By Jessica Abelson
When I was hired to work at Yoga Journal, my oh-so-adorable 7-year-old cousin exclaimed, "Do the twisty-fisty yoga move!" To her young mind, that's really all yoga is: some funny-looking twisty turvy maneuver. Leg on top of head, butt in the air, arms tangled around torso—this surely looks bizarre to young eyes, and quite unnecessary unless wrapped in a fun game of Twister.
But with age and maturity, so comes the appreciation of the mind and body connection. Even more so, it brings the necessity of that understanding. And, strange as the practice may look from the outside, I have found that yoga creates this essential awareness.
My younger self identified mind and body as different entities whose insults must be fought on different battlefields. A pill for a headache, a good cry for life’s hardships. As life progressed, stress seemed to build inside me, just as soot builds and blocks a drain. But where was the Drano for my soul?
I developed ailments and habits that appeared in no way related to one another: a sore jaw in the morning, an aching low back after work, the incessant need to pick at my hair, scabs, or pimples. All of these things seemed odd, but nothing to get all bent out of shape about. Little did I know at the time, I was already bent out of shape, both physically and mentally, and I was in desperate need of an adjustment.
I'd taken yoga classes on occasion. I loved the idea of yoga and knew it had some benefits. But I had no idea how great those benefits would be.
Since I began practicing more regularly here at work, I've discovered an awareness between my mind and body I didn't know was possible. I now recognize the power my thoughts have on my physical state, and I understand that what I do with and to my body affects my mental capacity.
This realization means my mind is not alone in its anxiety and my body is not alone in its pain. I can use one to help the other. And yoga is the medium through which I am able to breathe and search within to find that connection.
In yoga, there is no physical without the mental, and there is no mental without the physical. And therein lies its magic: one cannot exist without the other. Strengthening one strengthens the other, and neglecting one neglects the other.
Remember the woes you experienced at age 7? Time-outs, not getting dessert, missing out on a play date. Horrid as they seemed at the time, they didn't elicit the physical stress I feel today. Now my mind buzzes with thoughts of money, career, relationships, and more, and there is no bedtime story to make it all OK. Instead, I must look within to find strength.
In yoga, I need nothing but my own body. And I'm realizing that in life, this principle stands true. All my wisdom and strength is within me. Sometimes it merely takes a twist here and a bend there to make me appreciate my own wholeness.
In my yogic state, there is no hair pulling, no cracking knuckles, no rubbing my sore back. In other words, I can just be.
Jessica Abelson is the Web Editorial and Office Assistant at Yoga Journal, where she practices yoga three to four times a week.