“You only get one body, one life, one chance to live and it’s difficult to enjoy your life if you are trapped in a body that only leaves you sick and in pain.” Tiffany Cruikshank
The last few months I have been really, unwillingly at first I will admit, contemplating this question in my mind and body… what is optimal health? As an athlete, I had defined this by pace, distance, time and amount I am able to run, bike or swim. The more I could output, the better health I would be in. Skipping a day here or there could happen, but, not ideal. And, if I am not doing it fast enough or long enough, just means that I need to train more, harder, faster.
It wasn’t until a long-car-drive-conversation with a dear friend that helped shed light on a decision I had to make, that felt quite crippling in my mind at the time, about whether or not to run an upcoming race. I told her the whole story about the pain that would show up in my hamstring while training and it just was not right. Instead of stopping, I would just keep going, thinking that perhaps the pain would just disappear. After presenting my saga, she looked at me and asked if I wanted the honest reflection, and of course I did. She said, “as a teacher and student of yoga, it sounds like you are being a hypocrite.” That was the truth. I was not fully honoring the truth of my body. Flat out, it hurt to run. So, why was I running? Fear of becoming lazy, overweight, or sick? Because, I wanted to, (that was the “inner brat in me”). For optimal health? Clearly my definition was flawed and missing something.
The more I practice yoga, the deeper the conversation with my body becomes. I seem to feel more, listen more, and care more. But, “the dirty little secret” of yoga, like Christina Sell likes to say, is that it is not just showing me the good feelings and sensations of oh how wonderful life is, it is also bringing out the pain, the anger, the grief that has and is stored in my body as well. The whole story is presented forth. And, through the teachings of yoga, I work to welcome them all and begin to make selective choices on what I want to keep in my body, as well as what I put into my body, and surround my self with, to provide me with the utmost optimal health.
About a month later, having made the decision to not run, rest, and heal my body, I was seeing a Rolf practitioner seeking additional support and he asked me the question, “what is optimal health for you?” As I responded, I heard my definition take on a new form.
Optimal health for me now is freedom of pain and suffering in my body and mind. Being able to feel alive, vibrant, full, and grounded in my own body and mind. Not an easy task, but, each practice on my mat I do feel like I am “practicing” making space, listening, and responding accordingly. Somehow the translation of really paying attention to how I align on my mat, how I choose to place my hand and feet so my shoulder and hips feel good, really does seep into my decisions off my mat. The food I eat, the conversations I choose to have, how I show up, the company I keep, all of it really does impact my whole state of being. The more I learn about the physical midline that is steady, powerful, yet still and sweet, the more I embody that in my being and awareness, the more grounded I become in all my mental, physical, and interpersonal relations. I keep showing up on my mat to practice and become more familiar with this steady state in me that can handle undulations and shifts that life will, and continually, almost comically sometimes, present.
As the mind and body are connected and one, the more I become familiar with my body, the closer I get to know my own mind. The more I realize I can make choices not only about exercise, the food I eat to feel healthy, but, the thoughts that trap me in certain moods, sensations, and feelings. My own mind has a big part in my whole being feeling healthy.
“Cleansing the mind of negative thought patterns is essential to the detoxification process.” Tiffany Cruikshank
To feel space and optimal health in my body and mind would require me to really begin to watch the way I think and make a conscious choice if the thoughts I am thinking are really serving my highest and best self. Perhaps a negative thought loop that has been stuck in my cells since high school varsity sports is that “faster is always better.” But, as a teacher and student in my own body, I really do know that fast is not always the answer. Don’t get me wrong, I love to sweat, work hard, and hold chatarangas. But, the thoughts that my mind seemed to be ignoring were that the pace of my life was a bit too fast it was causing pain and suffering. You may still witness me zooming by on a bike, sweating it out on my mat, or leading a rigorous class. But, you may also see me soaking in more restorative classes, drinking more tea, and perhaps being a bit more mindful about every choice I make. That takes practice. Life takes practice.
This fall I am committed to continuing to practice to make good choices that really and truly will bring optimal health to my whole being. In this one life we have to live, why not feel and be your greatest self?!
How do you define optimal health? Is your definition serving you?
– Genell Huston