WAWADIA update #15: Yoking the Injured Body and the NonInjured body
So the response to Update #14 has come fast and rich. You can read that piece in full here, or just roll with this nut graf, woven from Winnicott and Orbach:
Some people might be getting hurt in yoga because they are practicing in the bodies they fantasize about, instead of the bodies they actually have. Bodies they fantasize expressing a happiness that is not truly there. Bodies they fantasize as expansive when they actually feel like retreating, or expressive when they feel choked. What happens to the tissues when the mind presses them into the performance of a fictional suppleness and strength? Can the fantasized body push the real body, the inner body, too far, too fast?
Commentator “Stephanie” left the following reflection in the thread. It’s so poignant I’ll make it the heart of this brief posting, and follow it up with a few raw thoughts:
I’ve noticed a split between the body I have and a fantasy body. For me, the dichotomy is simply ‘injured’ and ‘not injured.’ When I’m practicing with an Injured Body, I remember the NonInjured one, and try to work back to that. When I’m not injured, I fear the remembered injured body, and try to design/constrain/devote my practice towards the ideal of non-injury. I feel a sense of devotion or thanks to all the tiny details in practice that have (in my mind) kept me injury-free that day. It becomes almost a game of micro-management in figuring out the puzzle of what makes the body present itself that day as injury-free. It’s a continuous game of trial and error. There are some moments when it all makes sense, and I’ve figured out the solution to the puzzle, and then there are moments when the bubble bursts and I’m back to the Injured Body. Then the game begins again. Trial and error, until another solution presents itself, and the NonInjured Body returns. So in practice I’m either puzzling over one self or fearing the other.
There are days when the bow at the end of practice feels like a bow to the universe to keep this tenuous connection going with the Uninjured Body. As if to say, thank you (Universe, Powers that Be, The Way, The Force) for keeping this Good Body here; please let it be here again tomorrow. Though I try to control it (by figuring out a ‘solution’ to the injury) the Injured Body always returns, with another injury, or the same one, returning.
So there’s a body-self that feels at ease. It is remembered, re-membered, cherished, wooed, thanked. It is the gift of a higher power. It is a fetish-object when it seems far away. There is something original about it: the body I had before all this happened. (When I was child, before I gave birth, before my divorce.) There is something futuristic about it: the body I might have when all of this is over.(After all this work. Maybe in the summer… yes, the summer.) The “I” flows eagerly towards this body-self, petitioning for an alliance. We visualize it, set an intention to become it, or to let it shine through. In medieval hatha literature it is described as a youthful body, an immortal body.
And then there’s a body-self that feels on-edge, in pain, recoiled, protesting, but somehow inevitable. It threatens to overtake, to absorb the “I”, which turns away from it, or prays for it to leave.
For Stephanie, it seems that asana is a laboratory in which these two bodies oscillate and exchange, grounded and marked by palpable movements and sensations: good feelings and bad feelings. The two bodies appear to a self-sense that wants to choose one over the other, but cannot.
I wonder: is this reflective of the dialectic at the root of being conscious? That we can always imagine ourselves to be other than we are? The guru might tell us to exploit this capacity, and visualize our perfected state, telling us that we are already whole and free. The psychotherapist might question the use of the fantasy.
Of course: imagining a false self, a false body, a perfectly UnInjured Body is also a part of who we are. It’s not flaw, but something to be managed.
Is practice itself a splitting mechanism, isolating “I” from “body” and “mind” — paradoxically — so that their relationships may become more visible? Is the task to relax into their tensions, so that there tensions are felt as a game or puzzle, as Stephanie describes? Perhaps the Injured Body can give existential grace if we forgive it. Perhaps the UnInjured Body sustains wonderment. Between these two, the I-sense flows.
The older question, from the Upanishads and elsewhere, is: Who is this “I” who feels, inhabits, and uses both the Injured Body, and the NonInjured body, and every body in between? The ancients felt that the “I” preceded all bodies, instead of being generated by their dialogue. Nowadays, between neuroscience and developmental psychology, this old view is fading into literary quaintness. Stephanie’s “I”, considered today, is not the eternal observer bearing witness to temporal bodily states, but the fractured product arising from those states.
Stephanie’s lovely comment doesn’t stop at the personal, but extends to the social, hinting at the self-sense cloven by capitalism (as if it wasn’t hard enough to feel the splits of conscious life to begin with):
I feel that a split personality is intrinsic to living in a commercialized society. There is always a split between the ideal self that the advertiser wants for you, and the actual self that you have for yourself. It is very hard to know one’s real self, the authentic self, when the messages all around us every day present never-ending variations on an Idealized self. Physical and personality ideals are presented constantly via advertising and entertainment. They’re impossible to avoid, so it takes a solid inner practice of some sort to filter them out and connect back to a deeper, truer self. It takes *work* not to internalize the Ideal/false selves we are socialized to emulate. This applies to the yoga world as well, in terms of yoga advertising imagery and idealism.
Absolutely. Here in the marketplace, we stand in our Injured Bodies, looking at life-sized pictures of UnInjured Bodies. Strange mirrors, reminding us of what we’ve lost or never had where we’d like to go. We feel a double ache: Not only do I hurt, but I do not have that. Advertising offers us, unconsciously, the anti-mantra: I am not that.
Hopefully, as we step into the studio, we can let this stand-off soften, instead of entrenching it further. We stand at the door, plastered with workshop advertisements showing bodies in states of non-injury — we pause for a moment in an old tension. Maybe we can shake it off, step inside, and roll out a mat where all of our bodies can meet.
hey Matthew – as always great post.
“.. with workshop advertisements showing bodies in states of non-injury .” That’s a juicy statement considering that you have been interviewing numerous people who have clearly stated that no one knew how injured they and their body were. Their pain is invisible. The viewer, likely assumes that the other’s body is uninjured. More striving, as Stephanie describes.
Oh, if we could also find a glimpse of that place where there is more peace, where we weren’t striving to fix, or find answers to prevent us falling from a place of ease.
“Who is this “I” who feels, inhabits, and uses both the Injured Body, and the NonInjured body, and every body in between?”
I am quite unhappy with this juggling of “I”s and “bodies”.
If there is an achievement in human development then definitely it is the knowledge we have gained via science in general and neuroscience specially about what and how there can be such thing like an “I”.
It is the intimate and absurd complex woven net of physical/biological- at least materialistic- fabric of tissues, biochemical pathways, electrochemical reactions which build our very fundament of us as an individual beeing.
It is not helpful to dismiss this materialistic base and to fantasize about an “I” with different “bodies” because each visualization of another body implies reactions in our (real) body. “I” and “my body” are not separate entities! Yoga (in my eyes) means the unity of this fantastically complex brain,blood and belly subject which one describes as “I” for the lack of a better term.
“I” am able to yearn for specific goals, desiring specific circumstances but “I” do this with “my body” and it is the very achievement of ancient wisdom to know about the power of thoughts.
Perhaps todays yoga practitioners have the chance to unite ancient wisdom like Patanjali’s with modern wisdom like neuroscience. “We” are our present body and mind and we should discuss from this base what happens if “I” do my practice with wishes or fantasies not sufficiently reflected upon.
Never felt like I had an un-injured body, but I can relate to these thoughts and feelings.
The emphasis in yoga seems to be –fixing.
Playing Dr.– with matches.
Yogic Assumption: We are impure, and need cleaning up.
— Gotta get out the soap just to approach our perfection. This: Requires scrubbing –then perfumed oil. Then (and only then) begins our approach to the holy of holy (‘true self’??).
Gotta Become a Diamond Body (an adamantine sycophant).
Hmmm: Maybe walking backwards towards ‘it’, so as not to make eye contact.
Servile and penitent, filled with regrets about skinned knees and raw elbows. The trance dance of suffering.
Sin, marvelous sin,
… and the miracle of rising from the burn.
Thanks for a great post – I very much appreciate the point about the ‘before it all happened’ and this also seems true of much experience of trauma, mental illness, etc – there is a ‘before’ the event or break or whatever which is remembered as a longed-for state of wholeness, and part of the healing process is accepting that this state cannot return (and., perhaps, that it was always a fantasy).
“Nowadays, between neuroscience and developmental psychology, this old view is fading into literary quaintness. Stephanie’s “I”, considered today, is not the eternal observer bearing witness to temporal bodily states, but the fractured product arising from those states.”
Can we envisage an ‘I’ which is a truce or a mediation between the ‘religious-transcendent’ and the ‘scientific-materialist’ position, rather than seeing one as necessarily needing to obviate the other? (or are you saying that that horse has bolted, rather than saying that it’s right for the horse to bolt…)
The materialists don’t seem to have an explanation for the experience of consciousness (cf Thomas Nagel’s ‘Mind and Cosmos’), but on the other hand the experience of consciousness seems inevitably to involve being a body. I’d also have concerns about a ‘progress’ narrative in which neuroscientific materialist views supersede older views rather than being seen as a paradigm which happens to be dominant at present.
I have a friend and Feldenkrais teacher who would correct me every time I said ‘THE body’ referring to myself – rather, she said, ‘MY body.’ The move from depersonalising to repersonalising the body seems like a useful Path arc, like the return to the market in the Zen oxherding pictures. Because we also live in a society which will tell you that you own and are responsible for the body’s defects and their social consequences – and mindfulness for longterm pain also focusses on not experiencing the pain as the inescapable self – so ‘I am not the body’ can be really useful and true in these ways.
And materialist POVs are really good at telling us how to use the body so we don’t injure it (or don’t injure it more than necessary), but I don’t feel they give us ways to work with the psyche around the body, e.g. the question of injured/uninjured body and the im/perfectible self – though perhaps scientific-psychotherapeutic techniques like CBT might do so.
(Feldenkrais is also interesting inasmuch as it doesn’t so much have any abstract ideal for how the body should be, rather that we can explore the sensations of being a moving body so that each of us uses it in more optimal ways that are our own)
I wonder too if in the injured/uninjured dual categorisation, there’s a parallel to the kinds of philosophical discussions that have happened around health and illness (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/health-disease/)