Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to Fall in Love With Your Body

Regular readers of this blog might wonder if I will ever tire of talking about yoga or tai chi. Sorry, no. Amazing things have happened in my life thanks to these two ancient practices, and as long as I'm physically able, I will be practicing these Eastern arts.

One of the reasons for this devotion is that these traditions have given me tangible, impressive gifts. I often talk about the emotional and psychological gifts that I get from yoga and tai chi, but today I'd like to talk about the physical gifts.

I discovered one of those gifts today, while practicing yoga at home. When I started yoga in earnest back in Tucson, Arizona in 2003, I had a book of asanas (or poses). One of these, tree pose, or Vrksasana, is a standing balance pose, where you press the flat of one foot against the inner thigh of the opposite leg. Your arms can be pressed together in prayer pose (anjali mudra), or lifted up or whatever. The basic idea is that you balance on one leg.

My balance was pretty good when I started yoga, though it has gotten better through practice. But the book suggested that when you had mastered the balance pose, that you could go deeper by closing your eyes. Apparently, we rely very heavily on visual cues to maintain balance. This is why it's often easier to balance on one leg if you are focusing steadily on one single point on the wall or floor or wherever.

Anyway, I thought, "Hey, I can do this," and so I closed my eyes, and nearly instantly fell over. It was startling how fast my balance was yanked out from under me. Without my eyes open, I had no balance.

I've tried it over the years, and while I had improved a tiny, tiny amount, I still lost my balance very quickly when I closed my eyes.

I've now been doing tai chi for about 8 months, and so while I was in tree pose today, I thought, "Hmm, maybe I'll try closing my eyes." I did, and I was startled to discover that I no longer need visual clues to maintain balance. I stood there, like a bird on one leg, arms overhead, eyes closed, perfectly balanced.

I suppose it is difficult to convey what a sublime moment this really was, since it's not something most people are aware of, much less testing out on their own. But to feel this steadiness from within--and it was truly from within--was extremely powerful and even moving.

For starters, the first time I'd tried it all those years ago, I was so skeptical that anyone could really do it, it was that difficult. (Seriously, stand next to a wall so you can catch yourself, and try it right now.) To feel something change that dramatically is a rush, for sure.

But also, as someone who struggled for so many years between the union of mind and body, it is so satisfying to feel the body and consciousness fused so inextricably. There is a new power in this body of mine, and I am thrilled to experience it, both mentally and sensually. Furthermore, it's fun! It does kind of feel like a superpower.

It dismays me how many are discouraged from trusting in their bodies, simply because they are not fast, or muscular or innately athletic. I hated my body for so many years, because it didn't perform properly, nor was it "perfect" like a model's.

But now? Now I realize that my body is the most amazing thing, and that, hey, guess what? It turns out I am flexible, and have balance, and am actually perfectly suited for pursuits like yoga and tai chi. It makes me sad to realize how many children, especially the ones who don't excel in P.E., will turn against their bodies, frustrated with them, when all they really need is a way to learn their bodies in a mindful, supremely intuitive way.

It's something I wish I'd known about, wish I'd been able to do as a young girl. I know I'll teach it to my child, and I also know I'll never hate my body again.

So, no matter what you look like, your body is beautiful, and is capable of doing beautiful things. And, when you fall in love with your body, with its abilities (and its flaws and limitations!), you will be a happier, more harmonious, more blissful creature, for sure.

I'll leave you with this beautiful video, which shows you the form of tai chi I'm learning.

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