Movement for Life

All of life is movement. The moment we’re born we’re wriggling, pandiculating, breathing, and finding our way through space. We explore and thereby learn to master our movements. Or we struggle, and the body, miraculous organism that it is, finds a way to overcome our limitations. It’s those patterns that we then habituate.

And then one day, our bodies start to change and we wonder why it is suddnely too hard to do the things we’ve always done. Maybe we’re just exhausted, or maybe we lift something or sleep funny or fall and suddenly, something hurts, be it our back or a shoulder or knee. We do our usual workout and suddenly discover our bones ache. We think “arthritis” or worse. The panic sets in and we wonder how badly we might have hurt ourselves and what we need to do to about it: ignore it and hope it goes away, see a doctor, self-treat?

Aside from the decision about what to do about our injured part and assuming we haven’t broken anything, we have two basic choices thereafter. We can either stop moving to ensure that we don’t risk further pain or injury, or we can continue to move in safe ways so our body stays limber and fluid.

Sadly, many of us choose to stop moving. We fear the discomfort, pain or effort, so we hold back. We rest, thinking we’re doing ourselves a favor. Trouble is, when we stop moving, it gets harder to move. When it gets harder to move, we move even less. When we stop moving, we rather suddenly age. We lose the freedom that movement brings. We stop doing the things we enjoy.

The better choice, the important choice, is to keep moving. Maybe we have to make changes. Maybe that mile run needs to turn into laps in the pool. Maybe the Ashtanga yoga practice needs to become more restorative. The important thing is to keep the body moving to keep it young and to fully enjoy life.

We used to look at the body as a set of individual parts…the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, etc. The latest science of movement has revealed that the body isn’t just a bunch of isolated parts. It’s a unified whole tied together by tension lines called fascia.

Fascia needs movement to stay healthy. When we injure a “part”, the fascia is what knits together to protect the injury. This tissue then becomes less flexible. The problem is, the fascia is connected from head to toe. It’s all one. So if one part of the fascia is tight, it impacts the entire body.

It’s the resistance that makes us say, “It’s too hard!” But if we stop moving, that body-wide tension becomes habit and ages us before our time.  We see it in bodies that are bent over, hunched, and  crooked — signs of a body doing its utmost to guard the still-tender wounds of life.  We need movement to break this rigidity that can settle both deep in the body and eventually the mind.

When people who don’t practice yoga look at yoga, they think, “Oh, I can’t do that!” But what’s important is not some twisted up, contortionist posture. What IS important is movement. Just keep moving — as much or as little as your body allows and preferably in ways that free you from habits. Practicing sports can be great for well-being, but they can also be great at reinforcing imbalance. Certain muscle groups are built up (as necessary to engage in the sport) and others are forsaken. That’s why exploratory yoga and improvisational forms of dance are so wonderful. Practiced with a sense of curiosity and adventure, you’re more likely to discover new ways to move and bring enjoyment and liberation to your body.

 

 

 

There’s Nothing Wrong with Your Body

We live in a culture that is constantly telling us what is wrong with us. We need some new products or have to do something differently because we’re not pretty enough, young enough, rich enough, successful enough, or living enough. So many of our choices are made to prove something, either to others or to ourselves.

We obviously must have entered into this world quite deficient! We are so bombarded with concepts and ideas that make this assumption that it has become a deeply imbedded and unquestioned aspect of being human. Something’s wrong with us. Something is missing. So, we must strive to improve, be better, get more.

Even the things that are meant to help us live life, to free us of such conditioning, can themselves become absorbed into this black hole of our imperfection. Take, for example, the practice of yoga asana (asana being the fancy name for physical yoga practice).

Most people head to yoga class for one or more of several reasons: to feel better, to workout, to be happier. The intentions are good. But what thoughts surface while they are there?

“My body doesn’t do that. I must not be flexible enough. I better try harder.”

“My teacher tells me I have to put my feet just so. It hurts, but he must know better than I do.”

“Wow, that person is so graceful and flexible. I want to look like that. I can just barely force myself…into…that…ouch…position.”

“I’ll never be able to get my leg over my head like that. I suck at yoga. I hate this body.”

“The teacher is doing it this way, therefore, I have to torque my body just like that, no matter how much my joints whine.”

“Wow, look at me! I’m doing a wheel. Hurts like hell, but what an acheivement!”

Not exactly the enlightening experience one was hoping for!

There’s nothing wrong with a person who can’t turn out their hips just so, who doesn’t have perfect alignment, who can’t reach their toes without bending their knees, who simply can’t sit like a pretzel. And yet, they try. They try because they think there is something wrong with them. There is something they must attain. Something is missing. Something is wrong and they need to fix it by pushing harder.

Look, the problem is not with you and your body! I promise. There’s nothing wrong with your body…whether it can bend with the best of them or not. It’s just fine. The problem lies in one of two places:

Your Own Head

Your own judgments of yourself may be telling you stories about how you should be able to do something because someone else can or because someone else demonstrates it thus or has told you “the right way”. But if you are honest with yourself, your very own body is telling you what’s true, what’s right. Get out of your head and into that “just fine as it is” body.

Your Yoga Teacher’s Head

As for your instructor, maybe they think you should be able to do something because they simply don’t understand that forcing a body to do something is just plain ignorant. Maybe they are victims of a rigid dogma they’ve been taught, ignoring the intelligence of their own bodies for the sake of a pose. It unfortunately happens.

In the first instance, you simply need to recongnize that how you are built is how you are built. There is nothing wrong with your body. Okay, you might  have a back injury or tight hips, whatever. These are things to be worked with, not against. These are things that inform your practice. But there’s nothing wrong with you…nothing that needs fixing. Healing…maybe. Accepting…probably. Fixing…not so much!

And in the second instance, you simply need to realize that no one is a better authority over your own body than you. Teachers are there for a reason. They serve an important purpose, of course. But there will be those who carry their own “not good enough”, “gotta be better” issues. Don’t let them become yours. If a teacher is making you feel “less than” because you’re not complying with their technique, find another teacher. If they are telling you to push through pain and ignore your own body, or offering you unwelcome hands-on adjustments, run as fast as you can.

Movement should be joyful. It should feel good. We should enter movement with trust and the certainty that we will not hurt ourselves. If we believe the lie that there is something wrong with us, if we enter a class thinking we have to measure up to something or hold the belief that we need to push through and beyond the limits of our body, we’re going to get hurt. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

Why not face the realization here and now that there’s nothing wrong with your body? Why not decide that what you have to work with is perfect, in whatever state it is in? Why not discover with gentleness and intelligence how truly perfect your body actually is?

Find Your Yoga

Every time I turn around, it seems one more person has become a yoga convert, registered for yoga teacher training, or already started offering yoga classes….myself included. This is a truly beautiful thing! I believe it heralds a very exciting change happening around the world…a heartfelt desire to find balance again.

As you read this you might be thinking, “Um, there’s no way I can do what those yoga people do.” I would suggest that your concept of yoga needs some broadening. I believe that everyone needs a yoga practice, without exception and no matter what age, what body type, or belief system he or she might follow. These days, there truly is a yoga for everyone.

Yoga is about finding your balance in the world. It is about taking care of your body and your mind as your temple. It is about finding what is right and natural…for you. What makes yoga so special is how it expresses itself through each person who practices. For some, this might look like an asana (or pose) practice. For others, it may be a careful attention turned toward treating others with kindness. Another may dance and sing to express their yoga. It doesn’t really matter! What’s important is that all have something, anything, that helps them to feel connected to something bigger than themselves and that helps them to lead a happier, more peaceful life.

Yoga is not a religion. It is a way of living. It is a way to remember how to be natural in an increasingly unnatural world. In the broadest sense, yoga is anything that one does with mindfulness, flow and lightness. It’s why yoga goes so well with everything. It goes with art, creative writing, cooking, accounting and yes, even politics (there just aren’t as many practitioners in some fields as others, but let’s pray that changes!).

Sure, a person can do any of those things, even yoga, without yoga. He or she might even find success and benefit doing it. But without mindfulness, without flow, without lightness, it remains devoid of love and self-compassion. There is no connection to the whole…or at least no awareness of that connection. And there are sure to be consequences down the road like burnout, injury or disease.

Doing anything without yoga is living while sleepwalking. And that is the sickness of our times. Yoga is the cure. So when I see that yoga is exploding everywhere, I say, “Amen!” May more and more people wake up. May more and more people discover this profound and beautiful path that molds itself to each one uniquely. Find your yoga and rediscover the natural self.