Until relatively recently I used to watch myself practise and not recognise myself. Who was that strong girl who moved through vinyasas with grace and ease? Where was the girl with dark rings of exhaustion under her eyes, the unwashed hair (simply too much effort), and the cautious movements that anticipated pain and weakness in each step?
These days I dare to feel healthy. Robust even. My body can now do things others can’t. It’s still a weird experience for me to observe that my students marvel openly when I demo something for them, as though my ability is somehow innate rather than the slow product of many hours of quiet exploration, building confidence as much as muscle. Deconditioning from years of debilitating illness has taken some time to turn a corner into healing rehabilitation and physical reconditioning.
Perhaps one day I will feel distant enough from this sorry story to offer it up to my students, to give them confidence in themselves and their ability to change, to grow stronger, perhaps even to heal their own unseen wounds. But for now I’m still humbly doing the work myself.
I’m still learning what a healthy body feels like, figuring out how it works, what it needs as I make new physical demands on it. Sometimes I feel quite at home in my body, other times I feel like a child needing to be shown what to do. I felt a bit foolish this week asking my teacher what DOMS feels like, as I try to understand the sensations in my muscles and whether they are a ‘normal’ response to the physical activity I’ve been doing or a temporary pathological regression.
Right now it feels as though all my cells are quivering, squirming even. It’s as though there’s a part of me resisting my healing efforts, something deep inside that clings to the past way of being. This used to make me so angry and I felt trapped in a narrative I was desperate to outgrow. Now I find I have more patience with myself. I coax my body as one would a tired child, distracting it from the superficial discomforts, keeping it buoyant and hopeful with the promise of the treats in store if we keep going just a little more. I send my love deep down inside of me, right down to the cellular level, the fabric of my physical being. In my imagination my cells too need reassurance and comfort. Perhaps they are simply confused and taking their time to readjust.
Coincidentally in class this week the teacher ended with a blessing to our organs. I used to find this kind of thing really foolish. I would have resisted it, actually rejected it. Now I felt something like genuine love and care spontaneously arriving. My habitual cynicism didn’t stand a chance!
“Thank you spleen for keeping my immune system working and helping me stay well” the teacher began for us. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, turning all my attention inwards, gently offering gratitude to my body. Thank you lungs. Thank you heart for pumping strongly and steadily, through the vigor of sun salutations and the emotional ups and downs of life even when they feel ‘heart stopping’ in their intensity. Thank you brain for running the whole show and gut for your helpful instinctive reactions, as well as for your digestive awesomeness. Thank you blood for circulating freely, supplying everything with oxygen. Thank you bladder, intestine, kidneys for all the waste disposal you do, those unglamorous but necessary processes for living organisms. Thank you skin for containing everything and giving me a presentable wrapper for being in the world.
I think back to the early days of my journey to wellness. A quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn that I clutched onto in desperation: “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.” I used to have to take this on faith, now I am sure it’s true. And I am happy to reassure my cells that it is so 🙂