“The body never lies,” Janet Stone said in a workshop on the yogic concept of satya, or truth. “We misinterpret it, ignore it, and project our ideas onto it, but the body itself never lies.”
Our mouths sure do, though. Even if we don’t tell boldfaced lies, we all withhold aspects of the truth, revert quickly to what we want to believe rather than listening openly, we hide aspects of ourselves from others, and most of all, we lie to ourselves. And that’s okay: it’s only human.
Our bodies, then, may be the true taproot to the truth. Intuitively, this makes sense: My body has told me many things before my mind knew it, that a relationship wasn’t working, or a certain person wasn’t safe to be around.
The more I think about it, though, the more the statement wriggles like a splinter in my foot, getting past the calluses and tickling the vulnerable nervy bit underneath.
The thing is, no matter how bright the light of truth coming from the body, that truth must necessarily be filtered through words. We literally think with words, and many experts argue that language itself can shape our ability to understand the world. Elizabeth Spelke, a psychologist at Harvard who works with child development, explains that language is not only an effective mode of communicating with other people, but also may “serve as a mechanism of communication between different systems within a single mind.”
Much of this silent verbal thinking is an attempt to understand the inarticulate feelings we experience in response to the wild and unknowable world. Have you ever had a friend going through a tough time who repeats the same story over and over again, robot-like, as if the story is just not quite computing? When something doesn’t make sense, we need to tinker with the story until it works for us.
This idea of listening to the body has been revolutionary for many people in the yoga community, including myself. My relationship with my body has gone from pure disconnect to the kind of true love relationship that involves deep respect and care, and, occasionally, apartment-wall shaking arguments, rage, resentment, fight, kiss, and make up. I know my body is trying to talk to me all the time, but trying to figure out what it is saying is sometimes like trying to decode an alien language when you don’t even have the perceptual tools to hear it.
Learning to translate your body’s language is not easy. For example, trying to tell the difference between an instinct, which is trying to tell you something important, and a trigger, which is a direct line to an old story that may not apply to your current situation, is very challenging. When am I falling back on habit, and when am I trusting my intuition? The body may not be lying, it may just be talking about something completely different than what you asked it.
Trying to figure that out is the fun part. My strategy is to plunge into the stories—tell as many as possible. Writing is absolutely the best way I’ve found to process and understand my emotions, even if it’s fevered yoga-brain scribbling before savasana. As I write, I notice which stories are layering, which have become richer, and which have become silly old fairy tales that don’t make sense for me anymore. I like to end my stories, implicitly at least, with the phrase “I don’t know.” Truth moves, after all, and, as Carl Jung has said, “What was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”