Sympathy for the Unembodied

When I first encountered yoga in 2003, I took as many classes as I could. The movement, the people and the challenge got me hooked.

I distinctly remember being confused by any cue that referenced my thighs or hips. The reason is shocking to me now: I didn’t understand the difference between the two. ‘Thigh’ and ‘Hip’ were ambiguous concepts, and all I knew is that they had to do with something around my lower torso.

I was 26 at the time, and so completed grade school and college. I had 12 years of what public schools call “physical education.” My first memory of a phys ed class was in 4th grade. The teacher hung a knotted rope on the ceiling in the gym, which was about 40 feet high. We were told to climb to the top and come back down.

The crash pads were about 2 inches thick, so they might as well not have been there. Despite being, shall we say, “athletically disinclined,” I climbed to the top and back down. I recall being excited that I was up so high. I also recall kids screaming and crying as they were goaded up the rope.

Through the years phys ed included the parachute game, dodgeball, and a couple weeks every year when the school conducted their Arnold-Swartzenegger-chaired President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports tests. The school measured how fast we could run a mile and how many push-ups and pull-ups we could do. There was never any training for this; they were literally the only miles I ever ran and the only push-ups I ever did in high school.

All this is to say that my phys ed never included any actual education. At 26, I had never learned what I was made of. Basics, like where my hips and thighs are, had to be learned a quarter century into my existence.

What I realize now about my first few years of yoga is that I was also hooked on becoming embodied. Working through poses and motions allowed a communion with my own fabric, the stuff I’m made of.

I started to recognize the potential and desire for others to find their own fabric too. One regular in my Friday class was a CMU computer science grad student. After class one day she mentioned, “I live most of my life in my brain.” She saw the value of taking her brain for a journey through her torso and limbs, which is why she came to class.

This journey feels intelligent and soothing, and I still highlight it in my practice and teaching. I also understand what the learning curve feels and looks like. When I cue a student to roll their navel up, and their head turns skyward instead, I see myself in them, and I know what it’s like. Hopefully they feel as hooked on the embodiment and education as I am.