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Stretching Our Way to Happiness

February 11, 2011

I am so pleased today to present a guest post by a friend of mine and yoga instructor, Michelle Fabrey. I asked her to write about the connection that yoga has to our body image, because I’ve noticed that doing yoga makes me feel so much better about my body. Based on this post, I think she agrees. Please enjoy and share your thoughts with Michelle. (And yes, if you ask, she’ll give you pointers on how do Down-Dog, Fish, and my personal favorite, Pigeon.)

The Intelligence Within

by Michelle Fabrey

While dressing my daughter each morning, we laugh, giggle and smile at each other. I kiss her belly and she squeals giddily. I take off her diaper and she kicks her legs up to her head, rollicking and enjoying the simple freedom.

I am amazed by the glee with which she delights in her body. As I unwrap her blanket and unzip her pajamas in the morning she revels in the process of waking up.  Eyes closed, she smiles, and at a leisurely pace she stretches, wiggles and rocks with what can only be described as uninhibited joy.

It makes me wonder, at what point did we stop doing this? At what point in our lives do we stop waking up with a feeling of joy and gratitude for our bodies?

In Women, Food and God, Geneen Roth reminds us that we arrive in this world fully anchored in our body. It is only as we travel thorough life that we end up distancing ourselves from it. When I started practicing yoga in my mid-twenties, I realized immediately that I had found my way back home, back to my body.  Through years of practice and exploration I have relearned how to ground myself in my body and in the present moment.  When the pose permits me to, I practice with my eyes closed and I use my asana practice as an opportunity to explore the subtle and internal world of my body with as much interest and curiosity as I explore the external world.  I approach each posture as an opportunity to connect with the innate intelligence of the body, an intelligence that transcends the mind. With regular practice I find that my mind is calmer, and I feel more connected to the unbreakable spirit within. Roth tells us that God is in the muffins; through my practice I find God in my breath, muscles, heart and spine.

Off of the mat and beyond all the sweat and spandex is where I have noticed the most dramatic changes in my life. Through the steady incorporation of asana (postures), pranayama (breath control) and yogic philosophy into my everyday life I have established greater equanimity and joy. Most importantly, I practice santosha (contentment) and ahimsa (non-violence). These elements of yoga philosophy remind me to be content with my body as it is and treat it with the love it deserves.

Regardless of whether you view yoga as a form of exercise, a lifestyle, a spiritual path or just a class you take at the gym, increasing numbers of Americans are doing it every year.  I have a feeling it is because we all enjoy feeling like my daughter does when she stretches: connected to our bodies and the intelligence that resides within.

How do you connect with your body?

If we are born with a strong connection to our body, how do we lose that connection?

What forces in the modern world have taken us away from our bodies? What forces can bring us back?

Image: “Yoga at the Botanic Garden” by Albuquerque BioPark via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine @ Coffees & Commutes February 11, 2011 at 7:26 am

Michelle! So lovely to meet you here and to read this post because it resonates with me deeply. In the fall I started a meditation practice and over the last few months I’ve found a new part of myself unfolding, a calmer self, a more self-aware self, and it has led to contentment across my life. My meditation coach has been coaxing me to complement my practice with yoga and while I full intend to, I haven’t made it a priority. This post helps me realize the place it could really have in my life. Thank you!

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Michelle February 11, 2011 at 8:28 am

Thanks, Christine. Nice to meet you too. Your coach is right, yoga and meditation pair together so well. The ancient yogis really weren’t concerned with having buns of steel, they just wanted to be calm and comfortable during meditation. I give you a lot of credit, it takes discipline to stick with a regular meditation practice, but as you know the fruits are amazing. Best to you, namaste.

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MacDougal Street Baby February 11, 2011 at 8:39 am

I started practicing yoga a little over a year ago. My mother had tried to lure me to my breath my entire life but I fought against it. Anxiety held the spotlight. I’ll never forget that first class. My teacher stroked our nerves, asking us if it had taken a lot to get there. She meant it in terms of the day. What kinds of challenges the morning had already held in store for us. She didn’t realize that it had taken me 42 years to arrive in that spot. My mat is my base. It brings me back to myself, to my breath. It is, far and above, what holds me together.

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Liz S February 11, 2011 at 9:39 am

Such a great post. I absolutely agree. I’ve been practicing yoga since about 2002, and took a break after giving birth – not a good idea. Had I insisted on keeping this time for myself to come back to center I think I would have been able to handle the challenges of new motherhood with more calm and grace. Now that I’ve re-adjusted to life as a parent, I’m slowly incorporating it back into my weekly routine of exercise and I look forward to enjoying its benefits once again. I find that it does reconnect me with my body and actually helps me to make better choices in most aspects of my life. I don’t know what I’d do without it and will never ignore it again!

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Michelle February 11, 2011 at 10:10 am

I am right there with you. Balancing your duties as a parent with your duty to take care of yourself is one of the hardest challenges. Sometimes we are so busy trying to be super women that we forget the importance of giving ourselves a period of adjustment. Really, permission to adjust (or just be flawed in general) is a form of ahimsa in itself.
Sounds like you are doing a great job of taking the middle path.

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KQ @ Roots and Wings February 11, 2011 at 10:34 am

I think this is a perfect way to close out the symposium! I am always amazed at what my body can do when I finish yoga or pilates. When I see the difference from one week to the other, it is awesome. My practice is not that consistent yet. But I’ve found an awesome instructor and she is offering a lot more options lately so things are looking promising.

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Cathy February 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I’ve never done yoga but I really believe in the connection between body, mind and spirit. I connect to my body by pushing it to the limits – where my mind can only focus on the physical, it releases me from my mind – my thoughts, my worries, my fears. I run, bike, ski and swim – not as often as I should – but enough to remember how it keeps me connected and keeps me sane.

Nice to meet you!

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Jana February 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Cathy, try yoga! You’ll love it!

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Mrs.Mayhem February 11, 2011 at 1:12 pm

You present a strong argument for trying yoga. I exercise regularly, and I have found all sorts of benefits from doing so, but I haven’t tried yoga yet. Now I’m sold!

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Jana February 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm

All I want is for my daughter to wake up happy and excited to start the day. Instead she’s all, “Eh, eh eh!”

Do you want to switch? :)

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Vanessa February 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm

“How do you connect with your body?” Are you ready for this oxymoronic answer? Yoga and roller derby. While yoga has taught me how to slow down, release stress and become more in tune with my body; roller derby has made me aware of how powerful I can be in body and spirit. Both activities have brought to light areas of my body, mind and spirit that I was not in touch with previously. I cannot express the lessons I have learned about myself from testing my body and spirit from one extreme (yoga) to another (roller derby). They help me to live life to the fullest and relish in the details, even if they’re painful.

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Justine February 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I LOVE yoga – it changed the way I view my body. I have so much more respect for it now since I started practicing it a few years ago. I love the way it makes me feel during the practice, and especially so after. I feel so strong and empowered as I stretch and bend to lengthen, to understand, to work with (and not against) my body. It’s wonderful when you take the time to listen to it because amid our every day bustle, we may not always hear what it has to say.

Sadly, I’ve not been able to get back to it as often as I used to but I suppose that makes each time I do it even more magical. My two-year-old daughter tries to join me sometimes although with her around, it’s more comical than it is relaxing and peaceful. Hey, I’ll take what I can get these days.

So glad to meet you, Michelle, and to see other enthusiasts here. It truly is an amazing experience – thank you for sharing yours with us.

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Rudri February 14, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I have utmost respect for the mind-body connection. I am a runner and because I have such a restless spirit, I feel, as I run, an immediate sense of calm. I’ve tried yoga a handful of times and can’t seem to calm down enough to really enjoy it. There are so many distractions in my mind that prevent me from enjoying the poses. Any suggestions? The benefits of yoga are tremendous. I understand this, but can’t make a solid move toward the practice.

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Michelle February 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Do you practice with a teacher? Finding a teacher you connect with who can guide you through your practice makes a world of difference. I have had wonderful teachers, here is some of what they have shared with me.

The mind wants something to do during your practice, it wants to feel important. Unless you give the mind a job it will wander, start making grocery lists, planning your day, evaluating the shade of pink on your toes, etc. The breath connects body and mind, so use your mind to control your breath. Make it smooth and even, eliminate any pausing between the inhale and exhale, make you inhalations and exhalations equal in length. When you find a teacher you click with, ask them to teach you ujjayi breathing. The soft ocean sound that your breath makes can be soothing and it also helps to warm the body up.

Best of luck to you. Hope this helps.

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Jana February 15, 2011 at 7:58 am

It’s really interesting that you say this, Rudri, because I had a hard time initially connecting with yoga. It sounded wonderful, but my first try was awful. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything right, because I had a bad teacher. (And maybe she wasn’t bad, but she micromanaged me, and my body didn’t like that.) A year later, I tried again, and had a much better experience. Now, if I go too long, my body starts asking. Yoga, please? I noticed that the more I did it, the better my posture, the more my legs yearned for the stretch.

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