Part 2: Seeking Balance in a World Without

I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing quite a lot about bodies these days. Apparently, I’m not the only one– yogis responded en masse to our recent question to the yoga community, What Does a Yoga Body Look Like? I’ve been so inspired thecomments– women declaring “my curves and changes were made to create a dwelling place for my children in their conception,” “my body is the dwelling place of my soul,” and “my six pack abs and rockin’ triceps are a side product of spiritual exploration and self-inquiry.” I love it. Those comments give me hope in ways you can only imagine.

If anything, the massive response on that post affirmed to me just how important this conversation is. I think we (or at least I) all too often keep these discussions relegated to the darkened halls of our own minds, afraid to “stand out”, “be visible”, shine a light on an issue that will necessarily point a finger back at our own selves. How can you read an article about bodies and then not get curious about what the author’s body looks like? Yea! I know you scrolled down to take a gander at my picture, and– hell, yes– it makes me feel self-conscious.

But you know what? This is too important a conversation to avoid for fear of being seen, judged, critiqued. Many of us have been taught our entire lives to control our bodies’ wild whims, to keep them quiet and hidden beneath the cloaks of invisibility. It starts as early as potty-training; we learn to rigidly control the natural wisdom of our bodies so that we’re able to function in a civilized society. We tell it what, when, and how to give expression to its urges– we shame it when it doesn’t follow the “rules”. And don’t you think those early childhood experiences are inconsequential; the mind and body are inextricably linked. Have you ever met someone Freud would have called “anal-retentive“? Yea, then you know what I’m talking about.

Now, I’m not advocating we stop teaching our kids to use the toilet or start defecating in the streets. Rather, I think the upsurge we’re witnessing of yoga and other “mind-body-spirit” practices in our culture reflects a common desire we all share to strike a balance in relationship between body, spirit, and mind*. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, I think we sense that something’s off– there’s too much disconnect, too little acceptance, too many mind-over-body manifestos, and far too few opportunities to allow the spirit to speak through the body to the mind itself. Does that make sense? I hope it does. I admittedly don’t have it all figured out just yet; as I said earlier, I’m still trying to hold the paradox within and for myself.

My experience has been that yoga beckons me to come back to my body, to feel the rhythm of my heart, to see– really see–the epidemic of hatred, abuse, and disconnect that’s reigned supreme for far too long. I come to my mat to practice relating to my body in a different way. In just a few years, I’ve already seen this practice seep into so many other dimensions of my life. Somehow by learning to find equanimity within the safe space of a 71 x 26 inch piece of rubber, I’m able to take those lessons off my mat and begin contributing to the quest for balance on a global scale.

If we can be compassionate, self-aware, connected to a deep, inexplicable wisdom inside us on our yoga mat… Well, maybe we can extend that same presence into our relationships with our neighbors, abusers, even the earth that bestows us with life. Maybe, with practice, we can move from the personal to the interpersonal… maybe we can transcend the boundaries of our own body to  to start the process of healing our collective body as well.

So what does a yoga body look like? I think it’s still open for discussion. When we talk about yoga bodies, are we referring to just the physical body or are we talking about something bigger, something that encompasses mind, body and spirit? Is a yoga body one that imbues balance and connection– even if it doesn’t fit societal images of “health”? And what about this collective body I referred to… are bodies limited to our personal selves?

In Part 3, I’ll explore those questions and that notion of our collective body further. Stay tuned. Even I’m not quite sure what’s coming next. :)

*Please note that I’m making a distinction here between mind, body, and spirit for the purposes of this discussion, but these three concepts are intricately intertwined and by some frames of reference one in the same.