Nature Based Imagery and Metaphor in Modern Postural Yoga

Tom Cowan


A group of students arrive to a drop in yoga class in the urban centre of what could be any town or city.  It’s busy outside. Bustling with the sounds of cars, bumper to bumper and pedestrians who are casting the dim blue glow of their phone screens, like an artery snaking along the pavements into the distance.

Street lighting flickers with artificial lumens as the early winter sundown brings a darkening sky overhead. There’s a murmur of starlings out to sea although many wouldn’t have noticed either of these natural and wondrous phenomenon.

Increasingly we are kept isolated (or insulated) from the natural cycles of nature, seasonal, daily, lunar, all happening within the vast ecology of life.

So how do we empower ourselves and our students in making threads of connection, with what are unarguably the sovereign birth rites of each human? How do we heal this sacred kinship with the elemental forces of nature? What supports us in learning to listen and observe deeply that which is being mirrored to us so that we can practice discernment when it comes to our own intra personal relationships?

One way to begin to nourish and restore this relationship is through the practice of modern postural yoga. An approach to yoga practice that gives us freedom, creativity and playfulness, guiding ourselves and our students into a paradigm that is in confluence with and echoes the balanced systems and elements of the natural world. 

In practical terms, as a teacher, the use of nature based visual metaphor can serve to create connection between the student’s personal ecology and that of all the living, growing, evolving and exchanging life based systems on earth.

A recent example of a breath-based practice that I was taught is to visualise the evaporated water of the earth, from seas, mountain streams, ponds and puddles and moist air exhaled from our fellow humans and non-humans. Then to imagine this vast pool of life swirling around the earth and as we breathe, to inhale from this resource, connecting to the subtleties of our own breath mechanics (air passing through nostrils & throat, belly, chest and side ribs expanding and contracting) drawing presence into our own experience now through the practice of sense withdrawal or turning in, Pratyahara. Then on the out breath allowing this exchange of water and gases back into to the air, to the sky, to the earth and to each other, witnessing the flowing exhalation as an anchor to ground this practice and yourself.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that seamlessly uncouples us from the individuation inherent in modern cultural and societal myths.  We can experience from breathing in and out, with gentle attention, that we share, one and all, this moment, this delicately orchestrated dance of divine affinity. It’s a simple practice to add to your day, even for just a minute.  Be open during this time to imagining, to innocently remembering that we are on a par with all non-human life for when it comes to the hierarchy of the breathe, it’s horizontal and reciprocal. Breathe, revere and appreciate the beauty of this gift, to honour our place among all life.  

“A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.” - Mahatma Gandhi