I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elle Bieling’s reflection on the gift of yin yoga (one of my favorite practices!) and the holiness of the body:
‘Our own theological Church, as we know, has scorned and vilified the body till it has seemed almost a reproach and a shame to have one, yet at the same time has credited it with power to drag the soul to perdition.’ ~ Eliza Farnham (1815-1864)
I don’t recall when I first discovered there was a wisdom contained within my physical being. I was raised in a strict Protestant home, where the body was seen as evil, needing to be beaten into submission. The evil of the “sins of the flesh” were ingrained into me. What could be more unholy than the “flesh?”
Yet, intuitively, I always knew that when I included my body in my life’s experiences, that my life became richer and fuller. Involving my body imprinted most of my experiences more deeply within me. My body was a living, breathing paradox.
Now I believe, that when Christ became flesh it was to help me understand myself as whole being, inclusive of my physicality. If the Christ indeed understood what it felt like to take on human flesh, certainly then, this can also be viewed as a holy thing? Maybe my body could be a temple after all? Maybe God wasn’t external but a part of me and my flesh?
Within my house of human flesh, my temple, is indeed where I turn to find God. I graciously accept my fragile, yet resilient house as a dwelling for my soul. The “energy” that my house contains is there for me to tap into when I need to find Presence. When I access my physical home for wisdom, this is where I personally find God.
The God-given-energy in our bodies is known across cultures. This “breath of life,” “wind” or “spirit” is known as Ruah in Hebrew, Pneuma in Greek, Mana in Polynesian, Qi (or Chi) in China and Prana in India and Tibet. Where did we lose this concept?
Now I hold the truth, that just by being alive, and through my breath, I am the embodiment of Spirit! For me, this is a powerful thing. This Spirit within me, within my breath, has become my most beloved of tools to find God.
I often invite my body to be included in my soul’s experience. I invite the hate I sometimes feel for my physical ailments and symptoms to be included into my soul’s journey. I invite my dislike of my physical appearance to also be included as I work with the body that I have been given. Through the neutrality of my conscious breathing, I invite the release of judgement and the need to change anything.
I invite my body to open to possibilities. My body and my breath help to lead my mind and my soul into places that my mind alone cannot take me, or is too afraid to take me.
Within the rhythm of a contemplative walk, my body lulls my spirit into a calmness that I am unable to achieve with physical stillness. I sense God in my breath and in the movement of my arms and legs. I sense God in the beauty that is all around me, whenever I wander into the out-of-doors. I breath into this Peace and find the stillness within the action, as my breath slows but my body continues its rhythmic movement. As John Muir, the great naturalist says, and I love to quote, “I go out to go in.”
I use long-held Yin Yoga poses to access my current state of awareness (or unawareness). If I notice that I need to surrender to what is, I use a forward folding pose, that invites relaxation and the letting go of all effort, to achieve a sweet, long surrender. Emphasizing my exhale, I release all to which I am clinging.
If I sense that I am unable to see clearly from another’s perspective, I use a heart-opening pose to invite in Love and Compassion, to help me release the judgement of others and the judgement of myself for judging. With my chest, arms and heart wide open, I inhale Ruah deeply, down and into the core of my belly, and invite in the Spirit of all Love.
If I feel off kilter, I use a balance pose to find a single point for focus and grounding and to find stability once again. I use my breath If I am fearful or feeling unsupported and I use a restorative pose that fully supports me and comforts me.
But my deepest openings come when I invite my body to help me access my hidden, strongest emotions. For this I use the long and deep, hip opening poses and hold them in the edgy and uncomfortable Yin Yoga fashion. I truly come home to my body when I invite the opening of this most emotional of places – the very core of my being. For me personally, the core of my body through the hips and belly are the true storehouse of everything that I am. When I let down my guarding in this area, transformation happens. I allow my body and my breath to lead me through the process of letting go of it all.
As I hold a shape, I contemplate my many inconsistencies, denials and paradoxes. I see both light and dark, yin and yang, feminine and masculine. I breathe even more deeply. I remain silent and still, listening to the journey of my soul. I allow myself to be human. I allow the rawness and the glory. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I smile. When the Spirit touches me through this deep release, magic happens. In this silent space, healing happens. The tingling in my body tells me that my body is holy.
Without this holy tool, I would be lost. I am my body, and my body is me and my body is Spirit.