Saturday, April 13, 2013

Getting to Know the Body

One of my favorite parts of Yoga Teacher Training was learning anatomy. As I have mentioned before, I am an academic at heart, and anatomy, to me, is the “heady” side of yoga. At some level, it is vital to understand anatomy to teach yoga, and at another level, it is even more vital to intuitively understand the body. The anatomy training was fascinating, and it really helped me understand and explain what I had intuitively known, such as why sitting is bad for us.

As much as I loved the anatomy, I did not get as into it as even I would have liked. I can tell you a little bit about the trapezius muscles, and a little bit about the biceps and triceps, but at the end of the day, I do not know much about them. I have never fully experienced them. But I could probably write you a tome on the piriformis, its relationship to the gluteus muscles, and how all of them relate to our back muscles. I even learned about the quadratus lumborum muscles. And this is all because I have been experiencing these muscles, and their relationship to the sciatic nerve, for months, perhaps years.

I am starting to realize there is more to the body than meets the eye. Looking back over this blog, I had a “hamstring injury” during yoga teacher training. With the benefit of hindsight, that very well may not have been a hamstring injury. Instead, it may have been the first signs of an impinged sciatic nerve. For most people, that simply goes away. For me, it became a huge herniated disc and back surgery. But at the time I just assumed I had pushed my hamstring muscles too far. 

Pain forces us to pay attention. Whether it is a moment of pain that allows us the opportunity to stop pushing too far, or pain that continues for months or even years, we learn to stop and listen. Pain is our body's way of saying something is wrong. Sometimes it is easy to figure out what that is, such as when we simply push too far and need to back off. Sometimes the pain continues on, and we have no idea why that is.

And that is when we start exploring.

I have spent hours and hours reading about the illio-psoas, the piriformis, the quadratus lumborum, the sciatic and femoral nerves, and the spine. Our bodies are an amazing network of muscle, nerve, and fascia. And on top of all of that, we hold memories in our bodies, and those memories affect how the body itself operates and the pain we feel.

Prior to experiencing this for myself, I sort of understood. I understood that our bodies are fascinating and intricate and difficult. But I did not fully understand. To fully understand anything, we have to experience it for ourselves. Interestingly, people have always said the same thing to me about lawyering. As someone who loves theory and research, I have had no less than the top researchers in the field tell me I need practical experience to be a better researcher.

The old saying is that practice makes perfect. I would suggest that instead, practice makes understanding. Sometimes that is understanding we want. When it comes to pain, we may not want it as much. But there is no question that we can learn from it either way. I feel like I can now picture my psoas and how it attaches to the spine and the thigh bone.

In many ways, pain is the ultimate form of experience. It is experience we cannot ignore. We can sometimes mask it with medication, but generally, if the medication is used as a mask, the pain returns. Pain has a way of literally stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to take note of where we are. I cannot say that is fun, but it is an opportunity to learn and a way to experience on the deepest levels of our bodies.

As someone who has spent so much time in my head, both in yoga and the law, my body is forcing me to experience in ways I never could have imagined. That experience may not be coming in the form I would have chosen, but I am also learning more about the body and how it works than I ever could have without this experience.

How have you been forced to experience the body? What have you learned as a result?

© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly (maybe because of my undergrad and graduate degrees) i find the anatomy part very interesting as well... BUT i had a really difficult time reading "anatomy of yoga"... maybe because I'm not quite sure how I feel about learning anatomy outside of an "Anatomy professor-expert" type field (i know, so so snobby!!!)

    anatomy and physiology were the most challenging aspects of my graduate degree, but very interesting. Especially in relation to the breath (since communication relies on breathing), upper torso and neurological physiological connections. One of the recommended treatments for voice disorders (certain ones) is feldenkreiss or body work in some manner (ie yoga).

    One of the reasons why I found working with aphasia clients so fascinating was all the brain-body stuff that went along with the diagnosis. (unfortunately I am MUCH to sensitive of a soul to be able to deal with the emotional aspect of helping those who will never return to their full functioning... so preschoolers it will remain for me.)

    for myself, I have some pretty severe lower back pains, and it has been a learning process on discovering how no matter what, i won't be laying down for savasana any time soon. Which is ok with me.
    Also, I learned fairly young (I think my first IBS memory was at the age of 8yrs old) that my emotions and stress could be directly linked to my body's responses.