By Andrea Neil
They told us it would happen. They told us we would notice it wherever we went, whoever we looked at, whatever we were doing.
They were right.
When I went through training to be an RY®200 yoga instructor, we studied a lot of anatomy. We studied how different parts of the body move, and we studied the proper ways to move the different parts of the body. We focused on alignment in yoga postures, and more importantly, how the body takes up space in the world. We read from books, we listened to lectures, and we also practiced a whole lot of yoga. We practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more, and we became aware of our own bodies in ways we never had before. Because in order to teach the subtleties of movement to someone else, we first had to understand them in our own bodies.
Our instructor told us, with a smile on her face and lightness in her voice, that we would start noticing people’s alignment and posture and areas of tension – while at the grocery store, in a restaurant, at the beach – everywhere. She told us that the more we understood about the body, the more we would start seeing the bodies around us differently; that it would just happen. She was right.
Now I see misalignment, or asymmetry, or the results of long-ago injuries that went unattended far too long. Often times, people don’t even seem to notice these things about themselves.
Being an extreme introvert, I often find interactions with people I don’t know very well to be tiring, due to all the small talk involved, or the generalness of the conversation topics. I am uncomfortable and always feel like I need to fill the silences. As part of my own growth, I’m wanting to change this, and be more accepting of others…and the silences. I’ve found a great way to conserve energy when meeting new people – I just let them talk. Which means I do more listening.
What am I hearing?
I hear lots of stories. Stories of victimization, stories of self-proclaimed ineptitude, stories of perceived unworthiness and stories of fear disguised as laziness. Just as people often walk around with parts of their bodies misaligned, so they also walk around telling negative stories about themselves. I’m sure people have always been telling stories like this – and I know for a fact I have, too. But as I become more aware of my own thoughts and learn to be more present not only to my body but also my mind (and not to get to Oprah-y, but also my spirit), I become more aware of what’s going on around me, too. Just like they said would happen with alignment, back in Yoga Teacher Training.
Just as the body can fall into further depths of pain or misalignment if nothing is done to correct the underlying cause, so can the personality fall deeper into negativity or fear, without practicing to rediscover ones true nature, which is inherently good. Both practices require diligence, awareness, and patience. But it’s possible to take oneself towards proper alignment.
Just as I don’t know how someone’s permanently hiked left shoulder, or slight tilt to the right began, I don’t know how people’s negative stories start. Perhaps it was something from childhood. Or having regrets about the past. Or fear about the future. Whatever the reason, here they are, and I hear them all around me. And there are so many different kinds.
There are the blatantly obvious self-deprecating stories, like the ever-popular “I’m no good with technology,” or my own version which is “I suck at math.” These stories are easy to recognize, because the author has gone straight for the basic plot in ten words or less.
But then there are the more subtle stories – the ones that are told in more words, quieter words. Someone’s desire to justify their profession by stating their credentials and years of experience with unusual emphasis, or the camouflaging of anger or guilt with words like “when my husband left me.” I don’t know what the real stories are, when I hear them told by people I don’t know well. But the words are an indication that there are other stories there, just under the surface, occasionally bubbling up and popping with a tiny “ploop” sound…
The first step in healing the body, or making a positive change to health or behavior, is to be aware of what you are doing now. And as I take my yoga practice and spiritual practice further, it becomes easier to see – in myself and others. I can’t really do much for other people – except listen, live my own life the best I can, and hold space for them. In a yoga class, people want me to correct their alignment or posture. I’m not so sure this would work quite as well off the mat.
I should add that I don’t just see misalignment and maladies around me. I also see strong, aware, beautiful people who move through and take up space with grace and acceptance and generosity. It’s the same principle – as I become more aware myself, and strive to be a better person, I also see a lot of good in the world.
We all are good people, we all want the world around us to be filled with good things. Most of us may not be perfectly aligned. But really, who is?