I ran a road race this past Sunday called the Hot Chocolate Run. As I crossed the finish line, I burst into tears. This surprised me. Some of the feelings I could pinpoint. Some, remain a mystery to me. What I knew was how happy I felt to be part of this crazy mob of people in all their outfits, shapes, sizes and varying degrees of fitness. And I also knew how blessed I felt to be able to run at all.
I have not always felt this way at the end of a race. I have been a runner since I was a freshman in high school and for many years I used coercion, competition and shame to motivate myself. A number of years ago, I was out struggling through a run when suddenly my body went rogue and just stopped. I burst into tears. The unthinkable had happened; I had stopped forcing my body. I had stopped telling my body what to do. Relief flooded me. The reign of terror was over.
For the next several years, I walked. Over time, and only with my body’s permission, I started to run again, but only downhill, and in the woods, never in a straight line, and never uphill. I ran at a pace and for distances that the earlier me would have ridiculed. But I stuck with it because it felt good. That was my only agenda; what felt good to my body. Throughout my “comeback” I had only two prayers: “Help me to move in a way that honors my body and allows me to be strong in who I am in the world” and “I want to be able to run with my people.” It took years of listening to my body to discover just what it meant to be me in the world and just who “my people” were. The race on Sunday was a personal and palpable milestone for the power of moving my body in ways that allowed me to shed old patterns and open to something greater within.
Our body’s musculature carries imprints of every way we have ever held ourselves, recoiled in fear, contracted out of shame, or tightened out of hurt. It carries the shapes of the thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves and our place in the world. All the ways we feel as though we need to hold ourselves in order to be good, OK, successful, safe, loved and more are revealed in the shape, tone and condition of our muscles. If you want to know the truth about yourself, ask your muscles.
Out on a bike ride, I caught myself wondering how many miles I had gone and for how many hours I had biked. The underlying message being that there was some external measurement that would let me know if I had done well or poorly. If my efforts were something I could be proud of, or were reason for feeling less than because I had not done enough.
Only…as the fates would have it, I was right in the middle of “the pink forest;” one of my favorite stretches along the road. That’s not its official name. It’s the nickname I have for it because in this particular stretch of small and medium pines, when the light comes through just so, it seems to glow pink. And it was the pink that caught me and pulled me back in. It was the pink that said “This is it, this is the reason you are out here today.”
To back up a bit, I had gone out riding with an intention: I wanted to go further than I could running or walking and I wanted to travel somewhere I had never been before. This was my attempt to use the movement of my body, along with exploration, to create a new pattern in my body/mind. I had woken that morning with the realization that an old pattern of mind and body was getting in the way of how I actually want to be living. And there is nothing so powerful as a clear intention for change coupled with moving the body.
Everything that we have ever thought, and everything that we have ever experienced is housed in the body. Think about it. The body has been there for everything you have ever gone through; real or imagined. Ancient yogis identified the body as being a potential doorway to the realization of who we really are. Move the body into different positions and patterns emerge. As those patterns are worked with, energies become available to us. And that energy, known as the life force, is what animates us and propels us to our greatest potentials.
So you can see that based on what my intention for riding was, distance and time had nothing to do with my reason for being out there. As a matter of fact, an orientation around worrying about the wrong thing and using cruel external standards was exactly what had gotten me into my current pattern. So often we are so caught up in imagining how we are doing based on some external measurement, real or imagined, that we forget to be who we are. We forget to remember what it is we are going for. We forget to live a life that makes sense to us. So I ask you, “Do you remember to notice the pink forest? Do you have a pink forest?”
Our bodies reflect our inner worlds of thought patterns, beliefs and stress-levels. This is easy to observe in the extremes, like with the Type A personality. These characters tend to be driven, overworked, easy to frustration and anger. Dominated by these work patterns and hot emotions they are often disconnected from matters of the heart. Not surprisingly it is this type most likely to suffer a heart attack. Think about that… an “attack of the heart.” Who’s doing the attacking here? The heart, or the Type A approach to life?
Beyond the extremes, we can look to health and body patterns that habitually show up to cue us into what is truly happening on the inside. Plagued by hamstrings that have refused to heal, I am working with a practitioner to get to the root cause of the strain. When I began, I was imagining a physical remedy. By far, though, the leading edge of this process has been how the pattern in my body is reflecting longstanding ways of holding myself emotionally.
I lock my knees. It makes me feel solid, strong and stable; something I really needed growing up so I didn’t get knocked over physically or emotionally. I didn’t realize I was doing this and I didn’t realize how much of my internal world was bound up in this. I am being guided by the woman I am working with to wonder whether or not I always need this lock down. It seems like sometimes it might be important to get really stiff and sturdy. But it also seems like that tension is coming at the expense of spontaneity, fluidity and freedom. And not just in my body, but in my whole life! And that is how it works. Despite what science in the West would say, the mind and the body are not separate, never have been. They are parts of one whole so deeply interwoven that to deny this is to deny the truth of who we are and what we experience.
Try this: Notice one place in your body where you habitually hold tension. Be with it without trying to make it go away or be different. It is there for a reason. Without even needing to know the reason ponder the following; “Maybe I don’t always need this.” Try it. Open to what is possible when you make room for something else to be there. Notice what happens, not just in the body but everywhere in you.
P.S. To sidestep the Type A in all of us, practice doing this with a light heart. Aaaaah.
Inspired by The Alexander Technique.
When my children were young, but old enough to venture out in the world beyond my reach, I knew I had to teach them something they could carry with them wherever they went. Something that would help them stand in the face of too many choices and too many life-depleting options. So, when they were old enough to know dessert was being offered at a party and ask me for it, I would ask them, “What does your body say?”
Many of us take care of our bodies based on what the mind wants and says. And too many of us respond to our bodies based on what others have told us, or how we have been brainwashed to believe what our bodies should look like and feel like. The body speaks a different language than the mind. It does not care that the meeting you are in makes it inconvenient to have a need like, thirst, hunger or elimination. The body knows nothing about the mind’s decision to be model thin. And it cares not for your decision to sit in front of a screen for hours despite it’s protests. The body needs what it needs when it needs it.
How might your life change if you began checking in with your body, asking its opinion around the choices you are making. Might you eat differently? Go to bed when you are tired? Slow down? Learn to say “no”? Notice that the way you medicate yourself is making you sick? The wholeness that we all yearn for must include the body in all that we do. Can you imagine beginning again, like a small child? Starting over in a way that recognizes your most basic and fundamental needs and actually responding to them? In other words, “What does your body say?”