by Shannon Leigh
Recently Valerie Parker walked into the studio and handed me a book. This was good news for me because most of the great yoga books I’ve read in the past few years have either been gifts or suggestions from Valerie. She thought I’d like the book as a whole, but really wanted me to read one short chapter on Self-Judgement. The chapter and the book, Living Your Yoga by Judith Lassater, were revelatory. Judith writes, “Often my inner dialog was negative and pejorative, causing me to inflict my yoga practice on myself.” I recognized myself instantly in this line…
The past few weeks I’ve been contemplating Compassion as the agreed upon theme for month of February… What does it mean to me? How does it relate to yoga? When I read Judith’s words it became clear to me: I do not have a strong experience of compassion for self.
When I practice yoga, as is true for most of us, I am experiencing myself at the edge of my limitations and my self-talk reflects my feelings about my body in the face of those limitations. The voice in my head sounds something like this, “You’ve gone deeper before. Do your best version in case someone is watching… You should have a better pose by now… If only you weren’t so lazy you’d be better… If only you had more training you’d be better… If only you had practiced before class you’d be able to demo this better…” On it goes.
And I push - the dominating mind, the one I talk about so often in my yoga classes, takes over and pushes my body to its edges for the gratification of the mind/ego at the expense of the body’s lived experience of well-being.
Judith’s words drew my attention to this and I started to hold my body differently in my thinking. Instead of viewing my body as being an obstacle to my perfect pose, I started to hold it as my own sweet baby. I would never berate my baby for having the limitations of babyhood, I wouldn’t yell at baby, “Get up and walk,” or “Feed yourself.” Babies just can’t do those things yet, which does not mean the baby won’t be able to do those things ever. Most babies eventually can and do, but until they do we hold them as they are and love them as they are. I can love and care for my body the same way. I can hold compassion for the body exactly as it is, while still caring about its growth and development.
One thing that often blocks my compassion is the erroneous belief that all growth will stop without the pushing that comes from this dominating voice. This is wrong! Growth and progress continues the same as before, but instead of wrenching my leg into Compass pose, pushing and pulling at myself with all kinds of condemnation and violent self-talk, I can say things like, “Sweet body, I feel you.” I can hold my body in my mind the same as I held my children as babies. If I’m feeling the body and letting the messages of the body come through (the body communicates with us through sensation) it guides me, I have a better sense of where to push and where to soften, how to move and what to deepen. The body itself invites the deepening.
In all my years of working to uncover the reality of mind and body, I’d failed to notice this lack of compassion for my own body, but cupid’s arrow finally hit its mark. Holding myself in this way is one of the greatest gifts I can give this oft abused, maligned and generally disregarded body that does so much for me. There is as much potential depth in compassionate body-love as there is in any deep love I’ve experienced… my love for Brian… for my kids. In some sense it is the truest and deepest love imaginable, because for as long as I’m alive, Sweet Body, we’re in this together.
(poem by Shannon)
Just breathing is pleasure - soften inside...
Lovely Body, impermanent, not mine.
Being its thing. Dynamic… Alive.