When I read last week’s blog on Major Arqueerna (‘Magic and the Physical Art of Release’), I was practically yelling ‘YES! EXACTLY!’ over my morning coffee. In the blog, Annie talks about how practicing Yin Yoga has supported their spiritual practice – in particular, some of their Shadow Work.
One of the soapboxes I frequently find myself on involves our ideas around compartmentalization. Humans LOVE putting things in categories and neat little boxes, particularly here in the West. One of the ways that manifests in the metaphysical community is in the widespread idea that the soul and body are totally separate, or that one is ‘driving’ the other. I’m forever seeing a meme reposted that talks about being a ghost driving a meat-covered bone chariot. It’s cute, but it reinforces that separation.
I am Heathen – a follower of the gods of Scandinavia, Norway and Iceland. Our approach to the soul is rather different than much of the rest of the Pagan world. Old Norse did not contain a word for ‘soul’ – for the idea of an eternal, individuated Self that is wholly separate from the body. Instead, we have the idea of a ‘soul complex’ – a group of different parts that make up an individual. The balance between those parts is how health, vitality, strength and luck are determined. One of those vital parts is the physical body. It’s not separate from the soul. It IS the soul. It is part of the complex that makes us who we are.
I am also a yoga teacher by trade. One of the phrases you will hear yogis use frequently is ‘Where the mind goes, the body follows. Where the body goes, the mind follows.’ What this means is that stimulating or changing our bodies directly impacts the way we think. This is why you feel better when you breathe slowly and deeply, and why breathing exercises are recommended for helping with stress management. When you change your rate of respiration to a resting pattern, your mind shifts to a more relaxed state.
The upshot of all this is that I know down to my bones that physical activity is also spiritual activity. In Blackfeather Mystery School, we encourage Sacred Movement Practice – a form of movement that you enjoy, that helps you experience being in your body, and that increases your body’s abilities. Bodies that have good range of motion, flexibility and strength are easier to be inside of. When we explore enjoyable activities that foster more comfortable bodies, we encounter changes to our thinking and spirituality.
I utterly despise how movement is taught in the West. I legitimately believed I hated exercise because all I had been exposed to was either performative (I took ballet classes when I was a kid) or competitive (basically everything in public school gym class).
Daria is my Patronus
There was little to no focus on finding a form of movement that feels good. But that trait? Pleasure? It’s the most important component of a physical practice. What feels good to people varies a lot. For me, it’s yoga, hiking and kayaking. I would pursue those activities regardless of their health benefits simply because I enjoy them. For some people it’s dance or running, aerial arts, rock climbing or weight training. If you haven’t found a movement practice you enjoy, it’s not because there isn’t one. Bodies LOVE moving. It’s what they’re designed to do. Finding a pleasurable form of movement takes some experimentation, ofttimes some exploration of movement forms that didn’t get promoted by the local school district.
And why do it? Because if you are working on your spirit, on your mind, on your emotions, there are very few more effective support techniques for that work.
At the end of a yoga class, there’s a resting space called savasana. People lie down on their mats or come to seated meditation to allow their minds and bodies to rest after movement. When I began my yoga practice back in the late aughts, there was a three-month period where I would cry during savasana. I wasn’t sad. My body felt wonderful and I was not in pain. But the tears would come and spill down the sides of my face onto my mat. Remember, when we move our body, we move our mind, we move our spirit. I believe now that I was releasing trauma, pain, emotional wounds and other unnecessary baggage. The physical practice triggered the release of more than physical burdens.
When we spend time focused on physical movement, we begin to sense patterns in the movements of our thoughts and emotions. I’ve had huge breakthroughs on my yoga mat, stunning realizations while out hiking, felt deep peace and connection while on my kayak. And I’ve heard the voices of the Gods there. A physical practice opens and strengthens our bodies – our selves. That strong, open space can become a landing pad for spiritual communication. To this day, sometimes even when I’m teaching a yoga practice, I will suddenly sense the presence of the Gods. I will see visions, hear Their voices, or receive messages or sudden insights.
Physical practices also begin to teach us that our bodies are not the enemy. I am a cisgender woman which means that I grew up with very intrusive messaging about cultural ideals of beauty. I was bombarded with directives that said that my worth as a person equated to how well or poorly I conformed to cultural beauty standards. So, as an adult, I have a lot of the sadly normal self-esteem issues around my physical body. Interestingly, since taking up a regular physical practice, many of those issues have resolved or faded. Being in my body, focusing on movement, exploring how my spirituality manifests in my body and learning to appreciate all the amazing things my body can do turned down the volume on the destructive messages. I’m not ‘cured,’ by any means, but I am much more comfortable with and grateful for my body.
We are getting closer to the season of change, movement and transformation. The winter stillness will give way to spring exuberance. If you haven’t found a movement practice you love yet, start looking around at the classes, studios and experiences offered near you. If hibernation season took you off your mat, roller skates or boulder, start thinking about when you wish to return. I truly believe that there’s a movement practice for everyone, a form that helps support our minds and spirits as well as our physical bodies.
Do you have a physical practice you love? Share it in the comments. Maybe someone who needs to see it will give it a try.
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