People often visit the yoga studio for the first time when their bodies are out of balance. There may be issues like stress, muscle stiffness, anxiety, burn-out, chronic pain, injury, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. People may feel disconnected from their bodies, from themselves. I believe we come to yoga to feel whole, to come home to our bodies, to ourselves.
Our bodies are excellent messengers. They show our distress. They shake us up and force us to listen when we ignore what we truly need. I personally discovered yoga after my body had been screaming at me for about a year. It was 2005 and my life had come to a complete standstill. I suffered from severe pain, loss of balance, motor control issues and vision problems. I could no longer work. I could no longer ride a bike. I could no longer read a book or watch a movie.
My body had suddenly become alien to me. The only thing I wanted was to escape my body, to transcend the pain and go back to the old ‘me’. I tried everything to ‘fix’ things but nothing seemed to work. I eventually discovered yoga online. I started practicing yoga daily at home. It was challenging at first, but slowly I began to re-connect to my body. Yoga felt like knitting back all the broken pieces of my body, which allowed me to embody my ‘new’ body.
I would love to tell you that yoga healed my body, to share a happy ending, but I would be lying. I discovered much later that my physical challenges at the time were caused by Multiple Sclerosis. Yoga however played a pivotal role in my life. Yoga increased my bodily self-awareness, which helped me to listen to my gut and continue pushing for answers, even when doctors were not taking me seriously. I cannot imagine my life without yoga. Yoga helps me to truly care for my body, to listen to my body, to see the beauty and strength in what my body is capable of, in spite of its challenges. It helps me to respect my body, to honour its needs, and to manage the pain and challenges that come with living in an unpredictable body.
Here are a few things I want you to realize about your body.
Your body is a blessing
It takes care of you day in day out. Your heart is beating for you. Your lungs are pumping for you. Your blood is flowing for you. Never stop marvelling at the wonder of your body. Your body is your home. It is your vehicle for experiencing life fully, for expressing yourself, for experiencing fun, play, flow, awe, love, compassion, connection, gratitude and so much more.
Cherish your body
Cherish your body by connecting to it in a way that works for you, by checking in daily. Feed your body with what it needs to flourish. Move your body with awareness, take full delicious breaths, care for your body with good nutrition and plenty of sleep. Let your body soak up sunshine. Spend time in nature, in stillness, surround yourself with beauty and people who accept you for who you are.
Be warm and understanding towards your body, especially when you are feeling low, in pain or like you are not good enough. Practice yoga with the body you have today, not yesterday’s body, not tomorrow’s body, but the body you have in this moment. Don’t ignore how you feel, push beyond your boundaries, or flagellate yourself with self-criticism. Treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would treat someone you love. Move your body in a gentle, supportive and soothing way.
Never take your body for granted
It is often when our bodies start failing us that we start really paying attention to our bodies. As Aldersey-Williams writes “The body is a ‘marvel of nature’ but it is the one marvel of nature that we least stop to observe”. Living with MS and losing half of my family to a rare disease, I realize how precious life is. Your health is not a given. You are not always in control of what happens to your body. You are however in control of your attitude, of how you treat your body, how you care for your body. Your everyday choices matter. Let your choices be a reflection of how precious your life is.
Focus on the good
There is always something right about your body. As human beings we have a tendency to zoom in on the negative, to focus on what is broken, what is failing, what needs to be fixed. It is especially common when you are in pain, injured or ill. Instead of focusing on how your body is failing you, focus on the good, focus on what your body is still capable of, focus on what it is doing right. When practicing yoga, notice not just the tight and painful spots in your body but also the areas of the body that feel open, relaxed and spacious.
You are not alone
Being human means being mortal, vulnerable, messy and imperfect. We all struggle. Be okay with not being okay. When you are feeling stressed, not good enough, not strong or capable enough, recognize that other people struggle too. Practice yoga, meditation or pranayama when your mind feels busy and your body overwhelming. It will broaden your perspective and make you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.
Practice non-judgemental awareness
Observe your body without judgement. Observe the thoughts, feelings and sensations that come up in your body simply as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. Be aware of the lens you use to look at your body. Your automatic judgements and responses to what’s going on in your body are based on the stories you tell yourself, and your social and cultural conditioning. Question whether the stories you tell yourself about your body are really true.
Listen to your body
Your body is a marvelous vehicle for attunement to your inner wisdom. Be aware of all the small hints your body is constantly giving you to determine whether you are doing right by you. Be aware of what drains your energy and what gives you energy. It shows up in unique ways in your body. You may feel uplifted, relaxed and present or you may feel checked out, irritated and overwhelmed. Focus on what truly matters in your life, what brings you connection, peace and joy. Trust your inner wisdom, your body’s voice. Never discredit what you are feeling in your gut.