There is a difference between stretching from the inside and stretching from the outside. I had this thought as I reached out to stretch in bed, some half hour ago in the dark, and I was so astounded that I had to say it again: There is a difference between stretching from the inside and stretching from the outside.
We impose stretching on our bodies – take classes, buy books, schedule time, often to prevent injury – but the body wants to stretch, knows how to stretch. I, as a body, will stretch if I am listening and aware of myself.
Dogs and cats don’t learn to stretch. I always love the perfect alignment of Downward Dog when one of “the girls” decides to spontaneously loosen her muscles. Animals – every animal but man, presumably – don’t divorce themselves from their bodies. I climbed into my head as a child because my body was an uncomfortable place to be; I also climbed into my head because we live in a culture that derides and commands the body and only praises bodies that respond to specific criteria of appearance or performance.
Today is a rest day (three miles yesterday; our first real day of training), so I am still in bed. But I have been in deep relationship with my body since I woke up.
I went back to The Body Has Its Reasons this weekend. Almost 30 years since it came out, more than 25 since I first read it, and every read has been vibrant and awakening. I lay here this morning, relaxing my stomach and abs. I started on the right side, and as my stomach relaxed, I could feel my back relax and my entire leg. The left side took longer. In fact, I attended to the left side, turned on the light to read, noticed that my whole right side – face to feet – was so much looser, and finally lay back to go back in.
I almost didn’t. I almost kept reading, as if the page had more to tell me than my body. But the pages kept telling me to listen to my body, so I got the message and put the book down. I gave all my attention to my mid and left abdomen, and suddenly felt the connection and spread of so much pain – grief and fear – everywhere. What is it about the left side? I remembered how I cried in yoga that first time, from all the breathing into my muscles. I store so much in my body, and I’m ready to release it. At one point this morning I started doing a “letting go” practice, too, and the tears came up. I began to stretch from inside myself, from need and the pleasure of the movement.
A few thoughts – in no order – are offering themselves for consideration: Do I hold myself still to avoid causing trouble? How often do I hold my breath – and my muscles – in fear? Can I allow myself to have something that is mine – a feeling, a thought, a discovery, an experience – without giving it up as an offering? What do I fear would happen? Does everything have to have broader purpose? What would it mean for me to practice privacy? Can I trust that my physical presence, my embodiment, is an offering and not always resort to gifts of the mind?
There is huge responsibility to be other than I simply am in the simple act of being. And I can’t lay all of it on my childhood. Although I can feel the threads of Mom’s depression, my allergies, the dynamics of school and the schoolyard, I can also feel the cultural constructs: what gets valued, what’s dismissed. An astrologer once said I came in with this, too – the I versus Thou, the needs of the group versus the needs of the soul – as if they have to be in conflict, as if one cannot serve the self and serve the group, as if one cannot serve community from the abundance of a healthy self.
I taught my performance workshop last Sunday on coming to the poem from within the poem. Wednesday, I walked from within my body. This morning, I’ve been lying here, hanging out inside. At one point I thought, I don’t want to leave this body without ever having really inhabited it. I want to fill it fully, learn everything it has to teach me, everything I, as a body, have to teach myself as a mind and a soul.
And still, the title of the book is The Body Has Its Reasons. The armor goes up to protect something. That something may need to be dealt with or released. It’s not even an epiphany. I have been reading this one book, and making related discoveries, since high school. But it is a new step on the journey with a new understanding of process and baby steps, a compelling reason of my own, with this marathon training, and a hunger to find my way home
In 2005, I stunned myself by signing up to walk the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. This post is one of a series of reflections and Training Tales from that time. The whole series begins here.