Last year, I took my first yoga class after a six-year hiatus. I love being not-quite-a-beginner in classes. I love moving with other people. But the thing that has stuck with me for the past seven months was one teacher’s correction:
In downward-facing dog, “bring your ribs back inside your body.”
How strange, I thought. My ribcage is trying to escape.
My body was working too hard for the mental snark to stick. And I had a teacher standing over me, which is like catnip for my Obliger nature (shoutout to Gretchen Rubin).
I put my mind in my lowest ribs, and imagined them looking down (up) at my hip bones.
Her tone of voice signaled her approval. “Feel the difference?”
I did, immediately. Not just the position, which felt more down-doggish, but my entire body. It felt familiar, but strange, too, like seeing a picture of your grandmother as a baby.
In that moment, with my ribs back inside my torso, I had the unusual-for-me sensation of being A Whole Body: limbs, trunk, neck, head all connected.
Breaking my body up into parts or trying to escape from it altogether has been my default for as long as I can remember. I was a preschooler when I started zooming in on my belly, my fingernails, my hip creases…and then I’d jerk away (mentally, of course), wishing I could be somewhere else, in some other body.
Running away from your own body is a great way to feel terrible all the time. For one thing, you can’t do it. And life is full of opportunities to re-experience that impossibility: living with chronic pain, experiencing childbirth, and recovering from surgery come to mind.
I still tend to zoom in and get lost in some body part that doesn’t look or feel or act how I think it should. But I’ve felt it now—that whole-body, whole-self sensation. I know it’s possible to feel whole-body embodied, and that I have the power to create that experience for myself.
So I’m practicing. When I wake up in the morning and roll over in bed. When I’m standing in the kitchen, bringing my ribs, my belly, my hips back inside my body. When I dance, of course.
It’s easiest to feel whole when I’m dancing. I must tune into myself as a whole body if I want to stand a chance of jumping, turning, and landing without falling over. My balance is improving. To stay still, suspended on relevé for as long as the musical phrase demands, I draw stability up from my toes, into my ankles, up my calves, checking in with every part of my body as I go, linking up the train cars: thighs, hips, glutes, core, sternum.
When I pull my strength into the center of my chest, connect my whole body to itself through my heart, I can balance forever.