The life-giving magic of heeding my body’s knowing.

Hey there friends!  I'm reflecting today.

It was gradual, the way I turned away from taking care of my body. My attention turned toward other things. Becoming a mother and caring for an energetic and demanding little baby. Graduate school at night, a work cycle with never ending deadlines by day. A more regular exhaustion while trying to hold it all together. And ironically, my sitting meditation practice: in which I valued sitting and watching my mind over attending to my body signals. I stopped exercising. I stopped being thoughtful about what I was eating, what my body inherently knows is nourishing. I became more and more sedentary. I “relaxed” by watching TV. Part of me knew ( the part of me that knows) that by turning away from my body I was neglecting something essential. Out of a tiny little corner of my attention I glimpsed what was missing and longed for and essentially ignored it and kept moving.

This way of being wasn’t sustainable. Eventually ignoring my body caught up with me. It weakened and at some point it sustained injury. Lumbar and sacral disk herniations stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly I was in immense pain. It was disarming. Me, this (former) yoga teacher, who used to be able to do practically anything in this body. Who backpacked and hiked and biked and did deep backbends and twists, and relished all of those things that my body did with ease and without question. I took it all for granted.

My back injury was a trauma to my body and also to my mind. It brought forth unending ruminations: beliefs about who I thought I was and what my was capable of. In my current state these beliefs were simply not at all true. Thoughts like: “This can’t be happening” (and yet it was), “But I’m a yoga teacher (actually, I hadn’t taught or regularly practiced yoga in some time), “But my body is strong and capable” (it clearly wasn’t). These thoughts that kept surfacing over and over forced me to see what I was believing, and to take in the hard truth that was reality. It was a sharp and painful reckoning.

The injury brought about grief and sadness. I came to accept my current state of mind and body in a way that I hadn’t ever before. This was what was happening. I acknowledged what once was that was now no longer, largely as a result of my own lifestyle and attentional choices. For many months I was scared to move at all, my body was in full-on protect mode. I followed its lead as it cautiously and carefully experimented with various approaches to feel better. It took the babiest and most conservative of steps towards relief. It slowly and cautiously tried out teeny tiny movements. It felt for security and safety. It instinctively knew what was too much. In its own time, over many months, it became more assured as it continued trying out treatments. It followed a trail of curiosity. Physical therapy, chiropractic, massage, cupping. It loved to hang upside down, which helped it feel relief and openness. It trusted osteopathic manipulation, which targeted the areas of injury with respect and clinical precision. It did not like certain types of massage, but did like others. I listened as my body taught me what worked for it and what didn’t.

As my body was finding its way, my mind was also in its own turmoil. It was learning to let go of a stronghold. It wanted desperately for my body to be the way it remembered it to be back then (20 years ago?), that it thought it should be still. It wanted my body to get on with it already, to get moving and to not be injured. It didn’t want the way that it was. More ruminations: “Is this the way it’s going to be for now on?” “Will it ever want to move again?” “Who am I if I’m not a yoga teacher/someone who can move freely? As a former endurance exerciser that prided in pushing hard and feeling strong, my mind was extremely challenged by taking a back seat to my body’s wish to “not do”. I knew that at some point my body would need to begin moving again, but for months and months - a few years it turned out - it just wasn’t ready. My pushy mind, still urging and restless, took a backseat to my body’s knowing. My body’s truth was pure and direct. It was more true.

My body very gradually and on its own timeline shifted out of its traumatized, frozen state and back into a healthier way of being. Just recently, about 6  months or so ago, I noticed it as it began to turn another corner. It wanted to take walks in meadows. It wanted to feel more fresh air moving in and out. It wanted to canoe and kayak. It began to feel more energized. Brighter. It wanted to do things.

And even more recently, to my delight, it wanted to start doing yoga again! It knew exactly what types of postures would be perfect for it. It took in the transformative sensory experience of stretch that happens during mindful movement. It abided in the deep, felt sense immediate delicious feedback hatha yoga brings. It felt for and deepened into a gentle resilience, a steadier balance, and a stronger structure.

Now, five years post injury, I’m still actively in a healing process and following my body’s lead.  I’m reflecting back on the gradual behavioral shift of listening to and abiding by my body’s wisdom. I was taught the gift of patience and the healing power of rest. I practiced how to be in uncertainty and fear and to not act impulsively on my mind’s incessant chatter that wanted so badly for me to do what my body knew was beyond its capacity. I caught this restless habit over and over, and to come back to my body’s knowing. Today, I deeply bow to my body’s wisdom for showing me what it knows and what is possible when I abide by its guidance. I’m stronger, wiser and deeply grateful.


Listening and abiding to body wisdom along with you,

Mara Wai