Just as in most sports, in yoga our body is the instrument we use to practice. Using it as an instrument helps us to become aware of our body and its boundaries. In some other sports the breath is also used as an instrument to practice. In yoga the breath is just as key as the body itself.
In fact, if you start investigating the meaning behind yoga you come down to the following: yoga means to unite, to connect. It means the union between mind, body & spirit. And to reach this we perform postures (asanas) with our bodies and we make an attempt to control our inner patterns of breath. In other words, we connect our movement with the breath. This is particularly true for Vinyasa yoga, the type of yoga I teach and practice.
So why is this important to know when I am writing about ‘how to look at your own body’? There are many ways to discover your own body. The most obvious one is something we do on a daily basis: looking at ourselves in the mirror. We get to see a reflection of our external self, we get a chance to see our body from an outsider perspective. When using a mirror, we usually only see the front of our body and we choose the angle by which we see ourselves, pretty or unflattering. However, the back remains un-known, or we don’t like the sight of what we are seeing, so we prefer not too look at it at all.
Another way to get to know our body is letting another explore it. This could be a doctor, investigating your body to find what is wrong. But it can also be your partner discovering every part in a more intimate way. This way you can discover your body through the eyes of another person. What is good, what is beautiful, where you are healthy & where you are sick. An interesting catch about this way of discovering your body, is that you are the only one also feeling what they do. You add an extra dimension that no one else can have while exploring your body. If you close your eyes, you can feel their touch and so you discover your body from the inside too.
Discovering your body from the inside is a very powerful tool to really understand what is going on with you, to really understand who you are. A simple technique to do this is used in Vipassana meditation and various therapies:
- Close your eyes, lay down or sit still
- Take a few deep breaths into your belly. Follow your breath in and out through your nose (as if you are meditating)
- Start scanning your body: bring your awareness to your toes and feel them from the inside.
- Slowly make your way up, from your toes, through your ankles, calf muscles, knees, thighs, hips, etc., all the way to the top of your head.
- Scan your body up and down, down and up.
When you take a few minutes in your bed, or behind your desk, to scan your body with your eyes closed, you will notice that you can control your energy and your thoughts.
Leslie Kaminoff, the breathing guru of this moment, explains this action as follows: You are now piercing your body with a sharp instrument from the inside, your awareness. Instead of cutting it with a sharp instrument from the outside, a knife, we use our own sharpest instrument, our awareness. This instrument is really connected to you, and will therefore be able to make you really look at you own body and see it in a complete context.
In yoga we use the breath to deepen this piercing of your body. We can use the breath to discover the boundaries of our body, to calm our mind and gain self-knowledge. When you synchronize the yoga movements (called asanas) with the breath, you will notice how you can create space in your body with an inhale, and you will learn to let go on an exhale. Your breath can go to every part of your body, as long as you use your attention and awareness to the area that needs the breath.
If we learn to look at our body from the inside, with our awareness and with the breath, we get a completely different understanding about what are bodies need, what they look like and how we have to take care of them. Instead of having the outside view about how tight your clothes are, you can go inside and discover if we are healthy or not. You learn to feel how to feed your body: what are your cravings and what is a necessity to remain healthy and happy. You will also learn how your mind tricks you into being lazy before exercising, how it tricks you into eating fatty and sugary foods and how it changes your self-perspective. When you know your own tricks and when you really know your body, then you will learn to love it, with all its uniqueness, perfections and imperfections.