Yoga and Body Awareness
|24 May 2012||Posted by Lara under Lara Hennessey, TSP Experts|
One of my yoga teachers always told us to move when we felt the need to move. She would ask us to set up in Child’s Pose and only move to Downward Facing Dog when our bodies called out for movement. For a while I didn’t understand. I’d wait a bit, until others in my class starting transitioning to Downward Facing Dog, and I would follow. It took many classes as well as self-practices to understand what she meant. She was teaching us body awareness.
On a basic level, I was aware of my body. I could feel my hands, knew where my feet were, and where my head was in relation to my belly. It never occurred to me that there were things in my body — things my body was telling me that I was not aware of. The first time I remember having a deeper awareness was in the middle of my teacher training. I was home sick and had taken my magical pill, Aleve Cold and Sinus. After about thirty minutes, my symptoms were gone so I began to clean the house. Then I felt my kidneys. I actually felt them inside my body. And I understood what they were telling me. Although I had masked my symptoms, I was still sick and my body did not want to be cleaning the house, it wanted to be in bed.
There are many psychological studies showing how yoga helps with body awareness. In 2005, an article in the Psychology of Women Quarterly compares yoga to aerobics in cultivating body awareness in women. The results showed that the women who practiced yoga gained greater body awareness than those who practiced aerobics, as well as more positive attitudes towards eating. Women tend to exercise more to lose weight than for the purpose of health, and in young women, exercise can even make them more dissatisfied with the way their bodies look. However, according to this study, yoga has the opposite effect, possibly because of the spiritual aspect of it. Most forms of aerobics and exercise focus on the end result, whether that is to sweat, to get stronger, or to lose weight. In aerobic classes, I have been told to “push” a little harder and to sweat a little more. Yoga focuses more on the pose and breathing in it. The Institute of Jewish Spirituality incorporates yoga into their retreats to “learn to pay attention more fully to sensations in [their] bodies as they move into various shapes and forms, and to the breath that flows in and out,” increasing bodily awareness.
How does yoga do this? Each individual must feel their way into their pose. There are no strict goals to meet, such as an amount of weight to lift. There are parameters given by the teacher, yes. The student is instructed on specifically what will hurt the body. Beyond that, each person must find what feels right in the pose. In order to do so, one must listen to his/her body to find out what is not challenging enough and what is too far. Change in the deepening of awareness is a slow process. It starts out in spurts in poses, noticing what feels wrong and what feels right. Then, one begins to notice how he/she feels when he/she misses a yoga class. Maybe how the body feels after a specific pose. Then, that awareness moves into knowing when one is truly full or hungry, when the body needs to move, and when it needs to sleep. The deeper a person moves into his/her practice, the deeper the awareness becomes. Deeper does not necessarily mean mastering super challenging poses. It means meditating more. It means honoring what the body is saying it needs. It means paying more attention. Often, this can happen without us even realizing it.
One day, by myself, I got into Child’s Pose and heard my teacher’s voice in my head. “Don’t move until your body calls for it.” I spent about fifteen minutes in Child’s Pose before transitioning, not to Downward Facing Dog, but to Savasana.