In Yoga classes it is common to hear “listen to the wisdom of your body” as an instruction. However, for a long time, when I heard those words in class it was unclear how the wisdom of the body was expressed or manifested. Inability to tune into the wisdom of our own bodies can, and often does, result in injury. Moreover, practicing Yoga from a competitive or ego driven mindset tends to override the immanent wisdom of the body forcing our bodies to move in opposition to life preserving and life protecting mechanisms. It is readily apparent that some innate intelligence orchestrates the myriad processes that make it possible for us to move, eat, sleep, heal, etc. The wisdom of the body consists of innumerable actions that move the body toward balance and well-being. In this post I try to illustrate the wisdom of the body in action.
In chapter 4 of Yoga: The spirit and practice of moving into stillness, Erich Schiffmann’s says that, just like the action of stretching and yawning in the morning, Yoga wakes you up by stretching and energizing you. As I thought about this idea, it occurred to me that the stretching that accompanies yawning in the morning is a perfect example of the wisdom of the body in action.
Think about waking up in the morning. Many of us stretch in bed soon after we wake up. When we stretch in bed, our minds are still in a state between asleep and awake, so, most likely, we don’t hear the mind saying “stretch a bit more to the right” or “move the right arm much more to the side.” Actually, in many cases the mind is still in the process of waking up so the stretching happens unconsciously. As we stretch, we activate the flow of blood through our muscles to energize the body. If the intensity of the stretch is too weak, it doesn’t feel like a stretch at all. On the other hand, stretching too hard can result in pulling a muscle. During the morning stretch we move intuitively in the direction or directions that feel right and with the right intensity to energize us and wake us up. In this process we are not concerned with the exact form of the stretch or how it looks from the outside, we just stretch our body until it feels perfect.
The morning stretch is a process that is highly effective. Its effectiveness results from moving slowly and gradually, so the nerve impulses travel back and forth between the muscles and the brain, generating an accurate action-feedback cycle that helps us fine tune the stretch. In other words, the body has enough time to react to the feedback it receives, thereby enabling us to apply the right intensity to the stretch while ensuring the safety of our actions.
In Yoga we try to emulate that “perfect stretch” feeling in every aspect of our Yoga practice. Indeed, numerous Yoga practices aim to remove habits and conditioning so that we can connect with our internal wisdom. Connecting with our internal wisdom helps us to be fully present and to act according to our present moment, needs and circumstances. So, the next time you are practicing Yoga, pay attention to the sensations that emerge and move at a pace that helps you honor the feedback that you receive from your breath, body and mind. By paying attention to the feedback you receive, you can guide your actions so the pace, the intensity, the level of energy and effort are neither too much nor too little, just perfect. This is what listening to the wisdom of the body means. If you wish, you can try to apply these ideas to your practice or to the 5 minute easy Yoga practice.