One of my new favorite mantras is, “It’s a dance, not a grind.” I’m taking it out of Seth Godin’s most recent book, The Icarus Deception, and he uses it to describe a new way of looking at an overfull work life, the constant flow of emails, projects, etc. He proposes that instead of feeling exhausted and worn down, one can approach it differently and feel playful and excited by it. I use it to remind myself of both a new view on the inbox, but also how I feel about physical “rehabilitation” for lack of a better word. Because I got into this field after my own broken body had healed from the reverberations of a birth injury, people will often ask me if I’m “better” now. No doubt because they want some hope that they can “get better” too. And my answer is always, “Yes. And…” It’s a tricky thing to answer because besides wanting some hope, there is a, well I wouldn’t exactly call it a darker side to the “are you better now?” question, but I would say it reveals our weird cultural way of viewing the world. If I were to answer by saying, “Yes I feel much, much better but it’s always an unfolding process.” For many that will deflate them as they think, “Ugh! I’ll never be ‘done’!”
But there really is no “done” until we die, and assuming that’s not what you’re hoping for, let’s instead clarify that maybe the goal isn’t to “get better” so that we can totally forget that we have bodies, resume being thoroughly inattentive to them, and just go comfortably sit on the couch some more. As long as we’re alive we have bodies, and those bodies are… did I mention, they’re alive!? Meaning, every microsecond of every day they are responding to your environment, the quality of your movement, alignment, food, everything? So we always need to be watching our input into these body things. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, right?
For me the process has been slow, ongoing and delightful (yes those three words can coexist). Even after my Rolfing® series, when I had resolved my pain and was studying to be a Rolfing practitioner, I was still practically allergic to most movement and in particular yoga classes. When at the Rolf Institute all of my supple and athletic classmates would ask me if I wanted to come along I would politely bow out, hiding my terror of reliving my brief time in ballet classes as a child where I was the girl with the weird body among my bendier youths.
Growing up I was a pretty non-physical person (with the hilarious exception of roller skating, it was the 80’s after all), and so even after the pain had resolved I was working through the shame I had about what I still perceived as my body’s limitations with movement. And so, little by little, I dared to move and fell in love with moving until it is now one of the most delicious and rewarding parts of my life.
But, even now that I’m a yoga teacher, I still suffer from a kind of “phantom broken girl syndrome”. Just this year as I began teaching group classes I had my brother and one of my best friends take my class, and after it was over I very nervously took them aside and asked them, “Do I look ok up there? I mean, do I look like the weird gimpy girl who shouldn’t be teaching yoga?” I was surprised by the force of my emotion in asking. I could even feel that old lump well up in my throat. They assured me that I am just dealing with some residual form of movement specific body dysmorphia. While I will never make the cover of Yoga journal for Cirque du Soleil like feats (which is just fine by me for a number of reasons), I at least looked like I should be standing at the front of the classroom. And that’s a pretty big evolution for me, just about at the 16 year mark of beginning this process of healing my body I had decided to take part in the “dance” enough that I was now teaching.
Don’t flinch at the “16 years” thing! These 16 years have been so much better than all the ones that preceded them. And to answer the original the question, “Are you better now?” Yes, about most of the time I am mostly pain free. Stuff still crops up, I admit often in relationship to my Rolfing client load (my C7 is not super thrilled with me lately, and years ago when I was a new Rolfer I had costochondritis show up due to my poor form- which I corrected), so considering that I started off a complete wreck and had 21 years of physical dysfunction under my belt (at age 21), I consider this is a big freaking deal. But the bigger (freaking) deal is that I woke up to having a body, and now get to delight in it in a myriad of ever-unfolding ways. And that brings us to the dance.
In an ideal world “getting better” wouldn’t mean just being relieved of pain or dysfunction, but would mean that a kind of awakening had occurred. That people could enjoy attending to their bodies in a nourishing way, and be excited to discover its new possibilities. It’s really not an, “Oh crap I’m going to be stuck doing these PT exercises forever.” Kind of feeling. It’s more like, “Hmm, why am I still unable to touch my toes? Maybe I could tinker with that in a few different ways and see what happens? That could be intriguing. And perhaps I’ll even get over my embarrassment and try yoga with my friends…” In other words, it’s a dance, not a grind.
Photo by Dinh Linh