Physicality, Embodiment and Yoga
A common belief of people in the fitness and yoga world is that strain is essential to a good, efficient and satisfying workout. But what if strain only serves to add body stiffness to strength that could be built without strain? It is also common to believe that one automatically feels connected to his or her body while exercising, when in fact, solely being physical may not be enough to feel fully connected to the innate wisdom of the whole body.
In the 60s, yoga and meditation started as a way towards embodiment; a way to be mindfully connected within our self; a way to experience “being” instead of getting lost in the physicality of constantly “doing”. This widespread focus on doing and overdoing is a direct product of the Industrial Revolution, where money, machines and appearances were common values of the 19th century.
Nowadays all is happening at the speed of the modern mind and the body remains merely a functional instrument that must be kept in shape, often one body part at a time. As a result, the physicality of exercising is not quite embodied. Even on the yoga mat, focused on the shape of the poses, the mind makes the muscles control the skeleton and do what it thinks is best, often ignoring the innate intelligence of the body.
When lost in our mind, the body is forgotten and safety is compromised because daily tension-producing habits take hold while we are not watching. These habitual patterns, even when they create unnecessary tension, become the norm, which eventually promotes injury. On the other hand, when the mind is embodied, there is no room for physical strain because the body and its innate intelligence work fully together.
Yoga can reconnect the body to its wisdom when the whole body is being listened to, regardless of which body part is being stretched or strengthened. Many people on automatic pilot approach yoga the way they approach work—with a mind focused on individual tasks and getting things done at all cost, including sometimes ignoring the self-regulating and coordinated self.
Fortunately, individuals can choose from various yoga styles that encourage them to listen to their body, move slowly or even stay still in various poses to experience “just being”. Slow isn’t necessary to be mindful, but it is a good way to balance the fast paced lifestyle and mind of modern men and women, especially if they do not practice daily meditation. Even when the body is still, the mind can be so active that it takes time and practice to learn how to really listen to “what is” as it is happening. It takes time for the mind and the body to come together in a place where embodiment happens.
Cecile Raynor is an Alexander Technique teacher, a Thai yoga therapist and reiki practitioner. She is also faculty member at Akasha Yoga Teacher Training and runs a 12- month Mastermind for Committed Yoga Teachers with a Vision. She is currently writing a book with BlissLife Press called Yoga Body, Daily Body & Body Image: A Journey from Physicality to Embodiment. In private practice for 25 years in Brookline, she works with people all over the world via her webinars, e-course and blog OffTheMatYogaBlog.com. Raynor can be reached at 617-359-7841.