“I’m Lizzie and I’ll be leading you through class this morning. I may offer corrections or suggest adjustments, but your body is your teacher. Always listen to your body first.” ~ Lizzie, my yoga teacher who I adore
Let’s say it’s Monday morning at 10:45am. Wise creature that you are, you’ve stepped into the studio where I am setting up for Nia class. When you walk into the room, you see me plugging in my iPod, checking the volume, then standing in front wearing the microphone. I lead some super cool choreography, reminding you to sense your body. Also, I tell hilarious stories. Seeing all this, you might say I was the teacher.
When you come to my class, I am your guide.
I am your witness.
I am your fellow practitioner.
But your body is your teacher.
Our bodies are incredible systems of sensation that are constantly communicating with us about what is happening and what it needs. Despite this wealth of information we rarely listen or trust our own sense of ourselves. Often we ask other people about our own health and well-being. We hire doctors and psychologists, nutritionists and trainers, physical therapists and chiropractors. They all have potentially helpful and insightful information to share based on their training and education. They certainly can offer guidance in making choices about your body and your health.
The first teacher to turn to, though, is your body.
Right now, check into your body. Take a second to stop reading and just sense what is so in your body right now. When I do this, I sense that my feet are cold, I need to use the bathroom and I’m thirsty. But here I sit, writing this post, with my mind overriding the needs of my body. (Hold on. I’ll be right back after I get some socks and tea and have a pee.)
We’re trained to do this. Our culture glorifies those who forget to eat, work long hours, hardly sleep. A lifetime of mind-overriding-body can leave us at a loss as to what’s actually happening inside our own skins, our own minds, our own hearts.
A friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. The doctors told her to have a lumpectomy and to do it immediately. She didn’t. She took a month to make the decision. She did research, she talked to lots of people (some medical folk and some not), she listened to her intuition, and she listened to her body. At the end of the month she decided to have a double mastectomy. The doctors strongly disagreed but she held to her choice. When she went in for her operation, the surgeons saw that the lump was not as well-defined as they had believed. They would have had to go in for a second surgery if she had followed their suggestion. The best choice was exactly the one she made.
Go to experts. Do. Listen to what they have to say. But also listen to your body.
The mind can be a guiding, caring force or it can tangle us up. A focused mind is alert to an urge that distracts us from what is happening. A scared or impatient mind can criticize and judge what we are or are not doing. An anxious mind can convince us we have to push harder or do more. A defeated mind can persuade us that we can’t do what we are attempting. A peaceful mind can soothe and calm us.
Mindfulness yokes the body and mind; gets them pulling in the same direction.
We call them mindfulness practices (whether it’s yoga or meditation or golf or gardening or whatever works for you) because it’s practice. Practice away from the cultural pull to deny the body and worship the expert. Practice so that when life throws us a curve ball or a train wreck or a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset, we can be there for it. Practice allows us to have a direct experience of what is happening right now and connects us to the deep wisdom and intelligence that resides not just in our brains but in our very cells.
All this body wisdom stuff doesn’t have to be heavy or woo-woo. It’s accessible to everybody and it can be fun. I have a great time in my yoga classes even though I’m focused and concentrating. Sometimes it’s challenging, of course, sometimes I’d rather be digging a ditch than doing my practice. But I’m never sorry I spent time listening to my body. However you connect to your body, your greatest teacher, listen to what it has to tell you. If you happen to have a guide who tells hilarious stories, that’s just a bonus.