Healing the Emotional Body
Through the Joints
Healing the emotional body through regaining flexibility in the joints….. really?
What does one have to do with the other? One would think, very little. After all emotions are lofty, largely ungraspable beings, while joints, well, it doesn't get much more physical than the mere mechanical function of our joints.
You can imagine how surprised I was, when after my Kaiut yoga teacher training with Francisco Kaiut , I not only felt nicely balanced in my body, but the most noticeable shift was how calm and grounded I felt. There was an ease, a quietly flowing joy and a relaxedness with life that was new to me. I had felt this before at times but it didn’t have this “natural - nothing special - what’s the big deal - this is just simply who I am” - feel about it.
The last evening of the training I was sitting in the garden of a brewery at Kensington market, with my friends, drinking one of the brewery’s fabulous craft pale ales. We were observing the young people with dreadlocks meandering along the street, had a nice conversation with the young man sitting at our long table with his friend. He turned out to be a Swiss doctor, doing an internship at a nearby hospital. Then the whole feeling of Saturday night ease changed when a rough homeless couple had an all out fight in the middle of the street, cursing and screaming at each other. I noticed how I could just be with it all. I didn't have to be entertaining, I didn’t have to impress anyone or go into a defensive mode out of fear. I could just experience one thing after another without having to add my own opinion, grade it, like or dislike it. There was a comforting, weighty feeling of simply being home while life unfolded around me.
It is now a few months since the training ended and that feeling of weighty, emotional ease and presence has remained. It is not static or always the same but it is clearly noticeable, sometimes delightfully in the foreground, other times quietly in the background.
So why do I bring this in connection with regaining flexibility in my joints? Because this is what we actively did in the teacher training. We reshaped our ankles and feet by sitting on them in Virasana, we bent them more actively than ever by putting a strap around the arch of a foot and pulling on the extended leg for long moments, sometimes until the hands cramped. We put our bodies into a yoga position, like bending forward in Sukhasana (seated forward bend) and then let gravity and time do the job of opening the hip joints and again the ankles. All we had to do is be there, in the position, stay present and relax, give the sensations room to be as they were, trust the intelligence of our bodies, not impose our minds and ideas of perfection onto them but instead let them be, let them find their own ways.
This is all very relaxing to the nervous system, a system that is always on the look out to balance our experience, to make sure we don’t get ourselves into trouble. Historically it has been most successful in doing that be being on guard, defensive, pasting past experiences on present moments to avoid future disasters. And now in this yoga practice all this nervous system needed to do was to be there. Nothing to watch out for, nothing to defend or improve.
No wonder then that doing this for three, sometimes four hours a day for eight days in a row, would spill over into other systems in the body that are used to be primarily in fight or flight mode.
Not to strive for perfection, not to actively try to improve on how our bodies move but to let the restrictions that show up reveal the next step, the next opening, the right healing for this moment, is something many of us haven’t done since childhood. We have all been so actively either shaping or destroying, criticizing or praising, succeeding or failing in our endeavours, we hardly know how to trust ourselves anymore. Trusting that we have highly intelligent systems, that if we put them into the right environment, will efficiently and effectively improve on their own. Any idea I have about myself, my body, my mind can never touch the real genius it is.
I have been interested in optimizing my human potential for as long as I remember. I’ve studied and practiced many physical modalities like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Pilates. I’ve practiced yoga for thirty years. And in all that time I thought I needed to improve on the status quo. I needed to tweak it here and there, make it more flexible, strengthen the muscles, move the hip forward a bit, bring the shoulders back, lengthen the spine, shorten the neck, change this, change that. And at some point along the line, I was sure, I was going to stumble on perfection.
I’ve done the same with my emotional and mental body. Slowly inching myself forward towards perfection, joy, bliss learning and applying all kinds of techniques and tricks, meditations and self inquiries. Only to ….. never arrive at this illusory destination. Only to disappoint myself over and over again.
And now after eight days of Kaiut yoga this has all changed, you ask. Well not entirely of course. But it certainly made big a dent into my need for striving. It proved it to not only be unnecessary but actually inadequate. In a very visceral he way, using the body, my joints in particular, as an entry point, I have relaxed. I have given up the fight and surrendered to myself. Not the idea of myself, not an illusory perfection of myself, but to my present rendition at this moment. I trust that it is the most intelligent in can be right now. And I also trust that I can only find new openings and possibilities from being present with my current restrictions. These restrictions have good reason to be and will find their own genius ways to open and shift, if I give them room. The one thing they don’t need is my input. All they need is my being present with them, even if it gets uncomfortable, even if they cramp up for a moment.
I’m slowly taking one step at the time, as intelligently as possible, as relaxed and available as possible. I am no longer looking for the grand final destination, but I am interested in and open to feel what is, trust that and make my next step a little bit more beautiful, kind and open.
It’s an ongoing, ever unfolding journey with no final destination. I can highly recommend it.