Monday, June 23, 2008

Head Meets Body

If you haven't read it yet, check out this brilliant post by my favorite author Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose. The following quote in particular hits home for me:

“Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.”

I once told my yoga instructor that she was responsible for re-attaching my head to my body. At some point in my childhood I had completely separated them and started mostly ignoring the parts below my neck. I had been a clumsy child who almost never succeeded at anything physical and though I was always interested in participating in those activities that others seemed to enjoy so much, I usually found the experience disheartening and so I focused completely on living through my mind. I read everything I could find and concentrated on establishing my worth based on my grades and my emotional responses to people. I got really, really nice.

Luckily a few years ago a friend dragged me to a yoga class and through the help of an amazing teacher, I suddenly started to realize that my body was there for more than just to give my brain a ride. I got strong and developed an awareness of my body that allowed me to move each part separately. The slow nature of the poses allowed me to use my brain to override my clumsiness and suddenly I was succeeding at something physical. It completely changed my life and even allowed me to start being less nice and being more real. I also found that when I was doing regular yoga I could succeed at other physical activities that had previously been out of my reach and I took up salsa dancing and got to have some of the most exhilarating experiences of my life as I spun and shook and whirled around the dance floor. So though I understand one of the commentors points about not focusing on bodies, I just don't think it is realistic or even desirable to pretend we don't see bodies. I don’t want my body ignored. Getting connected or perhaps re-connected to it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

On a side note, I think one of the reasons yoga has been such a successful modality for me was that it gave me tons of proprioceptive input through my joints and muscles. As a pediatric occupational therapist I use this all the time to help children organize their motor activity and improve their motor planning. I was finally able to really map each muscle in my body into my brain through this slow focused work that I did in yoga. My teacher, the amazing Marni Greer, was adept at helping us isolate movement and understand how our bodies worked. I don't think I could have done it without her. One of the biggest compliments of my life came last year when she told me I had excellent body awareness and that I should think about becoming a yoga teacher. I've made that one of my long term goals as I think it is important for people of all sizes to be represented in the yoga community but unfortunately the PhD needs to come first!

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