Being in our bodies
When we feel pain, tightness or tiredness in our bodies it can be really easy to get angry at ourselves. We can feel pathetic, useless and angry. We become furious at our bodies for not working properly and angry at our incapacity. You can feel people’s anger and frustration in yoga when they stretch their hips or hamstrings. The tension in class becomes more palpable. You can feel everyone, no matter how flexible they are, start listening to their inner critic that they should be able to stretch further that your hips should be more open, more flexible. If one hip is more open than the other then we are horribly abnormal, imperfect beings. Maybe we are abnormal or imperfect but it’s not horrible.
It’s really hard to accept our bodies the way they are. They should be more like this or like that and it’s easy to compare ourselves with other people who seem to have much easier, lighter or pain free bodies. I really struggle with this. As I write this I have a pain down the back of my left shoulder and its hard not to panic. What is yoga going to feel like this weekend? How am I going to have time to rest it? How could I be so stupid to cause this pain? Anger, blame, resentment, frustration.
Being aware of our bodies and how they feel can be really confronting. We can block feelings and sensations because they are just too awful to feel. It’s hard to acknowledge to yourself how tight your neck really feels, how sore your feet really are, that tight feeling at the back of your heart. Of course we don’t want to acknowledge these feelings all the time. It’s depressing and stressful and panic inducing. If we did acknowledge them, there is a fear that we’ll find out there is something really wrong with our bodies, with our lives, that we will need to amputate limb, head and heart. But the hardest part of pain, the thing you really have to do with it, is feel it.
If we don’t listen, don’t acknowledge the sensations in our body then we are denying a part of our lives, a part of our experience. We are here, in this body, in our lives, to experience and to learn. The feelings in our bodies are an important part of our experience. And every sensation, whether positive or negative, is meant to be. Our bodies provide us with such great insights into what is going for us. We only need to listen. Maybe pain in our lower backs means we are scared of supporting ourselves financially. Pain in our legs and feet might be telling us that we are unsure of our direction, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Sore throats, scared of expressing ourselves and our truth, pain in our bellies or tightness in our hearts that we are scared about who we are, scared to love and be loved, scared about our lives. Any pain, wherever it is in our bodies, seems to say we need more rest, more restorative practices, more help, more love, more support. Maybe even just a gentle massage from a kind friend.
Our bodies hold our emotions – especially hips and hamstrings. Our bodies hold different energies too – ours and other peoples in our lives. And maybe some of the tension we feel isn’t even ours to feel. Maybe we hold the energies of other people and by really feeling them and acknowledging the sensations we realise this and can let the emotion, the energy and the pain and tension go.
Rilke wrote, ‘perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.’ Being gentle and curious with the pain rather than angry makes sense. It’s like a baby who needs nourishment and love rather than scolding or harshness to be ok or a sick plant that needs gentle watering to heal, not harshness or punishment. You also don’t need to understand the different significance of each type of pain or make it more complex than it is. Really feeling into the energy of the pain without anger might bring up an emotion, you might cry or sigh, you don’t need to understand about what. You just need to let the energy release.
Really caring for and nurturing our bodies means also listening to them. Our bodies can tell us more than anyone else on this planet can tell us about ourselves. They can tell us how we feel about other people, how we feel about our lives, what we need to be happy to feel safe and secure. As soon as you start tuning in to what’s going on for your body, the easier it gets – even if its difficult at first. Bringing an energy of acceptance, compassion and curiosity to your bodies is so much more effective than anger, hate and frustration.