Where Soul Meets Body

As a former athlete, my mind and my body lived in two separate houses. At 3:00pm, I’d lock up the doors and leave the house of my mind–school–to enter the house of my body–softball. There was a balance to this way of living, in light of the principle “separate but equal”. I’d spend six hours a day in the classroom, developing the foundations of my intellectual curiosity. Then I’d spend an average of four hours a day on the field, playing with the limits of agility and grit. But balance does not mean equity; history has shown us that separate can never truly be equal.

I learned that lesson the hard way, forced from the field. As I exited undergrad with more metal in my arm than when I’d entered, I embarked upon a new journey: graduate school. I knew that this chapter would pose an unparalleled challenge to the house of my mind. Could I keep it engaged, inquisitive, disciplined (and clean)? I would be the youngest of my colleagues, and therefore, the one with the most to learn.

As my attention shifted to the mind, the house of my body became cluttered, neglected, and disconnected. I worked out, walked, and ran to try to feed fitness for its own sake, blaring out the activity with loud music to distract from performing the task itself. There was no goal or ritual in any of this. Just routine.

But as the body can only live so long without the mind, so too the mind can only live so long without the body. About six months into my graduate studies, I knew what I was doing was not working. In spite of the circles my mind was running every day, somewhere inside of me, I felt deeply dissatisfied.

I started with a three month unlimited pass to heated yoga. And it took all three months to identify the source of my dissatisfaction. My mind–for the life of me–could not figure out how a person went from the girl in running shorts at the back of the room, to the woman dancing on her mat in the front corner of the room. Until one day, at the start of class, a teacher told us that, “If all you do is breathe on your mat today, you have cultivated a true yoga practice.”

I don’t know why I chose to take those words to heart on that particular day, but for the first time ever, I started to pay attention to my breath. And by pay attention, I don’t mean mentally chattering about how hard it is to breathe in a hot and humid room. Instead, I simply tuned into to each instruction to inhale and exhale. With each class, I could practice a little longer and stronger, keeping a little more control of my breath each time. Slowly, I flipped my perspective from what my breath did to me, to what I could do with my breath.

That is how I reopened the house of my body: the key was my breath. Breath allowed me to re-familiarize myself with how my body felt, what it could do, and where it could take me.

This notion has started to come full circle. The more I play with the limits of my body, the stronger my mind has become. Every day, I approach my mat and my life with fewer expectations and a stronger spirit of self-discovery. My mind and my body live together now, with the same rules, in the same house.