Yoga: Listening Deeply and Responding Kindly

My dogs are barking.

My back is singing.

My belly is grumbling.

The body is always talking, rarely at a loss for something to say.  Even the language we use to describe our physical sensations are verbal in nature. We have an innate understanding that the body is communicating all the time. And the body, like a child, is always trying to get our attention. It sends signals, both subtle and loud, whether we are awake or asleep, in an attempt to tell us about our well-being.

Are you listening? Or have you turned a deaf ear? Do you know the language of your body? Can you understand what it is saying? Taking this one step further, do you have the tools you need to respond to your body in a kind and healthy way?

I spent over forty years disconnected from my body, namely my right hip and leg. I had my first reconstructive hip surgery at the age of eleven months, the result of severe congenital hip displaysia. Other than walking a little funny and not being able to sit cross-legged, my hip never bothered me much until I was in my twenties. At age 28, I was nearly disabled and had a total hip replacement. By the time I was in my late 40s I learned that over half of the bone bed in the right side of my pelvis was worn away, leading to another hip surgery and the rebuilding of that section of my pelvis. Prior to my last surgery, I was so disconnected from the signals my body tried to send me, I still walked a few miles every day and kept up all of my  activities. I limped through my life, mystified when people asked if I was okay.

My pain threshold was utterly out of whack, living each day with pre-verbal learned responses to pain that began as an infant. I mentioned to my walking partner one day that I was ‘in a bit of discomfort’ and considering perhaps taking an over the counter pain medication, something I had never used and knew nothing about. With her vast knowledge of such things, she schooled me on various available remedies, such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, aspirin and Aleve.  Then she asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10.

“Oh, pretty consistently about a 7,” was my matter of fact response. “Spiking to 9, like just a few minutes ago as we came around that last curve.”

“7?! 9?!” she exclaimed. “Really? I reach for the ibuprofen at about a 2 or 3.”

It was evident that my pain threshold was on the fritz and I was deeply disconnected from my right hip and leg. Rather than tending to myself, I ignored my hip and even shamed it with my inner thoughts. (‘Shut up! Keep up! Keep moving!’) The grooves of this pattern were deep, well-worn and old. The patterns ruled without filter or supervision – the dictator of my inner world. I soldiered on unaware, living in my mind and ignoring my body.

A common theme from students in my yoga and meditation classes is the significant amount of time we spend these days living in our heads. Thoughts run amok, rumination rules and mindless numbing occupy a significant amount of our mental energy. We spend so much time living in our heads that we ignore the signals from the body and even completely disconnect from our bodily messages. We have become so disconnected from the body that we no longer are fluent in its language. We are out of practice listening and have few skills to respond in a kind and meaningful way.

For some, the only communication with the body is old, programmed and very unkind. For most, these are deeply ingrained habits further deepened by our perpetual screen time. (The disconnectedness resulting from all our ‘connectedness.’) A yoga student once shared a story about the day she realized she was her own worst enemy. In a moment of clarity, she heard herself speak to her body more unkindly and more harshly than anyone else in her life. As she tuned into her beliefs about her body and appearance, she knew she would never allow someone so speak to her (or to anyone) in the way she mentally spoke to herself.

So how do we reconnect with the body, become aware of our inner dialog, learn the body’s language and develop a healthy dialog with kind and caring responses?  For me, the answer is Yoga.  Yoga is part of my triple braided cord of authentic living, what I call YES – Yoga Expression Spirit. Yoga provides a space and the tools to listen and respond.

While the definition of yoga may differ widely based on the school of thought or discipline, the following definition serves me well:

‘Yoga – A science for living well, bringing mind, body and

breath together in the present moment.’

The YES wheel - Yoga

Yoga continues to provide me with powerful tools to deepen my relationship with my body. Each time I step on my mat, I experience what I have come to know as the two sides of myself. Early on, as I developed a yoga practice, I became aware of my frustration and even shame with my right side, the weakness, deformity and limitations of my hip and leg. I also became aware of the great pride I felt about the strength of my left side which had compensated for the other side all of my life, muscular, flexible and adept. On my mat I became aware that this dichotomy was not only physically visible, it spilled over into the way I saw myself and the world.

Off the yoga mat and out in the world, I began to notice how I used my hip as was currency. I had repeated the story of my hip surgeries and years of body casts thousands of times to impress, for sympathy and as an excuse. My ‘hip saga’ was a string I plucked often, a song I knew well. I consciously and unconsciously used it to my advantage.

On my mat, I began to hear the loud persistent inner dialog, my inner ping-pong between left and right, anger and pride. With time, I became fluent in this language, becoming consciously aware of signals that had been unconsciously present but unnoticed for most of my life. My yoga practice became a learning laboratory and the perfect practice space for a developing a collaborative and kind relationship between my body and my mind.

As I continued my yoga experience, my old patterns became hugely evident and painfully unavoidable. My old story no longer rang true and it was evident that it was keeping me stuck. The currency didn’t spend like it used to and was far less satisfying. This deeper awareness called for something new. The tools of yoga provided me with awareness as well as kind and thoughtful physical responses to what my body really needed.

With awareness, inner fluency and yoga postures as tools, I continue daily to transform my inner and outer worlds by unifying my body and mind, by weaving together the two inner sides of myself, by releasing the old stories and by learning new responses to my body’s pressing needs. As a result, I feel healthy and alive!

Are you ready to reconnect with your body? Is it time to become fluent in your inner native tongue? Does your tool-kit have room for some tools for body-mind alignment? Are you ready to begin?

Next time – Five Step to a Healthy Mind-Body Relationship

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