stored. It means facing emotions we placed in our bodies, so our brains could forget them.

Western medicine and society are finally discussing the mind-body-spirit connection. What we hold in our bodies affects the mind and spirit, and around the triangle we can go. Recognizing this is an important step when integrating yoga into our daily lives. It is important because we must be aware that some days remembering is going to be difficult. Some days, yoga can make us more anxious.

The good news is that yoga also gives us the tools for handling those moments. When we notice a memory or emotion come up, breathe through it. There is nothing inherently good or bad about memories; they are just stored, and when we let them go, we can simply watch them and let the pain/tension dissipate. Several months ago, I posted a link to a story about how meditation can help decrease pain. I believe that our muscles as memory storage is the major reason why that is.

Of course, our memories are fallible, but that is a topic for the next post.

Do you notice memories arise during yoga? Do you ever notice a pattern to them?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. Another fantastic posting that I can totally relate to... my memory is also very holey and sporadic but yoga and meditation gives me back the ability to focus on what is right here in this moment and that is enough. I'll be spending lots of time reading your blog and catching up on your thoughts. I'm so grateful to have found you.

  2. Thanks, Jan. I had another interesting experience with muscles relaxing and memories popping up. It is just so amazing!

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