Someone I greatly respect mentioned in a workshop last week how even spirituality is derived from our connection to our physical bodies and it got me thinking about the profoundness of this statement. As a body worker I often teach the concept of ‘feeling into the body’ to understand the many differing sensations in the body. That shooting pain is different from a dull ache, that a pop in the joint is just air but something that makes you grimace is cause for greater concern. It’s a responsibility of any body worker to regularly remind their clients to work within the capacity and capabilities of there own individual anatomies. They are always their own best teacher.
In much of the western world it’s an odd concept to look within ourselves for answers. We are encouraged as children to look to our teachers for guidance, visit doctors for diagnoses and prescriptions and today we are hugely influenced by external sources like media and popular culture because it’s so much more accessible than twenty years ago. This information overload pulls us from listening to ourselves in any capacity let alone trusting our instincts.
I’m currently 10 weeks pregnant and feeling every tiny shift and change in my physical body. It’s helped me to see how yoga has allowed me to connect with my physical body but more profoundly it has allowed me to see how this connection to my physical body – has led to the ‘mindful observation’ of my brain and it’s working, my energy body (breath) my emotional body and what we call in yoga is called ‘the bliss body’ the experience of unadulterated joy.
In yoga tradition Pancha Kosha is the concept that each of us is derived of 5 bodies (called sheaths). The concept, first taught in the Upanishads (an ancient yoga text) was intended to support man in the search to know the true ‘self’ or higher mind. Pancha means (five) and kosha (body) … and the five bodies/sheaths are;
Food – Annamaya Kosha
Energy – Pranamaya Kosha
Mind – Manomaya Kosha
Wisdom – Vijnanomaya Kosha
Bliss – Anadamaya Kosha
It is possible to connect with the different bodies at different times. They are not a series of attainments to be worked through but principles in combination that when ‘tuned into’ our awareness heightened there of – can be a highly practical way to recognise the body/minds functioning beyond the principles of western biology.
My varied and colourful history with food reminds me further still that the nurture of our physical bodies (or food bodies) will determine the nature of all aspects of our physical bodies, beyond our flesh & bones, it will determine our mind, emotions, intellect, experience and memory. Today the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ is bandied about like hot cakes but I’m inclined to agree to much of an extent.
Likewise with our breath – the energy body – the powerful practice of Pranayama for example can shift our state dramatically and quickly. Today our fight or flight mechanism ‘the sympathetic nervous system’ isn’t triggered as we run for our lives from a giant bear, it’s triggered when our train is delayed, we are late for an important meeting, have to face a grumpy boss in the boardroom and have had so much caffeine by lunch our systems can’t calm down. Many yoga breath techniques can rapidly restore balance activating the para sympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest & digest’ system lowering blood pressure and regulating blood sugars to much positive affect.
Exercise is vital when we have an excess of the chemicals adrenaline and Cortisol……running off steam literally is the bodies instinctive response. We get an Adrenal system crash at 7pm in the evening and now exhausted exercise is the last thing we want to entertain. We lay down the surplus chemicals as fat or fatty toxicity to our major organs. An unappealing thought.
To recognise these ‘signs’ from the physical body and in turn to utilise the tools that yoga or other well being practices offer up to us, such as breathing techniques, Asana practice and meditations we first need to recognise in the physical body what is being called for and what practices will benefit us most. We need to free up energy to make us open, coachable, keen to learn and perhaps change old habits that aren’t serving us.
Were so busy with a focus outside of ourselves we don’t know when were hungry, when we need rest, signs were getting sick or worse still disease as it develops. I know this because I’ve been there. Hesitant to experience any uncomfortable feelings or emotions I perfected the all to common technique of ‘feeling’ suppression and denial. As a teenager it was what I felt I had to do to cope. Picking up a host of pleasures in the moment to help me forget.
I also Carried a deep sense of not being good enough even labeling myself as ‘bad/crazy’ for many years. And so with this sense of proving myself worthy I strove to be ‘popular, thin, clever, successful’ I worked hard, I partied hard (to avoid any feelings of discomfort) and then I worked even harder (to feel somehow better). By my late twenties I took on lots of responsibility with my career and a salary in mind and when my employer piled on even more I said ok. No work life balance was in place there was really just work.
For a couple of years my body held up. Then for one year my body sang out. I lost weight, I woke so exhausted I would sleep on the bus apply a scrap of make up at my desk. War paint to drag myself through each and everyday. I had no appetite. My chest was usually tight. Panic attacks were normal. I cried from fatigue. My periods stopped and I finally started to recognise a problem but it was too late.
I got married that year – an incredibly intense period of my life and then overnight I developed the most intense and irrational fear my husband would die and my four year excruciatingly painful and difficult battle with OCD and it’s related depression began. My condition now managed, my well being heavily supported by yoga practice I am able to see that the year before my world collapsed my physical body was waving it’s hands in front of me wearing neon and shouting in my face and yet still I refused to see it…..to recognise ……that this amazing and complex body of mine can only take so much for so long….I was completely unaware of how exhausted and compromised my body had become.
What was and is manageable for some/many was unmanageable for me. I wholeheartedly believe had I read the early warning signs of adrenal fatigue I wouldn’t have pushed my system dangerously out of whack and pushed what had been a mild and manageable condition most of my life to something almost incomprehensible now.
So this brings to mind something of significance, which is a real honest respect and compassion for ourselves beyond our bodies. We don’t listen to our bodies because we so readily dismiss our worth. The two are amazingly interlinked. If for you self worth is a struggle, if you put everyone before yourself and before your own self care then it tends to follow that you turn a blind eye to your bodies signals and sounds.
It is through calming my rather energised natural state that I have managed to learn to sit still in meditations, to breathe deep and enjoy and hear the whispering of my heart. A confidence in the rather magical and miraculous nature of my very being not dependent on a set of conditions to reassure me that I am worthy. I am worthy simply because I exist.
How did I calm my physical body – I allowed myself to feel however uncomfortable it felt, I recognised the hindrance that stimulants and poor eating had become. I noted the vicious circle that skipping exercise sessions creates and I found an exercise I enjoy that pulls me back for more because it feels good not grueling. Most of all I started to pay attention to my body. I rest when tired, I eat when hungry, I do gentle restorative exercise when I’m exhausted and heart rate raising exercise in short bursts even if it’s just charging the buggy up hill each day.
My spirituality now derived of a heightened awareness to this part of myself that is divorce of over thinking, problem solving, striving, and stress. A part of myself that plays witness to the chaos my ego creates. A part of myself that is intuitively wise, filled with compassion and thinks only from the heart. A profound inner magic that connects me to every other breathing being, that energy that miraculously makes us unique and yet all one. I only know this spirituality because I can feel it in my physical body. I peeled away the layers unveiling my connection ‘to self’ so I could feel below and beyond the surface and see what is often in yoga circles called my ‘truth’.