Synesthesia: A Practice for Translating Body Language
One of the reasons we practice yoga, in my opinion, is to become better translators.
Our bodies have a complex language, and they are talking to us all the time. Our guts are receiving signals from our brains that we don’t consciously process, and our bodies will manifest pain and symptoms in response to stress our minds may not have even noticed. The body and the mind have a complex relationship, and the awareness and sensitivity we cultivate in yoga helps us to understand that relationship better.
This past Saturday, I taught another one of my Creative Flow workshops. We use yoga to explore our bodies, we listen to poetry to bend the boundaries of our brains, and we journal to let the thoughts, memories, images, and ideas from our bodies come to the light.
One tool that we experimented with is a literary device (and a neurological disorder) called synesthesia. It’s essentially the mixing of senses, like tasting a color or smelling a feeling.
Synesthetes are individuals whose sense-wires get crossed. I have a friend who understands words as being wet or dry: she hates “dry” words like ceiling. It may sound strange, but I get it: I’ve always connected colors and names: ‘J’ names like James, Jane, and Jack are always red (though Jack is a darker red, Jane more of a pink). This is a very mild version of synesthesia, and perhaps it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we are both poets.
Poets like this device a lot. Synesthesia, in all its nonsensical glory, can make a subjective experience feel suddenly real and incredibly vivid. In Chakra theory, which I’ve talked about in this blog before , many of the chakras have a sense associated with them.
When we use synesthesia to explore our sensations in unconventional ways, it can illuminate subconscious aspects of our felt experience, and we can get better at translating our body’s language into English. I’ll give you some examples, and you can try this at home. I highly recommend reading the poems below out loud.
After letting the thoughts settle in the pose (five minutes or so, staying away from pain, please!), do a little journaling—write down anything at all that comes up for you, without judgment. It may feel like your subconscious is speaking to you through your pen-hand.
Start with Child’s Pose. Let your forehead touch something: your hands, a block or blanket, or the floor. Your third eye chakra is located in the center of your forehead, and connects to the superficial back line myofascial train. While we open the back body, we can think about our experience of vision. With your eyes closed, think about colors and shapes. What images come up for you? If this sensation had a color or an image, what would it be?
"Wring Out My Clothes" by St. Francis of Assisi
Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Next, come into a hip opener you like; for example, pigeon pose or butterfly fold. The hips relate to the second chakra, svadisthana, which is all about our reproductive, generative creativity, our sensual experience of the world, and the sense of taste. Think about your relationship to food; what is your experience of bitterness? Of sweetness? Of salt tears? If this sensation had a taste, what would it be?
From "Ode To Tomatoes" by Pablo Neruda
it enters at lunchtime,
its own light,
Unfortunately, we must
into living flesh,
populates the salads
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
of the roast
at the door,
Then, try a heart and throat opener like supported fish; or, simply lie on the floor with a pillow under your chest. If it feels OK on your neck, let the throat open a little. The throat chakra is connected to our expressive creativity, the words we want to say, and the sense of hearing and sound. Take a moment to think about your favorite song. And then one you absolutely hate. What happens to your body when you listen to those sounds? If this sensation had a sound, what would it be?
From "II- Daughter of Music" by George Elliott Clarke
After she rose up, flew from buckaroo devils
wanting her strapped and studded,
after she soared, aria-like, into North Star night,
slipping her captor’s locksmith logic,
their clanking theology of chains,
she reconnoitered her true-true love, Ogun,
God to beauty-creating Chaos,
and begat, in posh, love-call laughter,
their nine natural daughters—
Calypso, Soul, Jazz & Blues (twins), Poetry, Reggae,
Anastacia, Dona Beatrice, and Oxum,
all born to enforce and reinforce Love.
Let me know how it goes! If you do write something down you’d like to share, leave it in the comments section, I’d love to read all about your experience of synesthesia and body language translation.