Have you ever tried to ignore your body? It might seem an easy fix for a while, but eventually it catches up with you, and the results can be cataclysmic. With our busy and over-extended lifestyles, many of us end up putting our physical health on the back burner without realizing that ignoring our bodies has a profoundly negative effect on us, both physically and mentally. But by adding some simple physical movement – in the form of yoga – you can reconnect your body and mind, and gain a little flexibility and stamina in the process.
Give this move a try: Take off your shoes. Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Spread out your toes. Press down through the ball of your big toe. Now look at your feet. Are the arches collapsing? Are your toes squished up? Feel the ground. That’s grounding. If you can, clasp your hands behind your back, and reach your arms away from your back. Did your shoulders drop away from your ears? Did your chest open up? That’s expanding your chest, it’s heart-opening. It’s no wonder we have backaches, neck aches, shoulder tension, shallow breathing … oh, and difficulty opening our hearts. Now let your hands go (or keep them clasped) and fold forward from your hips. The forward fold can be very soothing to the nervous system (or discomforting, if you are focused on how tight your hamstrings and back feel). Hey, is that the first time today you moved your body in any non-linear way? Congratulations, you’ve just taken the first step toward a healthier and more balanced you.
When practicing yoga, it’s important to remember that mind and body are one. Your mind filters all information via your body. Yet modern living increasingly exacerbates this division, with so much focus on the mind while the body sits idly by. The result is that it becomes increasingly more difficult to trust the mind to know what is right for the body, and vice versa. In the long term, conceiving of mind and body separately is a recipe for poor health.
In “mind-body” exercise disciplines like yoga, reconnecting the mind and body is accomplished by unifying the breath with movement. These often challenging (and somewhat compromising) movements call upon you to re-pattern your body – upside down and backward on one foot maybe. That’ll re-pattern you! And not just your body either – your mind will get a good workout too.
In yoga, you put your body in compromising, unusual positions, and then you chill with it. BREATHE through it. (What a joke that is when you are twisted into a pretzel and your yoga instructor goes off on some tangent about “Once when I was practicing in India my mentor told me this story. …” and you start the inner tirade of “Hey girlfriend, you see me sweating out this messed up pose? Can we please save the allegory for after class?” Yet, as you may have discovered, this is going to be a highly inappropriate venue to stand up and admonish the instructor for her lack of social courtesy. So you stay there, twisted up like a pretzel, replaying in your mind, “I am freaking out! I am never going to come out of this pose. And if I do, surely something will be irrevocably damaged. This is just not right!”) But stick with it. Yoga gets easier the more you practice.
I would venture to bet, or at least certainly hope, that you did get out of that awkward pose safely. I mean, for goodness’ sake, you were on a yoga mat. It’s a pretty safe place to practice being calm in an uncomfortable position, a safe place to explore your inner universe of “there is no way,” and a place that teaches you that the inner voice screaming, “I can’t do this!” is probably wrong. It’s a lesson that may be applicable in alternate venues, like the rest of your life. You CAN do it. Yoga can guide you to recognize those disempowering, recurring thoughts in your head. If you can recognize these bogus tracks, you can change the tune.
To me, this is the greatest benefit of yoga. My body proves my mind wrong. But a tight body and constrictive and unbalanced physical patterns can bind us to bad habits just like the mind does.
The metaphysics of yoga asana – the postures – practiced over time can work magic. As boring as it may seem, standing in “tadasana,” or mountain pose, and feeling the grounding of your feet is really a great place to start exploring your yoga practice. Handstands and shoulder stands are a good way to explore turning your world upside down, a healthy way to gain some new perspective. Twists of any kind are so detoxifying. Balancing challenges your focus and grounding. And there are studies that support
the idea that yoga can help maintain cardiovascular and strength fitness just as well as
running or lifting weights.
In the long run, you can’t successfully ignore your body, no matter how much your mind wants you to. Conceiving of mind and body separately is a recipe for poor health. So, in the short term, take some time to reconnect your mind and body, break some old patterns that aren’t serving you, and see if you gain some new perspective.