I've been wanting to write a piece for my blog for a few days now, and although I had some ideas, I was at a loss for words on what to write. My mistake was that I was looking for inspiration in all the wrong places. Where did I end up finding it? Well on my yoga mat of course. I had quite a breakthrough during my practice this morning, but you'll have to read on to find out more :D
During my teacher training in NYC, we were introduced to the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse ancient Indian text. The verses that specifically stand out for me are as follows:
“The soul within the body passes from childhood to old age and then into another body at death. In the course of a life, happiness and distress come and go like the seasons. They are mere sensory impressions. Do not be disturbed by such impermanence. You, the soul within the body, endure and cannot be destroyed. Nothing can touch the imperishable soul.”
What is impermanent? Everything! Our bodies, our minds, emotion, happiness or sadness, discomfort and pain. None of it is permanent. However, as human beings, we have this incessant need to control everything. We feel sad, or upset or angry, and rather than being in the moment, letting the tide pass, what do we do? We look for instant gratification, either from food, alcohol, drugs etc., which often then leads to yet more struggle and more suffering. If we simply allowed every moment of our lives, every feeling to naturally unfold; we could spare ourselves from any added unnecessary pain. Right? Easier said than done I know.
What touched me most about this verse is the impermanence of our physical bodies. As some of you might already know, like many, I have struggled - and if I'm honest, I continue to struggle - with body image. The causes of body image issues and eating disorders are extremely complex and specific to each individual. And although overcoming these illnesses require a lot of deep work and self-reflection into past experiences and upbringings; in my experience much of the suffering is aggravated due to our inability to control our body and any changes that come along with it.
A lovely woman I knew in NY once told me "Nicole, your body will always change. It will never be the same from one day to the next". It seems so simple but to hear it said so bluntly, was a great revelation for me.
The same goes for our yoga practice. I believe I speak for many, if not all regular practitioners including myself when I say that every time we come onto our mats, we arrive with certain expectations, expectations of our bodies' ability to get into a pose and how our bodies will feel.
Ignorance causes the mind to attach to the physical body and perceive the conditions and abilities of the physical body as fixed. “This is my look, my conditions and my abilities”. To this effect, unexpected changes that are experienced by the body may lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction and frustration. “Well I was able to get into the pose with such ease the other day, why am I unable to do it today?”, “Why, what have I done differently?” etc. Expectations mean that we are not living in the present moment; we are attached to the past.
Everything seems to always go back to THE PRESENT. Being in the moment, mindfulness. We've heard it all before, but how can we truly incorporate it into our lives? My answer: the BREATH. Everything is constantly changing around us, but the one constant that is always with us is our breath.
Only when we are fully present can we begin to listen to our ever-changing body and honour its needs.
Going back to my breakthrough from this morning; yes we're finally getting there! Approx. 3 years ago, I partially tore my left hamstring, but it's not until only a few months ago that I really started the healing process. I slowed down my practice, modified for each and every forward fold, standing splits etc you name it. Modifications... me? The Type A who always has to push herself to the max? Yep! I had in fact resigned myself to the fact that I will never again enjoy a forward fold or come into the splits, and to be perfectly honest, I was totally ok with that. So when my teacher then cued us into the splits during this morning's practice, my mind went straight to, "ummm which hip opener could I do now instead?", and then I paused and thought, "what's the harm in taking it slow and trying?". My hamstring was starting to feel a lot better in the forward bends during sun salutations so I thought, what the heck! I started off very high, extremely mindful of any sensations I would feel around my hamstring, and to my surprise, the more I breathed, the more I found myself getting lower and lower; until only a couple centimetres separated me from my mat. Truly incredible feeling!
"By taking time to honour the body, to honour its shifts and needs, it will be there for you in a way that it has never been before. Rest and care will help it come back to centre quickly. You will have the benefit of a healed spirit and a body that was allowed to adjust and adapt to that healing process. You will be honouring the oneness of body, mind and soul. You will be honouring your newfound connection" Melody Beattie
Moral of the story: Our bodies are constantly changing - whether it's weight gain, an injury, post-pregnancy, loss of strength or energy - and rather than trying to control everything, let it be. Be in the moment, breathe and listen. Your body will give you the answers you seek.
You can read more about my eating disorder in my January post "Rediscovering my relationship with food" and my hamstring injury in my February piece "Perfectly imperfect: A journey that began with a torn hamstring".
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