Knowing When Your Body Needs a Day

I’ve written about this before (here, for example), but I think it’s a topic worth coming back to.  I know that I continue to struggle with it on a daily basis, and judging from things like this post from my wonderful Ironwoman friend Maria, I’m not alone.

Photo: ButterflySha

Sometimes, it’s just not easy to tell what it is your body needs.  I woke up this morning with the same stomach ache that I’ve had for almost three weeks (due to iron supplements – long story – I’ve been living on crackers and the occasional toast).  My left hip was killing me and I hadn’t slept well.  My right shoulder is also being screwy and started giving me pain as soon as I got out of bed and gravity hit.  And, for a little extra woohoo, my head hurts.  Yeah, I’m a pathetic mess.  But, here is the catch, I’m trying to go to yoga on Saturday mornings.  I used to be able to go on Friday mornings, but this semester I teach too early to do that.  Friday night is an option, but last night I had an event to attend until 11.  That leaves Saturday morning.  So, I got out the yoga clothes and went downstairs and made a cup of tea and some toast.  And then I sat down at my desk to check email and work on convincing myself to go to class.  That went on for about an hour.  And then I gave it up.  I admitted to myself that going to class was not the best choice, and that my body was in no shape to complete a full vinyasa class in any manner that would really bring me closer to peace and union.  But, I can’t lie, I was still (am still) not happy about it.  A bit later, when I napped for a short period, my dreams were full of what a horrible yogi I am.  Clearly, I still have some things to work out.

In some ways, I wonder why this respecting the needs of the body is so hard.  But, in other ways, I know.  We are taught, so early, to ignore the body.  We eat and sleep at prescribed times and not according to the body clock.  We feed the body food that has been processed so much that it is without nutrient instead of the foods it naturally needs.  We spray it with chemicals to prevent it from smelling even remotely like a human mammal body.  We push it to be a certain size because that is socially acceptable, regardless of where the body’s natural set point for size might be.  We shut the body up and shut it down in so many ways; it’s no wonder that we have trouble hearing it even when we want to.

Photo: Andrea Parrish - Geyer

My challenge is, and perhaps will always be, to practice ahimsa with my body.  To hear what my body has to say without judging it.  To take its needs and requests seriously.  To give my body a “day off” when it needs it.  And to let myself be if my body doesn’t always match up to what I want it to be and do.  As I sit here at my desk writing this post, noticing that my work schedule is going to prevent yoga on Monday and trying to avoid letting that put me back into a bad place about not going today, I know that this is likely to be a lifelong practice.  Perhaps this journey is my destination.

It’s Viral… and I Don’t Mean Media

Last Wednesday evening, I went to bed with a stomach ache.  After tossing and turning for several hours, the fun got started around 2 a.m.  From that point on, I proceeded to be violently ill throughout all of Thursday.  I couldn’t keep any food down, very little liquid, and my head pounded furiously.  It was ugly.  There was even some toddler like crying (and that was just the DH trying to deal with me…).  Friday, I felt somewhat better, but still wasn’t really up to eating and I did a lot of napping throughout the day.  Saturday and today, I’ve added some crackers/toast to the diet and a little fruit.  I finally got up the energy today to manage about 1/2 hour of yoga without getting very ill.   Tomorrow should be better yet, but all of this has me thinking about health and yoga and raw foodism.

According to staunch raw food (natural hygeine) proponents, there is 1 illness and 1 cure.  The illness is toxicity caused by the food and other environmental toxins we encounter in our standard American lives.  They argue that all diseases, of whatever name or characteristic, are simply manifestations of this toxicity, which can be greatly reduced and virtually eliminated by a strict natural hygeine lifestyle, including a raw food diet.  So, if an individual develops an illness while eating raw, the recommended solution is to either water or juice fast, but certainly to continue the raw diet.

While I don’t actually buy into the 1 illness and 1 cure idea, I understand why it might be beneficial to water/juice fast through an illness, but this particular virus made it clear to me that it was not going to work out sometimes.  There are times when the body refuses to digest particular types of food, and many raw items are challenging on the digestion – unless one owns a juicer and utilizes that path.  This suggests that there may be points where raw food is not the best option in recovery.

Drawing from understandings in the path of yoga, the body must be taken care of for the mind to function well.  This means resting when you need to rest, and not pushing the body to exhaustion.  When ill, I assume this to mean that one should wait until the body returns to a state of positive energy before undertaking any vigorous asanas, and that return to practice should be gradual and measured.

The catch here is that when one doesn’t practice, sometimes the muscles and joints become stiff or clinched, making a return to practice more difficult and frustrating and increasing feelings of exhaustion.  Not practicing while I was trying to feel better makes sense from one perspective, but from another, it only makes things worse.

What is the “take away” message from all of this?  I think it may be that even our most “healthy” habits need to be continually reassessed in the face of the realities of the body and mind.  We need to combine concern with long term physical and mental health with attention to the short term.  Sometimes those two points of focus will require different actions, and choices have to be made about what is best.

Be in the body; be in the moment.  What does it require?