Body Over Matter


The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer, yoga teacher certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and dance teacher. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms throughout the NYC metro area, and holds a regular Tuesday morning class at Steps on Broadway. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.

Just a few days ago, I met with a mentor of mine, a woman who has known me since my first adult steps back in college. As I laid out a multitude of questions and choices flitting about me, she astutely inquired whether I’d checked in with my body in considering it all. Her suggestion was a simple one, yet resonated so profoundly within me. I’d become stuck in the chaos of my mind, thoughts darting and tumbling in the wake of countless other thoughts streaming in and about my headspace. It was time to reconnect with my body as a whole, and all of the intelligence that too held.

Knowledge housed by the mind has been treasured for centuries. The Enlightenment’s ideals of freedom, founded upon principles of human reason and rationale, situated intellectual value in the mind. In fact, in her book Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West, Jin Li argues that in Western cultures’ approaches to learning, the ‘[m]ind is the highest human faculty’ and ‘[r]eason (not heart) is the process by which we know the world.’ Growing up in such an environment trains one to regularly head to the mind when in search of answers, for surely a space that swirls with information and thought must hold the potential to gather all of one’s queries and produce forward action. This may be a tendency in our society, but should the mind serve as our lone agent of decision-making and action? Can we, or should we, isolate that entity of our humanhood and give it so much power?

I certainly do not wish to downplay the capacity of the mind; and I wouldn’t want to assert that no one in the world operates solely from a place of logic, since I could not prove that sort of blanket statement. What I am reminded of, thanks to my mentor’s intuitive comment, is that wisdom sheltered within the temples of our bodies should not be disregarded.

As we move through our days, our bodies—just as much as our minds—collect information, whether we sense it or not. That brush against a fellow passerby on the street, that quiet jealousy that cropped up in hearing of a close friend’s success, the exhausting effort your work required of you today . . . all of this settles into our body, and while it may interact with us on more of an energetic level than a mental one, the insight and presence of all this material cannot be denied. The whereabouts of our input certainly depends on the individual. Similarly, each experience’s relationship with the body varies, as absorbed stimuli sometimes lead to tightness, resistance in the body; sometimes to heaviness—lethargy or despair or doubt; sometimes even to lightness, zeal. Indeed, what exists in my body would not match what is stored in another’s, because our life experiences differ, as do our reactions to those events.

And so for me to harp on such unknowns seems rather dull. Instead, by way of this post, I’d like to hold the space for your own exploration of these bodily hints at answers. I’d prefer to set the stage for enlightenment across a route that moves from our internal workings to our outer ones (as our minds so often seem since they dictate so much of our day-to-day perception and interaction with the world). I hope to offer up time to sit, to become still in an effort to connect with the subtlety of the body, particularly its hidden coves where emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, and ruminations on all those elements come to live. Shared below is my interpretation of the exercise my mentor, TaraMarie Perri, proposed to me:

Find a comfortable seat, whether that is on a cushion or a chair or otherwise. Closing the eyes, take a moment to settle into this seat. Feel the weight of the body, grounded, and begin to depart from the conditions around you by centering your focus on the body itself. You could take a scan of the entire body, or you could simply see what enters your awareness—a pull here, a softness here . . . When you feel ready, bring to mind one question or one realm of experience that you have been considering lately (i.e. a career path you imagine might be right for you or an image of a city you could imagine yourself living in). Disregard what thoughts you’ve had on the subject in order to tune into the sensations that arise in your body with this point of focus. Notice where the sensations appear, how they present themselves; no label is wrong, as this experience is yours and yours alone. Give yourself time with each topic to really consider (on physical and energetic levels) what this question drums up from deep within, before moving on to the next. After the exercise, or perhaps during, note what surfaced, and maybe try the exercise again after a time, just to check in on it all.

Maybe this work is not for you, as you prefer to act in accordance with the mind. That could be authentic to you and more than acceptable then. But what could be unlocked, retrieved, accessed that might otherwise sink to the depths of our being? I firmly believe that interacting with our bodies in this way could yield incredible understanding and open up a fresh route towards choice by truly getting to the root of our relationships to matters set in front of us. In the midst of such explorations myself, I cannot verify the success of this work, but I hope that in even considering the possibility of such bodily wisdom, we all can become more attuned not only to what lives deep inside of us, but how our words and actions—purposeful or habitual—can greatly affect those we pass by over the course of our lifetime.

–Liz Beres

Photo by Caleb George.

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