The quasi-Pentecostal world I grew up in was a world of the spirit, of feeling. Our bodies were present of course – our legs carried us to church, our hands leapt skyward in worship, our voiceboxes grew hoarse with singing – but the body was only a container for the spiritual. And it was easily led astray, easily tainted, and destined to be abandoned one day. The idea that the body itself had wisdom, that it, like the rest of the physical world held old echoes of order and knowledge, or thrummed with the power to guide the spirit, was completely foreign to me.
On top of that, I was a sedentary, bookish girl. I got an F in the one Physical Education class I didn’t manage to avoid. If ever there was a person disconnected from their own muscle and bone, it was me. The discovery of my body as a wise mentor has been a slow one. I’m sure it began with a connection to foods and nutrition, but I think my real awareness came when I began to do yoga daily. The quiet focus, intentional alignment, patient postures, slow breathing, all began to work on me, ironically, in a deeply spiritual way. One morning, my online teacher said, “Breathe deep, spread your arms wide, take up space,” and something clicked for me. I could take up space in the world. I didn’t need to apologize for my belief or unbelief, for my difference, for my feeling. I could stretch my arms, speak out, inhabit the ground where I stood. Trying to hold a balancing posture gave me an idea of how muscles can work in opposition, one leg pulling, the other pushing, but both aimed at creating a beautiful form, a powerful line. It’s the embodiment of what I’m constantly facing with my work – the push of family against the pull of words. Tension, the body is teaching me, is not the enemy, but a friend. The lessons are plentiful, and every time I roll out that mat, I learn more.
Yoga gave me confidence to push my body even further. I took up running in January, something I’ve tried and given up on about every two years since high school. But the strength and balance I found in yoga helped me confront the challenges of running in a new way. And as I’ve stuck running out, my body has responded with more to teach me. For example, the beginning of a run is always terrible. Every single time. But it gets better, and thirty minutes later, I feel like the Queen of the World. Progress is made incrementally. I’ve worked my way up from couldn’t-run-a-full-minute to three miles straight by going just a little further each day. First I make it to that post, then the next day, the tree, the next day the stop sign. It’s not that much different from writing a novel: press through the mental blocks, each day get a little distance, and the results will come. I never saw it so clearly until I’d practiced it with my own legs and lungs.
As Jigar Gor, an Ayurvedic physician, says, “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.” One of my most important mentors lives with me every single day and I’m pretty astounded by that.
I’ve got another couple mentors I want to share, so more to come. Feel free to add your own thoughts about the body as a teacher, or to share the mentors you’re encountering in your own life.
As Adriene Mishler says, “The awesome in me bows to the awesome in you.”