On the Joys of Embodiment

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, after teaching my Ashtanga Yoga class, I spend at least three quarters of an hour disinfecting the mats, folding the straps, rearranging the blocks, mopping the floor, washing the glasses and tidying up the washroom. This is because on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the studio’s housekeeper, M., only arrives at 4:00 pm.

In previous months, I would rush through these labors, impatient to start on what I felt was the “real” work behind running the studio: doing the accounting, managing the payroll, tallying the inventory, updating the website, and all the other strictly mental tasks. In more recent weeks, I’ve come to love the menial, janitorial labors for their sheer physicality: for the fact that they force me to live more deeply in my body.

As a plump, bespectacled, awkward and sickly child, embodiment was not a particular dimension of human existence that I cherished. I didn’t hate my body, but I was pained by it; I couldn’t reconcile the agility of my mind with the gracelessness of the flesh that it happened to inhabit.

It was yoga that finally allowed me to reclaim my body, and to eventually even celebrate it. Still, it was a long and gradual process. I remember a time when my teacher Editha would stop me in the middle of a pose and ask: “Eileen, how does your body feel?” I would stare at her perplexed, thinking to myself: What on earth does she mean? What does it matter what my body feels? What matters is getting into the pose!

Now, with increasing mindfulness, I’m trying to dwell more in my body and less in my mind, shifting more of my attention to the corporal and visceral aspects of living: to sights and sounds, to scents and textures, to flavors and feelings. The tendency to drift into my head is still very much there—a habit ingrained by 30+ years of intellectualized living—but there are more and longer forays into the here and now, into the presence mediated by flesh and bone.

It took a long, long time, but I’m finally coming back to the first of all our homes: the shelters erected by the skins we’re in.


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