In yoga we often talk about connecting with our bodies or our breath, or even connecting body to breath, through mindful movement. In fact, as you probably know, the root of the word YOGA means to yoke, or unite, or tie together. Most humans walk around sortof disconnected from their bodies, stuck swirling off in the stratosphere of thought somewhere, just because we believe our thoughts (and the crazy tangents they lead down) are more important than what is going on right here and now. It’s no wonder, then, that we tend to be completely unaware of what is happening deep inside our bodies, and we don’t find out until symptoms arise that are severe enough to slap us across the face and out of our slumber. Having cancer can make this situation even more complex and challenging. Not only is it common to feel even deeper disconnect because we are angry that the cancer arose in the first place, or we feel in some way that our bodies betrayed us by growing this monster that threatens our very existence. But beyond that, cancer treatments, surgery, chemo, and radiation can all cause changes and scars and side effects that are new and different and make us feel even more like strangers in the strange land of our bodies.
But wait… there’s more! On a whole another level, in modern culture, most of us feel some degree of disconnect from our bodies because we reject, or dislike, or maybe even hate… some aspect of our bodies. Our butts are too big, or too small. Our skin is too light or too dark, we have too much cellulite or we are too bony or too muscular. Our hair is too straight or too curly, or maybe we have no hair at all at the moment. We have old injuries or joint problems that cause pain or limit our activity. We have scars that we feel are deforming, or we lack body parts that made us feel “normal”. We have weird teeth or “ugly” fingernails. I could go on all day about all of the crazy things we can dislike about our own beautiful majestic bodies. I won’t bemoan the root of all of this body-hatred, but suffice it to say that the media’s portrayal of fake-perfect airbrushed bodies along with corporations’ taking advantage of our feelings of inferiority to sell more products that they tell us will make us better or prettier or enough – are more than adequate to mind-f@ck most of us. And as you can imagine, this type of body-hatred, or this mindset of being “less than”, creates an unhealthy and unsettled environment in our bodies and our minds.
Here is the amazing news. And a word of caution. Yoga IS a mind-body intervention, and therefore an exercise in embodied awareness. Yoga can really, really help us reconnect with our bodies. But it only really works if we practice mindfully. And we remind ourselves to practice with love, respect, and reverence for our bodies. If we approach the practice as a celebration of our strength, beauty, and resilience. If, as we move mindfully, we really sense our bodies and find that perfect balance between effort and ease. We challenge ourselves at our healthy limits when we feel up to it, but we also slow down and soften when that is what is needed. We must be cautious not to approach the practice like a flogging, or a penance for eating that ice cream, or with the main goal of trying to get our bodies to look better. We must be cautious not to criticize or judge our bodes as we practice, thinking “well I used to be more flexible” or “I hate that I can’t do this posture very well because of x,y,z”, or “if my back was just more flexible, then…”. This creates a cloud of negativity, rejection, or even hostility that hangs over and permeates our relationship with our body, and can be counterproductive to our efforts.
In order to create the healthiest possible environment in our bodies and minds, the ideal environment for healing to occur, we must practice connecting to our bodies and to our breath with love and kindness. And also with some honesty. I mean, I DO have ugly fingernails 😉 (along with cellulite and scars and plenty of other things that have caused me grief over the years). But that is ok. Because what I am learning is that my body is worthy of love and reverence JUST AS IT IS. Fingernails, scars, cellulite, stiffness, and all! My body has carried me through tremendous periods of stress and illness in my life (not to mention almost 47 trips around the sun), and has done its very best to heal and protect me through it all. The scars and cellulite and other weirdnesses are just a part of the story. Yoga is teaching me to really feel my body and to listen to and embrace her inner wisdom. Instead of judging this magnificent body, I will choose to feel gratitude and respect for her. I will make my practice a celebration of my strength and resilience, an honoring of what I CAN do today. I will let go of any tendency to criticize myself, or to wish my body were in any way different than it is. And I believe THIS is where the real connection will arise. Where the true yoga will happen. Where the heaviness of all of that judgement and bitterness will be lifted, leaving space for peace and joy and wellness to flourish. And this is especially important in those times when your body is in the midst of some really heavy stuff and needs a healing environment even more than usual.
I’ve been focusing on this intention during my yoga practice the last few days, and I really like it:
May I love and respect my body JUST AS IT IS
May I see clearly my own strength, beauty, and resilience
May I awaken to the light of my own true self
Give it a try. And remember, this is a practice! None of us will be perfect, and those self-criticisms will probably still creep in and come and go. But if they come just a little less than last month, and then a little less, and a little less…. it will be worth it!
Namaste yogis. The light in me honors the light in you ✨✨✨
This post was inspired by a chapter in Kino MacGregor’s new book Act of Love. Check it out!