Outside, Inside, Out: The Context of Transformation
By Nicci Micco
When I hear the word “transformation,” I think total change. Caterpillar to butterfly. Guest bedroom into home office, made fresh with paint and plants by pros on a reality TV show. I think of water shape-shifting into ice or steam. Still H20, just in a different form, morphed by external forces.
Scientifically speaking, transformation is defined as a “change in composition, state, or organization of matter, or movement or rearrangement of material by flow, heat, or diffusion.”* Filtering this through the lens of yoga, I read it to mean this: through flow (connecting movement and breath), heat (built through physical movement), and diffusion (creating space with shapes and breath), we can rearrange our molecules into a new composition, transform ourselves into a whole new state. Powerful.
Hatha yoga tells us that aiming to change our mind often doesn’t work—that, for transformation to occur, it’s useful to move the physical body, to direct the breath. Our mind and emotions will follow. Basically if we start with the outside in, we can create the context for inner transformation.
But, truly, context is what exists beyond—beyond ourselves. It’s the community that supports us and inspires us to do better. The circles and structures that empower us to shed the layers standing between the way we show up in the world and our purest, truest selves. (Or the circles and structures that hold us back.) Context is the set of circumstances in which we’re living: a global pandemic, a culture rooted in white supremacy, the physical body we’re in right now, our employment situation, the caretaking for which we’re responsible.
How do each of these contextual influences individually and collectively shape how we show up? What do we have the power to change? How can we shift situations and systems in ways that allow us to shine forth our best selves and help others to do the same? We can start small: stand tall in tadasana to feel into our power, take a break to check in with the breath, drink a glass of water, go for a walk, call a friend, unfollow an unhelpful social media account, quietly do something that helps someone else. We can be consistent, taking actions small and big that contribute to creating positive context. We can draw from, and offer, the support of community to keep going. This is the practice of yoga. This is how we transform—from the outside in, and back out.
*”4 Chemical and Physical Transformations.” National Research Council. 2003. Beyond the Molecular Frontier: Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1063