Today, I am 38 years old.
Yesterday, I took a yoga class with my teacher, Todd Jackson, a modern day wizard of bodywork who likes to offer such cues as “let the inner edge of your left lung relax forward”. The first time I took a class with him, about 10 years ago, he was instructing us through bridge pose using only the liver as a reference point. At the time, my rational mind thought he was nuts. “Flex my liver? As if…”, but even as I was finding the whole idea preposterous, my body was responding.
At this point, I have grown accustomed to relating to the different nuances of my body as if they have a life of their own, because, well…they do. These bodies are made up of literally trillions of individual cells, in each moment these cells are shifting; some dying, some being born. In just one of the eyeballs you are using to read this blog post, there are more atoms than there are stars in the known universe. So of course it makes sense that as we focus our awareness on the nuances of our personal ecosystem, these different individual components respond appreciatively.
It was profound to work with the lungs for an entire yoga class, particularly on the eve of my birthday. It brought up a visceral body memory of the vulnerability of lungs, being one of the last organs to completely develop in the womb. I felt tears of appreciation that my lungs were given the time and space to develop fully, that they were born into a world with relatively clean and breathable air, that I had the incredible good fortune to emerge with these phenomenal pieces of organic technology in full function. In Chinese medicine and other mythologies of the body, it is thought that grief lives in our lungs. I could feel that in my practice too: a 38-year collection of sad moments and the grief of major life changes, a lifetime of bracing myself for constant change with my inhales and exhales, all accessible here in the powerful yet delicate space of the lungs.
Working with this kind of attention to specific, deep and subtle regions of the body is a simple concept, but I believe it is a revolutionary practice.
Recently, an opportunity has opened up for culture change. People are talking about how and why we have allowed the objectification, sexualization and exploitation of the bodies of women, and many people are ready for this to change. I am hopeful that this vital conversation will create the impact that is needed. However, I feel doubtful that we will be able to uproot and transform rape culture until we learn how to stop objectifying bodies entirely. Bodies are not objects. They are not tidy shrink wrapped packages that you buy off the shelf with a warranty, you do not get to select the exact color and size you prefer, there are no refunds or returns, they cannot be shoved into the capitalist consumer paradigm, no matter how hard we try. Our bodies are living ecosystems, and we are the stewards of these lands. Other people’s bodies are living ecosystems, not products on Amazon that we have been invited to rate and review.
When yoga becomes just another way to dominate, control, sexualize or sell the body object, it loses its potent ability to heal individuals and cultures. But when yoga becomes a playground for engaging with our living ecosystems, for enjoying the organic and lush spaces within, for noticing and healing and repairing and resting, for inquiry, study and a deepening understanding of the microcosmic universe that we have the unique honor of living within, then yoga changes everything.
Here are just a few of the things I encourage in yoga culture to shift away from the myth of the body object:
-let go of judgement/hierarchy words when talking about your yoga practice: “right”, “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are some examples
-close your eyes more and learn to feel your yoga practice from the inside, rather than looking to see it on other people’s bodies
-stop using judgement words when talking about other people’s bodies
-Let go of judgement/hierarchy language when talking about the different tissues of your body. Muscle is not more important than fluid, fat is not worse than bone. These are all just vital parts of our living ecosystem.
-Practice noticing some of your internal systems: learn a new cool fact about one of your fluids, organs, or nerves, and then practice experiencing that part of your body in your next movement practice.
-Take excellent care of yourself: Eat good food, exercise, go to the doctor and dentist, get bodywork, learn to shift your negative self talk into positive self talk (and for more on that giant undertaking, consider scheduling a life coaching session)
And if you would like to experience first hand some of the amazing inner body yoga that Todd Jackson teaches, consider nabbing one of the last spots in his February Immersion (it will sell out very soon!).