There is a story from Mexico of an old woman who collects bones, which goes something like this. La Loba, the Bone Woman, gathers the dry and scattered bones of creatures and brings them home. Her speciality is wolves. When La Loba has a complete skeleton, she lights a fire in her hearth and sets down to sing to the bones. She sings until the bones come to life, the wolf rises, full, strong and fierce, and runs howling into the night. If you have ever had the luck to meet La Loba – you may know here by her fatness, hairy face and rough meanness – be blessed, for she may show you something of the soul.
When I heard this story, I was struck by its many resonances. Of course, bones have long been a metaphor of birth – life springing forth from something that appears dead, like a seed – and rebirth – the potential within each of us to make ourselves new in any given moment, to bring to life those parts of us which we previously thought, consciously or unconsciously, were dead. Like Persephone from the Underworld, the bulb from dank earth, blossom from a barren bough, life pervades even through its darkest cycles.
Most of us have an image of bones as lifeless. When we look at images of a skeleton or see one first-hand, the bones are dry, brittle and dead. Bones alive inside the body are quite different. Bones are fluid and dynamic. They are strong yet soft, and are constantly renewing themselves. They respond to how we use our body. When we develop muscles in a particular pattern, the muscles sculpt the bone into a shape that more deeply engrains that pattern. Our lives shape our bones. And, our bones are intimately involved in life. Bones support the body, protect organs, play a vital part in respiration, act as stores for nutrients and energy reserves, and create red blood cells.
Bones are at our deepest core. And they are our friends in yoga, both functionally and as a metaphor for regeneration. Yoga is an opportunity to gather together all those aspects of ourselves that we have strewn across our life even over the cycle of a single day, scattered here and there like dead and lost bones. Our practice is a rich compost for inner life, breathing spirit into our physiological, psychological and emotional body. Like Ezekiel on the plain of old bones waiting for instruction from his God, our job is to listen to the yoga that comes from within – what Vanda Scaravelli calls the ‘song of the body’ – and let it sing soul, life and breath back into our lives.
This raising of the bones furthermore connects us to our intuition, or inner knowing, which gives us the power to make more truthful choices. In folklore, the image of a skull held high on a staff, with a fiery light radiating from the holes of the eyes, ears and mouth, represents the courage of allowing ourselves to be guided by our intuition, stepping bravely into the dark forest with the gifts of discernment as our torch.
Try this: Lie supine for a few minutes in corpse pose, svasana, covered in a heavy blanket. (Corpse pose is a practice for the ultimate letting go, yet at the same time it strengthens and renews inner reserves breathing new life into the body and so represents the Life/Death/Life cycle.) Now, imagine burrowing your awareness right down into your bones. Take your time to encourage each layer of muscles to slowly soften, from the armory of your external muscles to the deeper muscles that attach to the bones. In this way you can begin to let go of masks and personas and come into closer relationship with what lies beneath. You may notice that some parts of your body feel more alive, more embodied, while some parts feel harder to reach, deader, disembodied. Yet, as the body relaxes and you gradually rest more into your body, loosening the tension and resistances that keep your bones rigid and held, there is more space for the breath and more space to connect with your heart and intuition. Let your bones speak, your body breath, your heart sing and feel what it is to be alive from the inside out.