I recently took a rare consecutive two days off my yoga practice. I thought I was honoring my body. I thought I was tired. I thought I was sore. I thought I was listening inwardly. When I returned to my practice I immediately felt what was actually going on. Within the first five minutes of my flow I felt everything I had not wanted to think about for those two days. An issue I was ignoring was suddenly coming out in my left knee and wrist. The pain felt very real. Still I knew it was my unexpressed thoughts and emotions. The feelings surrounded my joints and left me no choice but to drop down to my knees and listen to what my body was trying to tell me. It turns out my body is a lot wiser than my ego.
"Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen." ~ Shakti Gawain
It takes time to develop body wisdom. I developed body wisdom after a year in doctors' offices for unexplainable symptoms and illnesses that were suddenly 'cured' with yoga and mindfulness. I mostly practice hot yoga, a series of 26 postures or a vinyasa flow in a room heated to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a workout for sure, but it is also a work in. Somewhere along the way as I synchronize my breath with movement my ego floats away. Thinking gives way to feeling and my body begins to express all the stuff my ego would rather not acknowledge.
I used to hold an entire past relationship in my right hip. Every time I was anxious or upset I would stop breathing into my right hip and it would feel tight and painful. I noticed my right hip pain completely disappeared when my left knee and wrist pain developed. It felt as if I had finally let go of one issue and was now clinging to another.
Shortly after this experience, I listened to an Institute for Integrative Nutrition lecture given by Dr. Iyanla Vanzant. Vanzant described a pain in her leg she ignored an entire year. When the pain was so excruciating that she finally paid attention to it she posed the following questions to herself.
“Where in your life are you allowing something to go on and on and on and not addressing it?”
“What thought, what habit, what belief are you still hanging on to that's causing you pain and discomfort and you're just acting like it isn't there?”
I smiled and wondered if Vanzant practiced yoga. I don't know if she does, but I do know you don't have to be on your mat to feel your asana. You can feel the postures of your life by becoming aware, breathing and being present.
Here's more on 3 ways to feel your asana.
1. Become aware. Notice your physical reaction to stress, confrontation, sadness and grief. Do your shoulders rise? Do you clench your teeth or tighten your jaw? Does your lower back hurt? Does the feeling associated with a particular emotion or person always reside in the same part of your body? See if you can isolate this feeling and tap into any unexpressed emotions. What might your body be telling you that your ego has not been willing to acknowledge?
2. Breathe. Once you become aware of the feeling tone within your body breathe into it. As you slowly inhale through your nose imagine your breath oxygenating the tight area. Feel that area expand around your breath. As you slowly exhale from your nose feel the area soften and release. Now spread your breath throughout your entire body. Inhale with every cell of your body. Exhale from every cell of your body. Follow your breath. Notice how your body moves around your breath.
3. Be present. Use your breath to ground you to the present moment. Let it be your anchor to the here and now. Sometimes perceived tension arrises when our body is physically in one place and our ego is someplace else. The past is over. The future is a mystery. The only thing that is real is this moment. The present moment truly is a gift. Let this moment be enough by letting go of thinking and allowing feeling to take over. Act according to how you feel in the moment. Author Marianne Williamson writes, “A miracle is a shift in thinking from what we might have done in the past or should be doing in the future, to what we feel free to do right here, right now.”