I recently interviewed the delightful David Emerson and loved his description of using yoga as a way to become friendlier with your body.
You can find out more about his Trauma Sensitive Yoga programme in Boston here
Click here to buy his co-authored book, Overcoming Trauma through Yoga (mine’s on order and I can’t wait to read it).
Having trained as a yoga therapist with Heather Mason at The Minded Institute, I see that I’ve benefitted from his approach. She trained with Emerson and was one of the first people to bring Trauma Sensitive Yoga to the UK, working with people struggling with traumatic stress at the Maudsley in London.
Learning to breathe and move differently and changing the way we feel about ourselves and our lives not just through becoming stronger and more flexible on the mat but taking on more in our lives is just one of the things yoga can help with.
While Emerson’s focus is on helping people who’ve survived traumas find safety and comfort in their bodies, pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has forgotten to treat their body with friendliness at some point.
How many times have you experienced self-loathing of varying degrees when you were ill or while looking at our society’s ‘ideal’ body types in magazines or on TV?
The whole ‘your body is a temple’ idea can make our bodies feel even further removed when we feel far from sacred, whether that’s due to abuse or trauma or simply feeling a bit overweight. But friendliness is something we can all aspire to.
In psychosynthesis, we’re reminded that although we have bodies (and minds, and feelings), there’s more to us than that. It helps us to look at the bigger picture.
Psychosynthesis works with the body as well as the mind and emotions (and spirit). While clients sometimes think it strange at first, working symbolically with their bodies (when this is appropriate) as well as tracking physical sensations can open us up to enormous wisdom. And yet we humans often need to relearn how to access this.
I’ve started talking to some of my yoga students and clients about this idea of becoming friendlier with their bodies, not just through yoga (although it’s a wonderful way that has many benefits) but even through the things we tell ourselves (silently) or say about ourselves (when talking to others).
Dr Emoto’s studies with water, where the cellular structure changed when people said kind things or horrible things, indicate that we humans (made up of much water) can reap even greater benefits as we learn to send kinder thoughts to our own bodies.
Next time you’re in the shower or bath, take advantage of the opportunities to become friendlier with your body. Shampooing and conditioning, thank your hair (yes, even if you’re worried about hair loss). Massage your scalp with kindness. As you moisturise, send a little thank you to each part of you.
Appreciate your feet for carrying you through each day, helping you with each next step (writing this, I remember how much I used to hate feet. Even my own). Appreciate your legs for helping you stand, your knees for allowing you to be flexible and bend and jump.
If you’re carrying extra weight from pregnancy, experiment with appreciating the miracle that you – thanks to your body – were able to create and deliver a new life into the world rather than bemoaning the loss of your old jeans… Which feels better?
You get the idea. It may feel strange at first – imagine saying ‘Hi’ to a mistreated kitten. It may be wary at first but once you continue to shower yourself with friendly thoughts, you’ll begin to relax into it.
Thank your whole body. And if there are issues (back aches, recovering from surgery, parts you associate with pain of any kind), experiment with sending that part extra love.
In your yoga practice (or when you go running, cycling, swimming or whatever you enjoy doing – remember to let all your activities feel friendly and fun), rather than wishing you could stretch further / be faster, THANK your body for helping you do so much already and act as if you’re on the same team.
This will help you make healthier choices regarding food, rest and all sorts of things.
Experiment with it. And have fun.
Image courtesy of khunaspix / freedigitalphotos.net