Injuries often happen in the silliest ways. We are intelligent adults; we look both ways before crossing the street, we don't run with scissors or swallow toothpaste. But we badly sprain our ankles while walking innocently down the street, get black eyes from slipping in the bathroom and landing on the tub edge, or throw out our backs lifting up a teapot. Everything seems to be going so well, and then BAM! You are down for the count, for such a mundane reason, you want to tell everybody that they should have seen the other guy.
I imagine my body, trying for weeks to knock on the door of my attention, unable to get it even in my yoga practice, waiting for my mind to wander off like a guard falling asleep with keys slipping out of his pocket. The moment my attention falters in my everyday life, the keys get filched, the door opens, and the ankle slips and painfully sprains. As the old adage goes, "If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won't have to hear it scream."
From the perspective of neuroscience, our "selves" are (probably) not organized by a singular kernel like a soul. There's no ghost in the machine, no little man at the helm of your brain organizing everything so that we run properly (More on this from Radiolab.) Our brains may function more as a collection of different systems that work together in a mysterious pattern you can see in ants, fireflies, even in city neighborhoods. Scientists have begun to call these phenomena emergence: a deep pattern that works without any singular leader.
I am not, of course, a neuroscientist. I am a yoga teacher. But I do understand that different parts of me bump up against each other from time to time. My heart, my gut, and my logic see the world differently, and the day-to-day decisions I make are colored by these different modalities of information.
I think it’s easier to imagine ourselves as the captains of our own ships, in conscious control of our worlds. Of all the many things happening in your brain at any times, only one little region in your left hemisphere can actually communicate about it in language. From what I understand, this is the region where we get that illusion of control—we think in words, so we understand about ourselves only what we can tell in stories.
Of course, that hardly means we are limited to our literal, rational selves. We can also use our words to start to translate the many deeper intelligences in the body that speak in sensation, emotion, images, dreams, and yes, even injuries. Our bodies have a rich and complex language, and the practice of translation is one of the things we can do when we go to our mats and pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies.
I teach workshops on yoga and writing in part to encourage a different kind of listening, a different kind of translation from sensation to page. One thing I’ve discovered is that the body often speaks in metaphor. What kind of words come out when you try to describe your heart’s desire, the stories in your bones, or the cry of your sprained ankle? Your ankle may be asking you to look at how steady you feel on your feet, and whether you are happy with the direction you are going. Why that injury at that moment?
Perhaps it’s all random, of course, but it feels much richer to experience ourselves as a multitude of experiences and languages coming together into the you of this moment. All you need to explore this for yourself is a journal next to your yoga mat. Get into the habit of writing down thoughts, images, ideas, and anything else that comes up in your practice, whether it is meditation, power yoga, or a few minutes in savasana. Even the injuries that seem totally random and annoying may be trying to send you a message in a bottle from the deep sea inside.
Your body is talking. Are you listening?
I highly recommend these two resources on this topic if you’d like to learn more about translating body language:: Your Body Speaks your Mind by Deb Shapiro and When the Body Says No by Gabor Mate.