Body Joy

It's midafternoon and I'm feeling the itch to move my body, but instead I return phone calls, wipe the kitchen counter, sort my daughter Lilly's school papers. I haven't really moved in almost two weeks, at least in any meaningful way, and I'm in "the box," a place of parched fear, scratchy overanalyzing, and tart self-judgment. I find myself here about five or six times a year, whenever I allow life to push me faster than I can keep pace spiritually and emotionally. Then I narrow my focus to the bandwidth of "just get it done," and when I lift my head, I find I'm in need of a major blast of passion and perspective but afraid to move toward it. The longer I'm in the box, the more afraid I become, because moving is painful and joyful, and narrow has become such a familiar, if unsatisfying, way of being. I know what will free me: allowing my body, not my mind, to express what I'm feeling.

To simply move, not to burn calories or tone my thighs or perfect a yoga pose but to breathe and give my impulses form, to shake and holler and swoop and feel life moving through me. Conscious movement (for me, anything from yoga to whirling and wailing) brings me into startling intimacy with myself-intimacy that brings aliveness, intimacy I crave. So many of us put ourselves in the box, cutting ourselves off from our bodies. I recently led a weekend retreat for 22 women centered around rest and inner listening, which included a fair amount of movement. The participants had come hoping to recapture a spark of joy, a sense of themselves free from "shoulds" and to-do lists.

The movement exercises turned out to be the most challenging part of the retreat for a number of the women-and the most life-changing. In the first exercise, I asked the group to ask their bodies (not their minds) to show them what their everyday life felt like. The circle exploded into hopping, running, grabbing, marching, and slumping.

Then we came to a pause, breathed, and noticed how this felt. I asked the group, "What does your sacred pause look like?" It looked like this: graceful swaying, arms opening and extending, breath slowing and deepening. The contrast was startling. But as we continued the exercise with different questions and expressions, I saw one group member, Kit, bolt from the room and several other women who were barely moving. At a break, I found Kit on a bench overlooking the city. "How are you?" I asked.

"Scared," she said. "It feels like there is this roar inside of me. I want to let it out, but I'm afraid what might happen if I do.

" We talked about giving herself permission, being kind to herself, taking it at her own pace-the most important advice when befriending the body's wisdom. Walking back to my cabin later, I marveled at how convincingly real our fear can feel, how seemingly impenetrable in its accumulation. Not just a box but a fortress. I asked Camille Maurine, author of Meditation Secrets for Women, movement teacher, and my guest at the retreat, "What are we so afraid of?" "Consciousness is a great mystery," Camille said. "That we can be aware of our own existence is a marvel, but consciousness is also a mixed blessing. Awareness of being alive brings awareness of death, and the more aware we are, the more we feel.

Movement brings us smack into contact with that wonder and awe-through sensation, through the breath-and that can be a scary awakening." The retreat unfolded beautifully: movement, journaling, and silent time outdoors slowly worked miracles, peeling away our layers of fear, rushing, and self-judgment. I noticed how much younger we all looked, and how much more laughter filled the center. We were discovering how thrilling it is when we reclaim our juice for living, our very life force, when we open our arms to ourselves and abandon our somatic ruts. After dinner on the second day, Elizabeth told me this story: "When you asked us to move the first morning, I froze. I didn't want to look stupid or stand out.

But then I had an experience that changed everything. I took a walk after our class, and the young girl who lives here joined me. We stopped to watch a horse being shod, and she brought me a handful of flowers and said, 'I am so lucky to live here!' As she said this, her body dipped into a squat and popped up again-spontaneous movement! I thought, 'This child didn't wonder how to express herself or whether it was acceptable. She just moved.' "Later, in Camille's class, when she asked us not to move until the impulse came from within, I thought of that girl. I sat frozen for five minutes, determined not to move until my body was ready, reliving every awkward moment of my teenage years, all the times I had learned to physically shut down.

When the impulse finally came, it was so exhilarating. My body was breathing me. It was like my mind was a bystander, and as I watched, it was my body telling me stories.

As it finished one, I'd get quiet and still, and then another story would pour out. It was breathtaking." You can only be the person your body can support you being.

Most of the time, we don't realize we've hunkered down into ourselves, shoulders slumped, chest concave, unable to breathe deeply. Trapped in repetitive, hobbling ways of moving and breathing, certain possibilities in life are closed to us. But if we are able to feel our feet on the earth, our chest expansive, our breathing relaxed, our body able to sway and soften, a whole new way of being opens to us, with new options for action and connection. I'm back at home in my living room, reminding myself, reminding my body of the lessons reinforced over the weekend. I stretch out on my yoga mat, close my eyes, bring my attention to my breath, allow my exhale to be longer than my inhale.

I silently recite a mantra, "God breathes me." I recall that fear can only exist when I project forward in time. Fear needs time. What is here, right now, in my body, in my sensations? I ground my energy, growing roots deep into the earth, letting myself feel that I am, in fact, in a body. I enter into the moment, give up the struggle against myself, give up the stories about how I'll always be a neurotic, worrying dervish or that it doesn't matter how I feel when other people are starving. I breathe and wait until my body is ready to communicate, until the impulse to move comes from within-a few gentle yoga poses, then into dancing, then resting in child's pose.

I'm letting my body remember itself. My fears and worries clump into smaller and smaller particles, and I move into the spaciousness between them, experiencing that joyful moment when the breath and the body unite and I allow what wants to come into being to come, unforced and unmediated by my mind. I stop to write in my journal now and again-snippets about new ways to listen to my daughter, an insight into a character in my novel. I listen and move.seeing, asking, and listening through my body to a new perspective.

SIDEBAR: This simple exercise helps my body-not my brain-tell me how to move. 1. Bring yourself into child's pose: Kneel on the floor, knees hip-width apart. Lean forward with your belly resting on your knees, forehead on the floor. Arm position will depend on comfort: either place at your sides, palms up; stretched out in front of you, palms on the floor; or, my favorite, elbows on the floor, hands in prayer position either in front of you or "tented" over your head.

2. Repeat silently "I am being breathed." 3. Ask your body "How would life like to move through me right now?" There's no need to force an answer. Just rest in the trust of child's pose, being breathed, content to let your body speak. 4.

Surrender to impulses from your body to move, versus directions from your mind-you might roll on the floor, you might get up and swoop, sway, sing, or shout. The point is to give expression to whatever wants to move through you. 5. Follow these impulses to a natural concluding point. Return to child's pose and rest in a moment of gratitude.

Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of five books, including the classic The Woman's Comfort Book and her newest Comfort Secrets for Busy Women. She has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including Oprah. She's also a certified coach, creator of learning events and unique life balance products. Her upcoming retreat with Master Coach Molly Gordon is on how to "do" change with grace and confidence. Visit

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