Part 3: From Personal To Collective
As physically embodied creatures, our minds and bodies are intricately interdependent. Thoughts give way to actions, actions meld into habits, and over time our mental activities literally sculpt the bodies we inhabit. Sometimes I wonder if the body, in many ways, is our deepest form of creative expression– a stage upon which we explore and express our inner experiences. I’ve mused on how through yoga I quite literally create a theatrical masterpiece with my body; my bones, my breasts, my fat, and my muscles become performers in the great drama that brings spirit to life.
Other times though, my body feels like anything but a masterpiece. Sometimes I feel like I have no sense of how to gratify its needs, and my body becomes more like the battlefield of the Mahabaratha than the scene in one of Shakespeare’s romantic monologues. I take arms with the latest cleanse to make myself “more pure”, or grab something sweet to elude the emptiness within. I know that piece of chocolate probably won’t satisfy the yearning for sweet comfort I feel in my heart. But I pretend it will… just for a moment… because I don’t want to sit with the pain of longing for something much deeper.
Instead of listening to my body’s voice and responding with compassion, I go into an over-controlling dictator mode– my little inner-Gaddafi kicks in to quell the outcry of my intuition. I bark orders at the innocent citizens– my belly, my muscles, even my ovaries sometimes– demanding they succumb to my will rather than express the wisdom they inhabit. “You will do another chaturanga dandasana!” “Quit with the hunger pangs, it’s not time to eat yet!”
Just as I’m recognizing these alarming dynamics within myself, I’m also seeing a parallel trend in the way we relate to bodies as a society. Television commercials, Yoga Journal ads, even elementary school health classes inculcate us with the message that the body must be constantly controlled, refined, and purified.
The cultural rituals we’ve developed to “fix” our bodies range from the somewhat benign (e.g. shaving our body hair and concealing “flaws” with makeup) to the more extreme (liposuction, eating disorders, and genital mutilation). In the yoga world, we herald the “cleansing” effects of fanatical diets or become neurotic about getting “perfect” alignment. Masked as health habits and injury prevention, I wonder if the extreme ends of the continuum reflect something deeper at play–a subconscious desire to fit our bodies to the only ideal our culture teaches us has worth…blog and series summation continues at YogaModern.com.