Fitness of body is often a mirror, or at least a window, into what is happening in life. And what happens in life is often mirrored in fitness. An example of this recently happened to me in yoga. I have never been able to get my heels fully to the floor in Garland Pose (aka Malasana, deep seated squat). After nine years of yoga practice, I had accepted that some anatomical particularity kept me from dropping fully into the pose. I understand that not all yoga poses are equally accessible to every body, and I hold no shame in honoring my limits. (I also understand that difficulty with Garland Pose may be tightness in Achilles tendons, calves, or hamstrings, which is entirely possible for me!)
But this time, I found myself easing into Garland Pose with virtually no effort. I did not realize what had happened until I was resting fully in the deep squat, heels firmly planted on the floor just to the edges of my mat, hands directly in front of my heart. My teacher also noticed that I was lower in the squat than normal. Now, this is not a skill that I have actively been working on. My initial reaction was bewilderment at finding myself in a new posture that has eluded me for so long. But fascination soon followed, and I opened the experience to hearing what my body was revealing about my spiritual journey. (This kind of “listening” may sound strange, but research and human experience tells us that the body is a rich source of wisdom. Unfortunately, this mind-body interchange is often overlooked in our frenetic world where we are more prone to abuse the body than to honor it!)
By sinking into Garland Pose, my body reflected two aspects of my current spiritual growth. One, I have been working to create more spaciousness in my clothing closet, my refrigerator, my schedule, and, most importantly, my reactions to things that normally invoke fear and resistance. Creating space between emotional triggers and the thoughts, emotions, and story streams that (often automatically) flow from them has been a major focus of late, both personally and with my clients. Spaciousness opens new opportunities for creative solutions. It cultivates more acceptance and less judgment of self and others. Perhaps this spaciousness also invites me to go deeper, to see things from a vantage point/position that previously was not available to me. Do you see the mirroring?
Second, I have been stretched to greater flexibility in serving others. I have been saying yes to more of what sets my heart on fire and no to that which feels like obligation or force. Leaning into flexibility, I have been following the flow of those choices rather than trying to control the outcomes. A very new growth area for me is becoming more flexible with how I define what qualifies as an answer, and even whether an answer is necessary at all. Sometimes, I am learning, just showing up and being present is the answer when complexity belies a simple solution. Growth in flexibility may always present as a surprise, as it did on my yoga mat, because the sense of ease that accompanies it is delightfully, remarkably, new. The hope embedded in such growth is that what is now new becomes normal. This is expansion. This is soul maturing. This is making space for love to flourish.
As a therapist, I believe that paying attention to the body-mind-life connection is a powerful discipline in cultivating greater self-awareness. Self-awareness (gentle, kind self-awareness, please) is essential to transformation of habits, patterns, and unfinished emotional business. The process actually can be joyful when you partner with your body in the inquiry. Our bodies are always inviting us to dialogue, if only we will pay attention. This dialogue does not have to occur on a yoga mat or in a sitting or lying down position (although those types of meditation practices are absolutely helpful). Mindfulness practiced via movement–for example–on a nature hike, on a country run, in a weight lifting session, or in a dance class can be uniquely revelatory.
Below are some prompts for reflection. Try reading the questions once without answering. Notice the items that stand out or resonate with you. Take these questions, your thoughts, or your insights into the gym or trails with you. If you prefer, simply sit with them a while. Then spend some quiet time journaling about any connections you observe. Consider your bodily symptoms, fitness gains or losses, injuries, patterns, etc.
Where am I moving with greater ease, where do I notice more constriction?
What part of me feels stronger, where am I softening?
Are these changes helping me open or are they closing me off?
What part of me is narrowing, what is expanding?
Where do I feel crowded, what does spaciousness look like, feel like, where can I best breathe deeply?
In what ways do I connect with rootedness, is there a sense of being untethered? Does this feel like freedom or fear? Where do I sense this in my body?
How are my bones, my feet, my shoulders, my neck? What is my face expressing?
What physical challenges am I mastering, where do I sense a stuckness? Where do I notice atrophy?
How are my appetites, what has felt nourishing? What do I have a taste for? What movement, stillness, sensory pleasure or experience am I craving? What is the quality of the craving — is it faint or consuming?
Have fun with the process! End your practice by thanking your body for its wisdom. Thank your spirit for cooperating, or thank the Holy Spirit for guiding you if that is your faith tradition. Elevate the exercise to another level of mind-body-life connectivity by sharing your insights with a partner or friend. Invite them to do the same.
I praise you because you have made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. Psalm 139:14 (NCV)