My body is my home
By Maria Fernandes

My body is my home, a home I can return to, to feel safe in, and to rest in. It wasn’t always this way. I have grown up with my body predominantly feeling like an unsafe place to be, with scary and painful sensations. Daily stomach pains as a child, the doctors recommended removing my appendix to resolve the pains whose physical cause they could not identify. Luckily for me, they did not go ahead with this surgery. It was only as an adult that I learned that these constant stomach pains were anxiety, linked to the trauma at home in my childhood. These constant abdominal pains also started to affect my lower back, and before I turned 30, an orthopedic surgeon told me to refrain from carrying anything heavy on my back, trekking, etc. The medical system increased my fears and anxiety about my body and led me to be more disconnected from my body. 

I am grateful to have found modalities that have helped me connect better to my body, study it, and expand its expressive repertoire: physical theatre and West African dance in college in the US and in Senegal, studies in yoga at various ashrams and institutions in India, expressive arts therapy, and permaculture and connecting to the soil. 

What I have learned along this journey is that my body is intelligent and that it knows how to heal. I learned to observe the pain in my lower back, breathe into it, attend upon it with love and curiosity, and understand and feel into my lower back and it connects to the rest of my spine and pelvis all the way down to my feet. I learned to align the various joints in my body in a way that affords my body more ease, and to move them slowly and with awareness in the variety of ways that they are designed to move in: anteriorly, posteriorly, in flexion and extension, adduction and abduction, in rotation, and with different elemental qualities of space, air, fire, water, and earth. Expanding my movement repertoire of these various parts of my body has made it physically stronger, more resilient to various loads and stresses, more responsive to its environment, and a better holder of my emotions and experiences.

My body is vast. It is a multitude of beings and connections and relationships. It is a team.

I have learned to interact better with my body, noticing its patterns. When I work it constantly without rest, it gets sick and is loud and clear about its need for rest. When i nourish it well, and listen to it keenly, giving it a good balance of movement and rest and expression and silence, it is at ease and is delightful to inhabit. 

Philosophy and Embodied Practices at Abhyas

The past few months of studying with Navtej Johar, through the philosophy in his Indian Poetics course and the embodied practices of Abhyas yoga and somatics sessions, have been taking me deeper into my understanding and love of the body. 

In the somatics classes, I give my body permission to move in new ways. I have been noticing the various ways in which the judgments of my mind constrain the expressiveness of my body.

And when I can observe this and allow my body to move with its own desire leading it, it surprises me. In a recent somatics session working with a vibhaava (poetic object), it became apparent to me that my mind burdens itself with expectations of ‘the right way’ to follow the facilitator’s prompts, while on the other hand my body is already confidently moving and responding to these prompts.

In the yoga and somatics classes, I have been learning to observe keenly how my body responds to specific prompts. I am also learning that if I attend lovingly and curiously upon my body, it leads me out of pain and into comfort and pleasure. Over the past few years, I have experienced a sharp pain in the middle of my upper back, which I have had to work on releasing daily through the use of a foam roller or specific stretches. Two months into Navtej’s yoga sessions, this pain has disappeared. I believe it is the feeling into the roundedness of my shoulders and visualizing and breathing into the horizontal expansion of my chest in the yoga classes have helped with this. 

With simple acts of listening and allowing, as well as training and strengthening, I’ve learned that my body is patterned and it is longing equally to break those patterns; that it wants to be allowed the freedom to try out a different choice, a different response; that it wants to move in a new way, to strengthen itself in a new way, and to be vulnerable in a new way.

My body tells me I am alive. It is creative. It is playful. It is responsive and reflexive. My body is open and shows love.

 Other explorations with my body that were birthed for me in Indian poetics and somatics have been of developing a more poetic relationship with my body, of opening up to the sensitivity of my body, of empowering it to express its desire to be seen and felt and tasted, and once satiated and enriched with messy and delicious emotions and experience, of surrendering to its desire of going to nest and rest.

The deep desire that these experiences renew in me is for more of us to experience the body as home. In current times when it is becoming more and clearer of the kind of continued massive displacement and socio-political and climactic upheaval, we are signed up for, being able to return to the body as the home becomes even more important. For me, it allows me to carry my body, my home with me wherever I go, to attend upon it with love and curiosity, allowing it to express its particularity, and to experience expansion.

Maria Fernandes is a body-based therapist. Her passion for the body is perpetual and is supported by her ongoing studies in yoga, Kashmir Saivism, expressive arts therapy, embodied meditation practices, and permaculture. She was one of the participants in the Indian poetics course offered by Navtej Johar at Studio Abhyas.

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