The first class I ever taught was English as a Second Language while I was studying for the Iowa bar exam. My main qualifications for this position were that I spoke English and lived in the community where the class was held. I didn’t actually know how to teach English. I earned $18 an hour for class time but nothing for prep time, which meant I whittled my salary down to nothing because I spent hours upon hours preparing for my classes. I poured over the teacher’s manual and a grammar book I had on permanent renewal status at the library because I was too broke to buy a copy, and I carefully crafted my lesson plans for my adult students from Sudan, China, Mexico, Korea, and Turkey. It was a lot of fun once I got over my fear of messing up. And at the end of the semester we had the most delightful potluck at which my students presented me with flowers and a gift.
My Body was Transportation for My Brain
What I find so powerful about teaching is that I so often teach what I need to learn. This year in my corporate and studio yoga classes I have really been focusing on anatomy and how different poses help us become aware of, strengthen, and stretch different muscles. It’s a fascinating journey for someone like me, who spent her early life completely disregarding the body. I valued intellect. My body was merely transportation for my brain. I rarely exercised, ate poorly, and burnt myself out again and again by working too hard and playing too little. But my cancer diagnosis at the age of 24 was a wake-up call. I’d love to say I immediately turned things around but it has been a slow journey of discovery for me. I used to get a full-blown cold or flu before it even occurred to me that I was sick, despite coughing and sneezing relentlessly. Now, when I notice a tickle in the back of my throat I know I can prevent whatever is brewing with some quiet time, rest, tea, and essential oils.
Writing My Own Owner’s Manual
Cancer was a hard lesson but it’s one I’m grateful for every day. It’s been 19 years since my diagnosis. I take better care of myself now but mostly I pay attention. My body – once so disregarded by me – is now my tool as a yoga teacher and massage therapist. I want to understand it better, so I’m writing my own owner’s manual. Yes, I can go to the doctor if something goes wrong, but at the end of the day my body is my responsibility and nobody knows it as well as me.
This is why I love teaching about embodiment practices and self-care. Because it’s the path I’ve walked these last 19 years. It’s what led me to step away from a career I was good at and knew well, not to mention a salary and benefits. My body said it couldn’t do it anymore even though my beloved brain said I should tough it out. I sacrificed my health and well-being once before and I won’t do it again. After all, I may not have another chance.
How can you practice embodiment yourself?
Step 1: remember you have a body
Allow yourself to pause wherever you are. Notice your posture. Allow yourself to roll your shoulders down and back.
Step 2: reconnect with your body
Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Inhale deeply, all the way to your belly. Then let out a big exhale. Maybe do that a couple more times. And then continue to inhale and exhale, bringing your breath all the way to your belly and exhaling from there.
Step 3: honor your body.
Now, notice what your body needs. A short walk? A drink of water? A healthful snack? Do that.
Practice this mindful pause a few times a day and notice how refreshed you feel.
Want to Learn More?
If you’d like to learn more about embodiment and live in central Iowa, I’d love for you to join me for Embodiment: A Yoga Experience for Women, starting October 18.
Question for reflection: How will you honor your body today?
©2017 Rachel Regenold