Last night a woman at Lockhart prison mentioned that during her sentence she took a class called "women's health". I asked her what that class was like and she essentially told me they learned about disease - how to avoid getting STDs, how to check for breast cancer, and other problems... She mentioned nothing about health... I felt the sinking feeling again that comes in regards to how our culture regards our bodies and the messages that are ingrained in our beliefs about fear and distrust of our nature. I'm sad that people in prison are bombarded with a religious view that is just another prison of the mind and I'm sad that women who have already endured a lifetime of hurt are being taught more bad news about their bodies. One common example is that many people (woman or man, in prison or not) were molested as children, which hurts a young psyche, severs our sense of self and invades our rightful dominion of our bodies. Add to that an ongoing "education" about bodies as basically uninhabitable places that have to be vigilantly measured and monitored for intruders, that are basically sinful and need to be saved by an imaginary man god so we can be whisked off to heaven after the misery of this life has passed. Such a conundrum.
This is all sad because it's a terribly flawed belief system that interferes with our inherent capacity to thrive freely in our bodies, in our lives and in our world.
We cannot teach what we don't explore and plenty of people are out there teaching about "health" but what they're really doing is teaching about fearing our bodies and managing the consequences of that fear, because in a very direct way the attitude creates and maintains tension that makes the disease scenario come true. Plenty of people are also out there preaching about salvation but what they're really doing is passing on this story that says humans are bad and have to be saved. No. Humans are manifest forms of life. We are conscious, incredibly elegant bodies that are designed by the movement of life, quite literally. Embryology is a brilliant science that carries a growing understanding of how lifeforce animates the cells, tissues and structure to develop *in response to movement*. We are movement! Biodynamics is a brilliant science that carries a growing understanding of how life flows in form, how life creates the shape of all this we see. We are fully capable of inhabiting our bodies with clear and real discovery so that we can experience more and more and more of this freedom that is already our nature. The play of the relationship between consciousness and form is where it's at - dynamic and robust in every one of us. In our uniqueness and our universality.
We are not sinful and we are not disease. We CAN condition our minds to fear ourselves and the world so that we live in a continual state of tension and stagnation, preventing the flow from doing it's awesome renewal thing *if we choose*! Or we can choose to stop believing these dismal stories and go with the flow that is us. Traumatic experiences that have conditioned our minds and bodies to contract in the face of life CAN heal. This is our nature. Any class called "women's health" or "men's health" or just "health" needs to be oriented to the flow of life, not the blocking of it. Otherwise call it "illness and vigilance class". Or how about "sad class"? Haha!
In our culture we're so used to the sad story that we don't even notice how sad it is. Sure, all kinds of wild, crazy, graceful, funny, boring, painful, beautiful, scary, darling and ridiculous things happen throughout a lifetime, and we are fully equipped to go through the contractions and expansions, to learn and heal and grow as we go. Nature is resilient and life is incredible. I want us all to embody it for real. My 2018 resolution is to teach health and to not back down about it.
In 1992 I was doing my open water diving certification. It was February, the water a chilly 49 F with a couple of feet visibility and my borrowed wetsuit was too big so water flowed continually down my back. We descended one at a time with our instructor to the required depth, holding onto a line so we wouldn’t get lost in the murk, and we performed our skills which included removing our masks and regulators. I removed my mask and immediately inhaled all the water I could take into my lungs. That was not one of the skills to perform! In a reactive panic I flailed and started to launch upward to the surface, which would have done me some harm due to the sudden pressure change. It was then that my instructor revealed herself as an underwater Zen master. What I remember most is her gloved hands and bright clear eyes reaching me through her face mask. She held onto me and silently taught me how to regain myself in the moment, to feel my body and trust my breathing and equipment. She taught me that I could return from panic. I had to.
In early 2014 I was standing on the sidewalk several minutes after T-boning my truck into the side of a car that pulled out in front of me, trying not to unload my near bursting bladder. After reporting the crash, checking if the young woman who drove the car across my lane was ok and she then talking on her phone I began to feel the jarring impact anchoring into my jaw, neck and spine. It felt like the harshness of the concrete sidewalk and the destroyed metal of my truck’s front end was becoming part of my body. As I imagined the mess of having to ride in an ambulance and all the stuff that would come after - massive expense for the kind of help that isn’t really needed for injuries like this - I remembered that I’m a yoga teacher, a bodyworker, a meditation practitioner, and that I’d lived through many situations by trusting my body and reclaiming the flow of healing from my worried thoughts. I began doing what I knew to do and what I teach to others. I consciously turned back toward myself exactly where I was. Yes, my bladder was beyond full, yes the sun was baking my skin and I hadn’t showered yet that late morning so I was funky ripe, and yes I didn’t “know” what the outcome of anything would be and it seemed like a really long time by then and no cop or tow truck had come. I began to breath confidently into my body and connect with my feet on the ground, my legs and hips, my whole body equally. I gradually, gently and faithfully moved my jaw, head, neck, shoulders, etc. through subtle range of motion, not pushing against but getting inside the tension, being with myself as the underwater Zen master had been with me. By the time I did leave the sidewalk I went home with no serious pain, just a little normal soreness. My nerves were calm, the impact and worry that followed had run clean through. I had helped and felt my body reclaim the flow of health right there on site of the injury, and I went home and happily peed.
In 2017 I was jogging in my neighborhood and didn’t see the 2 inch hard seed ball that had dropped from a tree. I know that when you throw one of those balls hard against the street they burst into thousands of seeds and threads but I discovered that when you step on one and you weigh around 115 lbs that they stay solidly formed. My ankle folded dramatically to the side and I reflexively folded over and held it repeating “oh no, oh no” for probably a minute. One car drove by eventually. I stood there shaky and unable to put any weight on that foot or bend the ankle to even sit down so I was stuck standing on the road as if in quicksand, wondering what would happen now. My plans were rolling through my mind as I wondered if I’d be unable to do them, let alone get myself home, and then I remembered. I very subtly began to move what little I could in the foot and ankle, first just testing to see if I could move it, and then to help reopen the traumatized tissues back into flow. My whole body and awareness was right there with the ankle, my breathing was satisfying and confident, I felt like a good friend to myself, encouraging, not pushing, honest communication between my brain and body to stay with what was actually true. After a few minutes I walked S L O W L Y and mindfully home. By the time I got there my ankle actually felt amazing. Not like it was all healed up but like it was rich in the healing flow. I could feel the warm potency of my body’s fluids and healing constituencies flooding the tissues and it felt powerful. Once I was able to prop myself on the couch with an ice bag, I was chill. I have no doubt the total healing time was much shorter than if I had withdrawn from my ankle and followed my worries down the sad road of immobility.
I think "Zen master" is a great description for that state of focused kindness that will not leave us until we are capable of breathing again on your own. I love how normal it is for us humans to come to the aide of a person who is caught and struggling and on the verge of despair, and how normal it is that we can do this for ourselves every day. I am an advocate for us all to find our way back to our bodies, to reclaim our natural embodied healthcare and faith in ourselves and each other.