Movement as Participation
I’ve spent quite a lot of time pondering how movement can be a spiritual although there’s never been a question ‘if’ it is spiritual, but rather ‘how’. Whilst we all know movement is simply good for our physical bodies, keeping them flexible, helping them to remain fit and strong there are a multitude of testimonies, including my own, that describe how movement can be a spiritually helpful practice. I’m currently able to describe 4 ways that yoga is spiritual and in this blog I’ll explore how movement is something that offers ‘participation’ in the whole of our lives as well as the bigger meaning or spiritual life.
I’ll share a really poignant experience to help illustrate this. Last November I went on a yoga and reflective retreat day in Devon. My eldest of four children was turning 21 that week and on the way down in the car I found myself processing one of life’s mini-griefs, the realization that he was flying the nest and my intense parenting years were numbered as the first was reaching a true adult milestone and the others would follow soon enough. Then as the retreat day proceeded we engaged in some longer held poses (which I admit I can sometimes find boring!). As I adopted a butterfly pose for 10 minutes (sorry to be graphic but soles of feet together and knees falling away from centre rather like a gynaecological visit) I became aware of the resemblance it held of giving birth. Lying there I was aware I had given birth 21 years ago to a beautiful little blond baby in Kenya. Like many mothers I cherished him (in my flawed way of course!) as he was mine.
As the minutes continued I became aware that I hadn’t just birthed this boy to be only mine. Now that he was turning into an adult I realized the true purpose was always to birth him to the world. I had a choice, to see my child as only ‘mine’ and to grieve or to see him as a gift and to let him go. I chose the latter. I offered my ‘precious son’ willingly to this beautiful but broken and unpredictable world that I had birthed him in to. I became lost in the experience of ‘giving’ him up emotionally, with an awareness that God was somehow with me in this experience and bigger than the big, bad world that might inflict its harm on him. I sank in to the experience with trust, an open heart and funnily enough a deep love for the world to whom I was giving my son. For some readers there will be phrases that are deeply resonant with the story of Jesus who was given to this world. This parallel only struck me after the yoga session ended.
It was a beautiful revelation where the ten minutes began with an awareness of some emotional sadness and a physical posture and ended with a sense of gladness and even joy at the deeper meaning of birthing. Unwittingly I had participated on a few levels. I had allowed my heart to participate in my bodily posture. I allowed my mind to participate in a greater understanding about everyday phenomena (body postures, child bearing, coming of age and mini-grief) and I participated with a meta-narrative (the spiritual story of Jesus). My physical ‘story’ participated in my emotional experience which continued to open up participation in a spiritual awareness and participation with a traditional spiritual narrative.
I’ve taught movement sessions where I foregrounded spirituality and I remember one time after an event in Bath Abbey where we repeated a movement of one arm coming from behind the body to be placed on the frontal arm with the words, ‘cast your burdens’. The feedback from several attendants was that they felt they were releasing their worries (some of them to God, some of them simply just letting go) showing again how movement and posture enables us to participate in the totality of our own experience as well as in a transcendent experience. For some spirituality involves Spirit or God. For others spirituality is something that explores some kind of transcendent meaning in life. I believe movement offers a way for all of us to explore and experience our spiritual lives more deeply.
Perhaps you won’t go on a yoga retreat or even find opportunity in your movement class, but you could take some time to listen to your body in a given posture. You could adopt a strong pose (e.g. lunge or plank) or a surrendered pose (e.g. forward fold or child’s pose) and see how it invites your heart and mind to participate in your heart felt emotions or mental processes. Perhaps it will hold a spiritual opportunity for you too where you experience something bigger and more meaningful.