Monday, February 23, 2009

Body Shadow

Not too long ago I did something to my back. I had been mindlessly galloping around, high on coffee. Apparently I jumped one time too many and hurt myself. I was hurting across my hip and deep buttock on one side, my low back on the other, and within the next week on the other side my neck and shoulder were practically frozen. Yikes! A little mindlessness can have big repercussions.

My yoga practice helped me to feel better. But, still, if I felt like that all the time I’d have to find a new way to earn money. It was exhausting to teach yoga with back pain! It made me feel physically ill.

For most of last week I felt so much better! And then last weekend I went to a yoga workshop with Lois Steinberg. She pointed out that I was holding my head crooked, and that I was working my low back and shoulders asymmetrically in symmetrical poses (among other things that were off). And I was so grateful to have these things pointed out to me. My body’s shape had adjusted itself so I wasn’t feeling the residual tightness, but my injuries had deformed me. So when I was adjusted into symmetrical alignment I felt the tightness that was still there.

My injuries had gone underground. I had lost awareness. The truth of my condition had slipped into shadow—invisible to me.

I was so fortunate to see a teacher of Iyengar Yoga at this time! In this system of yoga teachers are trained to look and see asymmetries in the body. These people can help you get your body into alignment so it can function in an optimally healthy way.

Life can really mess up your body without your permission or knowledge!

Earlier I mentioned that the truth of my body had slipped into “shadow.” I intentionally used the word—as in shadow psychology. I had a physical manifestation that reflects the psychological usage. The shadow in psychology refers to aspects of self that are subconscious and can warp a person’s perceptions behind the scenes, often affecting behavior.

In psychology, a way to become more balanced is to do work to bring aspects of the shadow into consciousness. This allows a person to live a more intentional life. And it makes a person less likely to ignorantly harm others. An example of this might be any global judgment about people. Like if someone grew up with a father who never showed feelings, and this person grew up to speak to men as if they had no feelings. This behavior would obviously hurt some people along the way, but it might not be coming from a conscious place. This person is unknowingly hurting others.

The same can be true in our relationship to our bodies. We can be unknowingly hurting ourselves through unbalanced use of the body, as I described above.

I also think that the shadow in psychology can show up in the body.

Just prior to my galloping injury I had seen someone I hadn’t seen for a long time. This encounter was friendly, and just the nature of it forced me to look at my life. I didn’t really want to see what I saw. So I drank coffee, ate sugar, jumped around and hurt myself. My pain called my attention to what had happened. I had seen through this old friend an alternative future for myself that deeply disturbed me. This person was living in a different version of my life, living with decisions that I never made. It was an intense meeting that showed up without my choosing it.

Some people don’t want to be bothered with alignment details in their yoga practice. Yoga for them is possibly about disappearing into a high of the breath and body. I have enjoyed this many times. But, there is a missed opportunity for growth if a student always practices without a teacher with eyes trained for alignment. If I had gone from my “feeling better” state directly into a strengthening yoga practice I may have just strengthened my asymmetries!


Neil Keleher said...

Hi Brooks, nice blog, I came across it via facebook. One of the things I've been doing to detect imbalances is to focus on feeling my body via connection with the earth. In symetical poses I feel both feet and notice if they feel different. Then I try to adjust them, mostly by relaxing to make them feel the same. Then I apply this same sensititivy to feeling my knees, hips, lumbar spine etc. This may not be perfect and it may take time to develop the awareness to do this, or it might not. The beauty is that you aren't dependent on an outside observer. You can become you're own observer. And actually you are using something outside of yourself, you are using the earth.

all the best


Anonymous said...

Hey Brooks, great post.
I've had to learn about this quite a bit through the various injuries I've done to myself over the years. Each time I had something happen, I definitely felt the way my body would react to counterbalance the broken toe, messed up wrist etc. The worst one was the broken ribs!!

Yet another benefit of yoga, being around others who can see and help you out when you can't feel it for yourself. And we definitely can't always feel it...