“Practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”- Pema Chodron
Animals fully inhabit their bodies. They eat when they’re hungry, rest when they’re tired and stay alert to danger because they’re not distracted by an imagined reality.
A rhino’s big backside sways unashamedly from side to side when it walks because its too busy choosing the most delectable grass to nourish itself. A lion notices the subtlest change of scent on the wind even though it wasn’t consciously paying attention to the wind at all. A female leopard pauses the moment a thorn punctures the pad of her foot and she carefully removes it before its too deeply embedded. As her whiskers touch the leaves in the thick foliage she’s stalking in, she backs off because instinctively she knows it means the rest of her body will make a noise if she continues forward. These animals are all acting differently but they have one thing in common. They’re living in their bodies.
The human body is an incredibly powerful tool, capable of acting as our most potent guidance system too. Unfortunately for many of us, particularly in the rushed Western world, we have lost touch with what it is trying to tell us.
The belief seems to be that the core purpose of our bodies is to be a vehicle which carries our minds around from meeting to meeting. We try to keep them looking aesthetically good because of some societal rules and moderately healthy so that they keep ticking over. But essentially we believe that the seat of who we really are is lodged somewhere above our shoulders.
When people say they chose something because it felt right in their heart or that they just knew it in their gut, they’re referring to this inner compass that all of us have. Unfortunately for many of us, we have put so much weight and energy on our brain power and mental capacity that this intrinsic body knowledge has quietened.
From what I can tell animals are not self aware in a self conscious way. They’re just aware. They’re embodied. They’re not judging how they’re showing up in the pride, if they’re drinking too noisily or if they’re running style makes them look good. They’re too busy living and paying attention to the present moment.
I’ve written about this art of presence before in reference to impalas but it applies to all animals. Don’t get me wrong, all of them are using their minds to calculate things such as distance to their prey, knowledge of the terrain, what the wind is doing and whether the hunt is worth it or not. But I don’t think they’re creating mental stories like how their fellow pride member will judge them if they fail or whether they’re good enough to be attempting the hunt in the first place.
Their minds are more at service to their bodies than their bodies being servants to the mind.
From what I can tell they are far too present to be lying around creating abstract stories in their heads that cause pain and anguish based on the past or a non-existent future. Something us humans do pretty much all the time.
So how do we stop doing this? Well, by coming back to the body… Statistically speaking, it’s actually the smartest thing you can do.
Our cognitive brain, although very powerful only processes forty bits of information per second. Our entire nervous system on the other hand processes eleven million bits of information per second.
Essentially, your body is wiser than your mind.
So how is it that we begin to tap into and listen to the body then?
There’re many ways but one of the increasingly popular methods is yoga. In an interesting article published in the Huffington Post, Marlyn Wei quotes how a majority of people start yoga to improve flexibility, fitness, weight control and stress relief. In a later study though, what they’ve found is that over time between 75-85 percent of people will have changed their primary motive for doing yoga. Most often it’ll change “to spirituality or self-actualization, a sense of fulfilling their potential. Yoga offers self-reflection, the practice of kindness and self-compassion, and continued growth and self-awareness.”
Basically they’ve fallen in love with the experience of falling into peace and presence by quieting their minds and tapping into their bodies from a place of no judgement.
As Wei says, “In a culture in which we rush from one day to the next, constantly trying to change our health, our body, or our emotions, or to plan our future, yoga opens up the possibility of connecting to what we already have — to who we already are.”
From here we really begin to embody ourselves and our lives. Not viewing our bodies as an object that thinks about how we feel but actually lives from a point of awareness within the body.
It is a scary step to choose to begin trusting what your body and feelings are telling you and to act on them over the crazy mess of mind-based stories. I know. For many of us, and I speak about myself here too, this navigation tool is like a muscle that has whittled away because it hasn’t been used very much in a long time. But as with anything, with a little awareness, patience and exercise, that muscle strengthens.
At Londolozi, the possibility exists to watch the world’s most advanced yogis, its wild inhabitants and to practice their teachings on a yoga deck in between game drive. In this gentle place and from a space of no judgement, you’ll begin to tap into the innate wisdom our bodies hold and the gateway they provide to peace and presence.
Then in each new moment you can start choose how you embody your life.