How we move in our physical body is how we move through life.
Our physical bodies — our posture, movement, illnesses, and injuries — are the best source of wisdom and insight to what’s going on in our mental, emotional, and spiritual realms. This is a two-way street.
The shape and structure of our physical bodies reflect what we see and what we feel (and those that we suppress). And how we hold and carry our bodies informs what we see and what we feel.
These are concepts I have been exploring for years, through various disciplines and modalities, including Network Spinal Analysis, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the chakra system, the Kabbalah Tree of Life.
My latest avenue of exploration in this area has been Katonah Yoga, a discipline of yoga that combines Hatha yoga with the principles of TCM, Taoist theory, and geometry.
The Body as Metaphor
Katonah Yoga views the body as metaphor and uses the language of archetype.
The other day I took a class at The Studio in New York City, led by founder Abbie Galvin.
Abbie’s Sunday morning class is intense. It’s always packed and there’s no hiding. Rather than lining up mats in rows we set them up around the perimeter of the room and then fill in the middle. Everyone faces each other. Everyone can see what’s happening around them.
After class, I approached Abbie to ask about some of the poses that are difficult for me. She shared her observation of my yoga poses:
You’re too much in your back. Your back overpowers your front, and when you’re in your back you can’t access your vision. And vision is your best game.
She explained further:
When your past overpowers your potential, you can’t access your vision. Your vision is focused on survival, instead of looking out, where it needs to look.
She said that this is a pattern of neurology, one that we can rewire through repetition of a new pattern.
Her words touched a place deep within me. I felt seen and understood. This is something I’ve been working on for almost a full year now, in the weight room as well as the yoga studio.
Unable to See Past Survival
Here’s a literal, physical example of what she is saying:
A year ago I could hardly get my thighs parallel to the floor before my back would round over and collapse onto my legs.
Each day I practice getting a little lower into a low paleo squat. Sitting in my hips is difficult and often painful, so at a certain depth I inevitably compensate by rounding through my torso and lower back.
The result is that at the bottom of a deep squat I’m folded over into myself.
It puts a strain on my back. My vision is generally oriented to my feet and legs (my roots, stability, survival). I’m unable to straighten my torso and look up and out into the world.
In that position, I’m unable to see past myself or outside myself.
Our Habitual Holds
It’s easy to forget that the hours in the day we spend outside the gym or yoga studio are also spent training our bodies. Our most intense physical training happens as we work. We are literally putting our bodies in positions and holding them there for a long time, which is how you train your body to adopt a posture.
So the way we use our bodies as we work matters more than what we do in the hour or two that we spend “exercising.”
How many hours do you spend sitting at a desk and hunched over your computer or your phone, looking within instead of looking out into the world? We often lose awareness of how we hold our bodies while we are working.
When our focus is on our emails and reacting to the demands of others, it’s not directed to our our vision for the future.
Vision, indeed our productivity in general, is an embodied practice. The body holds the key to understanding our nature, if we only know how to read it. And we can change our patterns by training the body to hold itself differently.
The physical work is not just about surface appearance or better muscle tone. It’s not just about a “workout.” The physical work is about training new patterns, restructuring the container to give me better access to my ability and my vision and support the life I want to create.