Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy says: “ It is through your body that you will learn the most, and through your body that you will change everything in your life that needs to change.”
Years ago while training in graduate school to become a therapist, it was pretty clear that when we worked with clients we focused on two things: the thoughts (mind) and the emotions (feelings) and not much else. You probed a client for content and feeling and continued to pull out those themes as they told stories of their past and their concerns for the present. Although the body was present at every session, it was largely ignored.
It wasn't unusual in my own professional practice for me to direct my clients in deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation techniques, and body scans. However, I was in the minority, and my intention was usually to assist them in reducing stress or coping with anxiety. These were considered legitimate reasons to focus on the body. Although I had little to no guidance in graduate school for entering the realm of the physical, it was something that I intuitively felt could be helpful - at least to some clients.
Many of my colleagues figured it was “fluffy stuff” and unnecessary or even strange. Certainly there was no touching of any kind encouraged from me or even for themselves. For me to suggest to a client - particularly a minor student - that placing a hand on his/her heart or any other part of their body might help them tune into themselves better was tantamount to handing in my resignation.
So, my traditional graduate training in counseling psychology did nothing to prepare me for the real discoveries that are fundamental to my practice today. What did prepare me was my own journey; beginning with my first yoga classes more than 20 years ago. It started as a nice way to maintain flexibility while I kept up my running, and an effective means for reducing stress. But my yoga practice changed as my life and my needs changed.
At the height of my fitness focus, it became an athletic endeavor of building strength and core muscles - although even then the practice of Shavasana (also called corpse pose, the mindful meditation at the end of a yoga class) was an important aspect of the experience for me. When I began to have a family, I discovered that yoga was a wonderful way to honor my changing body during pregnancy, as well as my best ally during childbirth.
As my children grew, it became my escape and “me time,” as well as my opportunity to connect with others who were rapidly becoming my kindred spirits. My yoga practice has changed for me over the years - new teachers, new intentions, new yoga philosophies, and shifting capacities but I have realized through my training as a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist that one thing has remained constant. My yoga practice brings me in touch with my body, and that is how it has served me for such a long time. Had I not had this experience of integrating my whole self in yoga, I may not have realized how essential connecting with our ever present body is to our growth and wellbeing.
I have not always loved my body, and indeed at times have felt it was my adversary - preventing me from achieving what I wanted to in my life. However, the truth I experience when I become present to my body is this: my body is my most constant companion and the source of my greatest wisdom.
So, when I face a dilemma or a question in my life, sure - I will try to think it through using my well-developed reasoning skills. I will likely also check in with my feelings - exploring my emotional reaction to a particular situation. But, I also tune into my body. I may not like or want to listen to the wisdom that is there, but my very reaction to tuning in and listening - or resisting listening - is part of the wisdom it offers.
Which brings me to why I have chosen to leave behind my traditional talk therapy training, and have become a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. I know the body holds wisdom that cannot be ignored. Without also engaging this body wisdom, we may never reach our full potential for growth and change. The basis of Phoenix Rising therapy sessions is full presence - to mind, emotion, and body. I believe this is the foundation of supporting people on their journeys of change and personal growth. It can also be the foundation for freeing someone of chronic pain and discomfort.
We need to start small; like beginning to strengthen a muscle we haven’t used very often. But you can try it for yourself: Befriend your body, in whatever way you can this week. Choose in a big, or small, way to create a better relationship with your constant companion - your body. Choose to accept what is, without a need to change, and your body will reward you with its honesty.
Here are some ideas:
-try meditation for a few minutes
-do a body scan
-get a massage
-take a bubble bath
-go for a leisurely walk
-take in a Hatha or Restorative Yoga class
“This is your body,
Your greatest gift,
Pregnant with wisdom you do not hear,
Grief you thought was forgotten,
And joy you have never known.”
By Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick