mentors: the body

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.

FW18.runningYoga 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.”

8 thoughts on “mentors: the body

  1. Hi Tonia! First let me say I am so very glad to see you posting on Instagram. Second this is truly beautiful and very inspirational. This was needed on many levels without going into heavy details. Just wanted to let you know I was here reading and enjoyed it! Thank you.


    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful, Janet! It’s just amazing the depths of wisdom our bodies have for us. I’m so thankful I didn’t waste any more of my life not knowing that.

      Thanks so much for the support and the welcome back! I appreciate your being here so much.




  2. First, the unimportant but neat things…we have the same rug and I have a small version of the poster I spy on your back wall. : )

    And then…it has been one of the best gifts of menopause, this understanding of the gift of our bodies’ wisdom. It makes everything so much simpler. And Adriene, oh my goodness. Just this morning I unsubscribed from the other yoga teachers I experimented with on youtube several years ago. She is plenty for me.

    Oh, and a stray thought. I went through a long, long St. Francis adoration phase when I was a young woman, after seeing Brother Sun, Sister Moon for the first time. But as I read books and learned more about Francesco, I was always so saddened by the way he treated and viewed his body.


    1. *grin* I love that we have the same things! That Shepard Fairey print is my favorite.

      And Adriene…right? She’s a very talented teacher. She leads you so gently and you get stronger without even realizing it. I’m devoted. 🙂

      I find Francis a very hard saint to compartmentalize. On the one hand, his tenderness toward nature and creation…but on the other something offputting about the lack of concern for the body and our own humanity – typical of his time period, I suppose. I keep a statue of him, a typical one with him and some birds, and I just let him speak to me about that. 🙂

      I love that you welcome menopause as a gift-bearer. I hope I am the same.


  3. I don’t think I’ve learned this lesson yet. I just feel so huge, like a bull in a china shop, like I’m taking up way too much space. I stopped going to yoga classes because of the stares. I abandoned yoga altogether, really, which is a shame, because I found many of the same lessons in it at the time- what my body could be capable of. You have given me a gentle, loving nudge.


    1. I’ve been thinking about this comment since I read it a couple of days ago. It makes me so sad to think you felt unwelcome or stared at. Truthfully, I have never been to a class – I’m self-conscious too about some things – but it seems wrong that we can’t bring ourselves to TAKE UP THE DAMN SPACE!! I do hope you’ll at least return to yoga at home, because it’s so nurturing for the spirit. I’ll be thinking of you while I’m doing mine in the basement. xo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s