In recent weeks, my colleague Karen Rider and I have had the opportunity to examine a wonderful selection of yoga teacher resources. Karen is completing an independent study with me through Find Your Voice YTT. She brings to the process a wonderful array of previous yoga (and other mind-body) experience as well as academic teaching experience in health, exercise science, and psychology. In working together, we realized that it would be of value to share our experience with these resources and how we are making use of them.
Book Review: Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages that Underlie Illness by Deb Shapiro (2006, Sounds True)
Karen Rider, M.A., freelance health writer and yogini
While it is not a new book, Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages that Underlie Illness is a resource that yoga teachers and students of all levels would benefit from having in their library. Author Deb Shapiro shows us how we can interpret the language of the body—ailments, symptoms, chronic aches, and acute injuries—that can interfere with optimal health and relationships.
Shapiro, who has extensive training from both American and European schools of bodywork, mind/body medicine, Buddhist meditation, and Jungian psychology, readily acknowledges that ‘stuff happens’ and the sole reason for an illness does not necessarily reside in the mind (it’s not “all in the head”). We get sick, we have accidents, we get injured and medicine has an important role in helping us with what ails us. Rather, Shapiro’s practical approach is to help us decode and understand the bodymind connection as it occurs between symptoms/illness and the thoughts and emotions that lie beneath conscious awareness.
Shapiro presents a way to have a “bodymind dialogue” that opens us up to understanding symptoms from the perspective of what a particular region of the body represents (or “has to say”) metaphysically. For example, the hips provide “balance and stability.” Via the pelvis, a pivoting point is formed between the upper and lower body. Metaphysically speaking this creates a balance between action and creation (above), and grounding through direction and movement (below). The hips/pelvis region represents grounding also is the seat of creativity (the womb). This area is associated with relationships, security, security, and survival. A person with recurrent hip injury or chronic pain in the pelvic region might benefit from a bodymind dialogue that includes questions such as:
- Where in this relationship (with self/other) do I feel uncertain/unstable? Why?
- In what ways does the work/job I am doing not fulfill me creatively or financially?
- Am I in the process of a major change (divorce, employment, relationship) and what fears does this bring up for me?
The premise is that emotional, psychological and even spiritual elements of an illness or injury manifest in the body. The bodymind dialogue opens a channel into these deeper layers. This can help us become more fully conscious of what we are holding onto emotionally, and what we may need to let go of in order to heal and return to optimal health.
Shapiro encourages compassionate and non-judgmental dialoguing. It is an exploration of the connection between mind and body meant to encourage self-acceptance and gentle movement through the process rather than panic over the outcome (e.g I need to let go! Oh, no how do I do that?) The idea is to listen intently, and using a journal along with Shapiro’s guided visualizations, you can respond to the messages from the body and initiate a more active role in maintaining health.
The value of this resource for those who teach therapeutic and restorative yoga is obvious. As a tool for teacher trainees and instructors, The Body Speaks the Mind can be integrated into the theme of a class. For example, you could introduce the general idea of bodymind dialogue at the start of class. Then, during a particular sequence you might remind the class in the follow way:
As you are working in “name of pose,” notice if you feel steady and easeful through the hips and pelvis. If you are experiencing tension or if this is an area of the body where you have frequent injury or chronic irritation, breathe deeply into these muscles and joints. The hips are the region of the body that represent stability, security, creativity and survival. Ask yourself: How does the challenge of this pose reflect any challenge I am having in my life off the mat? Where in my life do I feel unease or imbalance?
Breathe in and with a deep exhale let go of that tension. Let go of that worry or anticipation and allow the bodymind to be present for the pose, for the process. Try to carry that with you off the mat, today.
This example is a little longer for illustrative purpose. Once you’ve read and worked with Shapiro’s book (which won’t take long, you’ll dive right in!), you’ll come up with myriad ways to bring bodymind dialogue into your class themes or more simply into your opening intention or closing meditation. You’ll strengthen your skill set for acting as guide for your students in helping them explore their own bodymind dialogue on the mat…and perhaps off the mat, too.