The Smell of Purple: My Spine and the Subtle Body

When I was a young girl, I loved to wander and search for adventure at a nearby swamp. Sometimes I dared to walk tall down the neighboring trail that was rumored to be haunted by a headless turtle. Some days I ventured a climb up the magnificent oak trees whose wide horizontal limbs spread out over the water and told me that if I stood up and allowed myself to be held by an ancient outstretched arm, I could feel the expansiveness and rhythm of the earth.

Every summer there were some incredible purple flowers that popped up among the tall grasses on the marshy shore. I remember rustling through the waving green towers to get close to the delicate petals; I can still feel the moment when I leaned down to touch a petal with my nose and had an instant realization that colors have a scent. Upon my first inhalation, I immediately knew, ‘this is the smell of purple.’ I felt a sense of awe and unity with the world. I did not name this experience. I just lived it.

Today, whenever I see a purple iris, or even an image of a purple iris, the sweet scent of purple not only fills my nostrils but I experience a sense of wonder and ease throughout my entire being. My nervous system feels calm, the corners of my lips gently curl up and I feel a sense of wholeness. I often describe this as an experience of connecting with the subtle/inner body.

For the past few days, I have been mulling over how to use words as a medium to share the beauty, power and depth of this ‘subtle/inner body awareness.’ This past week I participated in an adaptive yoga training at Mind Body Solutions. This organization specializes in using the practice of yoga as a way of living with trauma, loss and disability. They teach how yoga can be a pathway for connecting with the subtle/inner body and therefore provide an entry point from which everyone, no matter their level of physical ability, can tap into the full expanse of life.

The teachers at MBS describe the subtle/inner body as “a placeholder term for a range of inward experiences within the mind-body relationship, … experiences like the silent hum, the feeling of relief, the movement of body awareness that does not require muscular action, the changes within the quality of one’s presence that come from improving alignment, a feeling or lightness within the body, an overall sense of life force, the tingling throughout the body that comes with a quality breath.”

As an entry channel into feeling the subtle/inner body, MBS teaches that there are core sensations that every person, no matter their physical ability can feel. These core sensations are; grounding down to lift up, moving inward to create outward expansion, embodying a sense of rhythm and cultivating balance. They believe that these sensations serve as a launching point from which all humans can explore levels of consciousness and awareness that deepen and enrich the experience of living and ultimately lead to an experience of unity and wholeness. They understand this practice to be, “Humanity disguised as yoga.”

I begin almost every yoga practice by trying to embody the first core sensation of grounding down to lift up. I love this dynamic movement as I find that it provides a sense of how to be present with gravity and feel my place in the world. Recently I was leading a private yoga session with a dear student whose spine is almost entirely fused. When she lifts her toes to ground toward the earth with the intention of lifting up toward the sky, it is difficult for her to feel a complete sense of connectivity. She describes some of the places along her spine as feeling dark.

As a person with a scoliosis; an extra curvy spine, I understand this disconnect. When I visualize the actual vertebrae of my spine, I sometimes find it challenging to feel the connection of earth to sky.

With this in mind, I decided to not give any specific muscular/skeletal instructions. Instead, I asked the student to bring her awareness to the area of her lower back and then slowly guide this awareness up the general area of her back body—not the spine specifically—until she felt it stop.

The student followed my suggestion and took her time to tune in, observe and listen. As she moved her awareness upward, she reached a point where she felt stuck. We were quiet for a moment and then I flashed on the memory of the purple iris. I inhaled and asked her if she could see a color around the stuck place in her back. She exhaled and told me that it was very dark. Usually when I hear such comments, I try to bring in the image of a gentle light. Instead of doing this kind of guided practice, I told her my story about how I learned to smell the color purple. Together, we then invoked the image of the translucent petals and breathed in the gentle scent. As our breath synchronized, I asked her to imagine the smell of purple gently wafting into the area just below the darkness.

After a little while, both of us felt a greater lightness of being and our breath became easier. From here, we smiled and went on to explore the other core sensations of expansiveness, rhythm and balance.

While this experience may sound esoteric to some, I find it invigorating and incredibly hopeful. For those of us whose spines will never be a directly linear conduit to the earth, it is self-empowering that we can access the core sensation of grounding down to lift up and experience it as a pathway to connect with our subtle/inner body. Perhaps you have a color that soothes your soul and helps you to connect to the more subtle and life affirming aspects of existence. If so, I’d love to know.

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