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Embodiment vs. Listening to your body

Journal

Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Embodiment vs. Listening to your body

Katie Gordon

When someone says, "Listen to your body," what does that mean to you?

Do you notice physical sensations? Emotions? Do you notice what you're thinking about? 

Does it give you helpful information?

Despite the title of my previous post, as someone who's studied and taught movement and various modalities of healing arts for a long time, I find that instruction to be mostly unhelpful. 

Why?

Because often when we listen to our bodies, we're listening with our brain, with our projections, with our insecurities, and with a disconnection from the language our bodies speak in.

And that isn't wrong! We just need to be taught HOW to listen to our bodies.

Photo by Dave Contreras on Unsplash

Here's a story...

For years now, I've been experiencing pain in my hips in poses like Warrior 2 where one leg is externally rotated. I thought stretching would help. It didn't. Then I thought heat would help. That actually made it worse, plus created even MORE inflammation in my joints. I've worked on my alignment, I've used herbs, ice, essential oils, rest, bodywork, etc. Nothing worked to actually address the issue, which I couldn't even pinpoint. 

Now, if someone had asked me to listen to my body, whether in a yoga class or not, to inquire within about the pain, I would've been left feeling frustrated and like a total failure. As would a lot of people! Because as students of yoga and spiritual practice, we're "supposed to be" sensitive, intuitive, and self-aware. So if we don't get a direct answer from our bodies, we must not be listening well enough. Right?

Wrong. 

Instead, I asked one of my teachers about it. He had me come into Warrior 2 on my Right side (the side that hurts less):

"Which way is your sit bone rotating?" he asked. "Internally," I said. "Good. Switch sides."

I switch to my Left side.

"Which way is this sit bone rotating?" he asks. "Holy sh*t! Externally!" I said, totally shocked. "Yep. There's your problem. Also, if you look at your femur, does it look straight?" 

Me: "Hm. No. It looks twisted."

Him: "Yep." After which he showed me how to unwind my thigh bone. (Yea, I get to unwind bones for a living.) 

How much more transformative, helpful, and mind-blowing is that than simply telling me to, "Listen to my body."

Why am I telling you all this?

Some of you who are reading this are yoga instructors, and it bears reminding that people coming to your class desire you to hold space for them. This means offering an opportunity for inquiry AND an actual container with substance and guidance. If they wanted to just "listen to their body" they could stay home. They're looking for answers within or at least to learn HOW to find answers within. This is a chance to educate people on HOW to listen, what to listen/look/feel for so they can walk away feeling like they have greater understanding of their body and its inherent wisdom.

For those of you reading this who aren't yoga instructors, inquiry within the container of movement can be potent work. While the symptoms, tension, injuries, and even pain you experience in your body might be maddening and confusing, it's a beautiful opportunity to go within.

Your body has answers.

That realization in itself can be incredibly empowering! No one knows your body like you do. While there are people out there who are more highly trained in anatomy, physiology, etc., YOU are the one who gets the ultimate say. You are the one who holds sovereignty over this human form you're currently embodying. You don't need to give your power over to anyone (yoga teacher or otherwise) to tell you what you should feel.

Seek out tools and teachers who provide guidance and encouragement to have your own experience in and with your body. Don't frustratingly settle for anyone or anything that tells you to "listen to your body." Your body speaks in a language all its own, but there are those who can teach you how to see, sense, and translate that language into something you recognize and can work with.