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Journal

Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Tag: yoga

Home for the Holy Days

Katie Gordon

The Holy Days are fast approaching. 

As it's a time of year that has traditionally been hard, I've been preparing myself and doing some deep work to unwind the patterns of WHY I had such a hard time during the holidays. When I say that, it sounds like I've just begun, but really it's been years of preparation. Years of deep digging and diving, uncovering, understanding, asking questions, and softening. Always softening. 

You see, for my whole adult life I've been learning about the emotional body. Whether it was through herbalism, massage + bodywork, craniosacral work, yoga + movement, or shamanism, for me it's always been about why we feel the things we feel and what we do about it.

The way I dealt with challenging emotions from a young age was to leave my body. My close family and friends always commend my good memory, but there are very poignant events that happened in my life that I don't remember. Vacations I've forgotten, memories I've blocked out, experiences I've erased.

The thing is, we don't actually erase any of it. It's still there, buried in our bones, vibrating within our cells.  But one of the best ways our psyches have of dealing with experiences and emotions that we don't have the tools to deal with is to leave. That isn't a bad thing! It's a truly wonderful defense mechanism we have that only means we're functioning optimally. 

As a kid, I felt EVERYTHING because I could feel everyone. From a young age, it was apparent to me that many people couldn't handle their own emotions, so unconsciously I decided I'd take them on instead. In the midst of divorce, death, fights, upheavals, I took on their anger, grief, anxiety, and sadness. It was an enormous weight and once I took it on, I didn't know how to give it back.

Photo by  Matt Howard  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

To hold back this enormous wave of emotion from overtaking me, I built a tall, strong wall around myself and left my body. 

Slowly, gradually, I noticed that the things I used to love doing felt flat, unalive, distant. Or rather, I felt distant while I was doing them. I was on the periphery of whatever was happening. It felt as if I always just needed to make it to the next thing. Then the next. And the next. I only had to make it through. Like I was crossing them off a to-do list.

I didn't actually enjoy doing the thing I was doing, even if it was something I would have normally loved. It felt as if I had to keep going, otherwise whatever it was I had been avoiding for YEARS (that wave) would catch up with me and I'd have to look it in the eye and feel the things I had so brilliantly blocked out for so long. Which was okay. I could live like that for awhile, right? It wasn't so bad... 

Except it got to a point when there wasn't anything I absolutely LOVED doing anymore. I never felt overjoyed. Ecstatic. I never got so wrapped up in anything that I completely lost track of time. Everything was so contained inside me, safe, untouchable, that the whole world was going on without me.

And it sucked.


Because I WANTED to feel overjoyed. I so badly wanted to feel ecstatic. I desired to know delight again. But I was so afraid of the grief I knew I was being held back by that wall around myself. That wall that had kept me safe and not overcome by the wave of feeling.

I realized awhile back I had been preparing for this moment. In all my trainings, in all that time I thought I was learning new things to help other people, I had actually been collecting tools to heal + bring myself back to wholeness. And at the core of every single one of those practices, philosophies, and modalities?

Embodiment.


I had to invite my awareness back into my body. I had to invite myself back home.

And yes, it really is an invitation. You can't force it if it's not time. That's another thing I've learned. Timing is a real thing. And if you haven't allowed yourself the time, it ain't happenin'.

So, I began to invite my awareness to rest in my body. To notice simple things like how my bones move when I breathe. To notice if I'm even breathing. To notice how certain herbs interact with my body. How foods make me feel. How emotions feel in my physical body and where I feel them.

What happens when I don't get enough sleep, and what if I allowed myself to take a nap? 

You see, our bodies are always there, always advocating for us, always talking to us. Always. It's the thing we have that ties us to this beautifully alive Earth. Our bodies inform us about our experiences. And that's what I was so desperately craving: to have an experience. To live. To feel. Because I had cut myself off from feeling for so long. 

As I began to invite it all in, I did feel it all. I cried (and still do) about the smallest things. I cry out of joy and grief. In moments of ecstasy and despair. A lot of the things I was afraid of feeling and the memories I was afraid of remembering have come back, and I'm still alive. So, I've got that going for me. 

Sometimes it does feel like too much. Sometimes the memories I've blocked come back and I remember the pain of that moment in life. Sometimes I still find myself taking on the things that feel like too much for others. (Yep, I'm still working on my own boundaries.) 

Its a practice. 

Sometimes it's easy to navigate our emotions and those of others around us, sometimes it's not. But the more I allow people to have their experience, the more I allow myself to mine, the more I build trust in myself. 

And I've found moments of joy. Lots of them. I've felt more alive, connected, vibrant, and part of the world again.

Photo by  Jordan Whitt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The other day we went to pick out a Christmas tree. In the midst of the festivities of the tree lot, families, kids running around, people having a good time, I realized it was a moment in which I would have checked out. But it felt different. 

I felt HERE. I could feel the cold air around me. I could feel my feet firmly planted on the ground. I could feel the rain drops on my forehead. And I could feel the simultaneous wave of joy and grief at the same time. Joy at the simple tradition of picking out a tree with my love. Grief that I had missed out on moments out of the fear of feeling anything at all. 

Slowly, gradually, I've invited myself back home. I've invited my awareness back into my body to notice the simple things, and then the not-so-simple things. And yea, I still feel A LOT, but I'm beginning to see what a gift that is too.

Wisdom Within: What is embodiment?

Katie Gordon

Often when I teach public classes, I see people going deeper and deeper into a stretch or into a pose as if there was a place to get to. In many movement practices, we view the deep stretch as the opening we need or the opportunity to explore intensity.

The more I observe this happening, the more I realize we often lean into physical sensation, desperate to feel something other than the intensity that's already there: our emotions and thoughts. The things we may actually need to feel and acknowledge.

As cliché as it may sound, you've got to feel something to "heal" it. And while the physical sensation may feel oh-so-good in the moment, most often it's a distraction from real embodiment. From presence. And from the scariest thing of all: our own power.

Our bodies can lead us right into the heart of our own light, our beauty, our shadows, our innate wisdom, if only we'd stop pushing and pulling, and simply feel how exquisitely intelligent the human body is. How much we can learn about our souls when we pay attention to what is already deep within us, waiting to be seen.

When I work with clients, we may explore some of those same things that bring you to yoga: tension, chronic pain, injury recovery, building strength, and flexibility. But that's not what this work of Embodiment really is.

You'll discover strength and space within yourself that you never knew you had! But it won't come from "hip-openers" and finding ever-deeper backbends.

Photo by  Zé Zorzan  on  Unsplash

Photo by Zé Zorzan on Unsplash

You'll dismantle paradigms and transform the way you relate with your body and soul. But it won't come from doing a 20 minute headstand, getting into the perfect heart-opener, or finally learning that one stretch that will relieve that tension in your neck. 

It will come from committing to tending to your body + soul. It will come from presence. It will come from deep listening, learning how to translate the innate wisdom of your body, trusting and, most importantly, taking action around what this incredibly wise body has to tell you.

It will come from feeling the way every single bone in your body is in motion and where that motion gets stuck.

It will come from feeling the way grief has settled into your left ovary and before it will unwind, a story needs to be told.

It will come from exploring your boundaries and what it actually feels like in your physical gut to say no to things that are not for you.

The transformation that comes from embodiment only comes because you are constantly choosing that which will bring you from the old into the new.

How do the sensations speak to you?

This is the journey I've been on for 10 years now. 

Join me.

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.   

 

What happens when you listen to your body?

Katie Gordon

Have you ever noticed what it feels like to completely ignore your body's wisdom?

Some of us feel that disconnect in our emotional body. For others, that disconnection is manifested in their physical body as tension, pain, and injury. Often we forget we even have bodies. Many of us go through our lives as if we're simply talking heads, floating in space with no feet to touch the earth. This isn't to say that ALL tension, pain, and injury is a result of either not listening or ignoring our bodies' inherent wisdom, but for many people, it's definitely a contributing factor.

I got really good at ignoring my body. Here's a little back story...

For awhile after finishing up my first yoga teacher training, massage school, and beginning my journey with Visionary Craniosacral Work, in the process of trying to figure out how to actually make a living doing my sacred work, I thought I needed to be some kind of "coach" in order to help people AND make money. 

I thought all my hours of training, practice, and experience had to somehow fit in and under the title of "[insert descriptor] Coach." I spent so much energy trying to figure out how to define myself and my work in a way that was approachable and made people want to say, "Yes!" to working with me.

Along the way, I worked with some business coaches who advised me to play on people's fears, pain points, and insecurities. Yuck! Even thinking back on it NOW it feels icky. I couldn't do it. It felt gross, inauthentic, and completely missed the point of what I was trying to create. 

Not only was there the ick factor in trying to market myself inauthentically, but the whole time I was trying to force this role, this construct on myself, my body was rebelling. Weird digestive issues, tension in my belly, odd recurring injuries. I even kept losing my voice!

Finally, I gave myself permission to let go.

breath of life.jpg

To surrender what I thought I should be doing and how it should look.

And it was a huge relief! It's exhausting pretending, isn't it?

It takes so much energy. I had done so much healing for myself, but there was a crucial piece I hadn't dug into yet: this idea that my work had to fit someone else's idea of being worthwhile or something people would pay for. 

So, instead of doing all the time, I started listening. Without even knowing what to listen for. I had to trust whatever it was that wanted to come through me. Just like I do when I teach group yoga classes. Trusting the words to come out, and that the students will receive what they need from the class. 

I stopped trying to "figure it out." I trusted that what wanted to be born from my unique combination of skills, gifts, study, and experience would make its way earthside. I trusted that I'd find the words to talk about it. That I didn't need to play off people's pain and insecurities. 

Instead, I'd trust my words to speak to the ones I could serve and be of benefit to. Trusting my words meant trusting my body (just like I teach others to do), as well as...

+ Beginning to notice when and where I was holding and letting that tension be an indicator of where I was trying to "make something happen."

+ Acknowledging that I didn't actually want to be a "coach," and I didn't have to be in order to be of service.
 
+ Believing that my gifts of holding space, of seeing energy, and of inviting people back to their bodies are worthwhile and even necessary.

+ Knowing that the healing people experience through these sessions I guide them through is and would continue to be profound.

One of the best things about these Embodiment Sessions? They're done virtually! 

Some people wonder if virtual sessions can offer the same benefit as my in-person, hands-on sessions. They ask if this work can be as potent if we're not physically together. 

I'd say, in some ways, they can be even more powerful. I used to leave therapy or healing sessions feeling light and somehow changed. But once I got back into my own space, my home, my ordinary reality, it felt like the magic faded. 

But when you're already in your space, the magic is more easily integrated into your reality. You come out feeling rooted, at home in your body and in your extra-ordinary reality. 

If you want to learn more about these Embodiment sessions, a blend of therapeutic yoga, guided journey, subtle-body healing, and visionary work, come visit me over here.