Take Refuge in Your Body

March 15, 2018

Originally Published on Lion’s Roar
March 15, 2018
Written by Cyndi Lee

My beagle, Little Bit, can sense a storm gathering. The reason I know this is because Little Bit uses the language of her body to communicate her fear. From just the slightest shift in air pressure, her chunky little body starts quivering. Then, at the first clap of thunder, she springs off her stubby legs and torpedoes herself through the air, taking aim for the familiar protection of my arms. I am her port in a storm.

All beings feel a need for refuge or sanctuary at various moments in our life. Some of us look for protection in material belongings, career prestige, or financial investments, or we might look for escape in alcohol, food, or even over-exercising. An authentic spiritual path offers a different kind of safe haven. Instead of the temporary relief of an aspirin or a place to hide from yourself, spiritual refuge offers a path toward feeling one’s own basic goodness.

Instead of unrealistic goals that almost make failure a given, this is just about feeling good more often.

But first, like Little Bit, we have to start by feeling our mental and emotional discomfort: fear, frustration, anger, hatred, jealousy, pride, or any kind of negative emotion. When we’re doing this, our own body is a perfect vehicle in which to take refuge.

When we humans feel an emotional storm brewing, the adrenaline rush of powerful feelings often renders us unable to control our body, speech, or mind. Holding our breath and quivering, we might find ourselves meeting heat with anger, anger with angry words.  Or we keep our afflictive emotions inside where they fester. Grief in our chest, anger in our jaw, fear in our knees, all eventually reveal themselves via pain in our joints or reduced movement capacity.

Instead of trying to deny these feelings, taking refuge in the body means that we begin to make friends with our body. We listen to our body and treat it the way we would treat someone we care about. Instead of pushing it too hard or being afraid to move it at all, we can walk the middle path of intuiting what is appropriate for our body, which means what is appropriate for us.

Get More Friendly

We have so many goals for our bodies: lose weight, get sculpted, be more healthy, more attractive, keep that youthful glow! Like a dysfunctional romantic relationship where we expect our partner to meet our every need, we don’t relate to our body as our friend, but as the agent for achieving all of our hopes and fears.

To begin thinking of our body as the place where we feel good helps to shift our goal from wanting to jump higher and run faster to feeling better and living a more engaged, vibrant life. Do this in small bites I call “exercise snacks.” Get up and move around for 10 minutes here and there. Circumambulate the house or office, do three sun salutations, walk your dog, turn on music and play.

Instead of unrealistic goals that almost make failure a given, this is just about feeling good more often. This is how you can slowly redefine your relationship with your body, from something outside of yourself that needs to be different, to a refuge that is always there to provide you an experience of integration and well-being.

Get Curious

We can take a lesson from the physical practice of yoga. The Sanskrit word for “pose” is asana, which translates as “to sit with what comes up.” Whether you are sitting, walking, or jumping rope, notice what is coming up: joy, resistance, old memories, insights. Include it all. When your mind strays, re-anchor it via the feelings of your body, your emotions, or your breathing.

We can learn to trust the refuge of our own body.

These sensations occur only in the present, so the body works as a perfect home base for the wandering mind. Notice not just what your body is feeling, but how you feel about what you are feeling. You will discover that while your body has been changing all the time, your ideas about your body, and what it can or cannot do, have become frozen. That’s an interesting insight too.

Maintaining continuous awareness in this way is called “mindfulness of body”—an effective practice for learning to be bigger than we think we are, for expanding our comfort zone, and for lightening up a little bit through the recognition of impermanence.

Practice: Grounding Touch

Grounding touch is a simple micro-practice for taking refuge in your body when you feel stressed and need a time out. It’s a method for connecting to your emotional state through your body, using the warmth of your hands and the calmness of your breath to ground and stabilize your nervous system. You can do this anywhere—sitting on a park bench, walking from the elevator to your desk, in the stairwell at work, and even in the bathroom.

Stand or sit upright with your feet firmly planted. Place one hand on your chest and one at the base of your spine. Inhale through your nose for four counts, exhale through your nose for four counts, and repeat. Feel the movement of your breath beneath your hands. Let your mind ride on the breath, like a raft on the ocean. You can also place hands on heart, belly, forehead, or thighs.

Taking refuge in your body is self-care with a spiritual twist that recognizes we cannot become enlightened without our body. We must love our body and take care of it just as we care for our friends. Then when something frightening or destabilizing happens, we can take refuge in our body as a friend, as opposed to taking refuge in eating, drinking, shopping, or any other avoidance technique. We can learn to trust the refuge of our own body as a place of intimacy, and this allows us to be alive right now, available for whatever is needed in the moment.

From The Yogis

  • Terri Bender Morrison, Owner, Mindful Motion Yoga, OM 500 TT 2015

    "Cyndi, I feel that my teaching has shifted a bit - sequencing is more interesting and effective. As I was driving home tonight, I thought about the statements of "leaving crumbs" and "connecting the dots". While you meant that for us as direction to be better teachers, I recognize you were doing that for us as well. I believe I am just now processing some of the things you taught this summer. The subtle parts of classes escaped me, but I am getting them now. Thank you for the crumbs, for leaving plenty of space between the dots....I think I see the moon."

  • Zan Margolis, OM 200 TT , 2012

    "The more yoga I experience, the more I realize how special it is that in your teacher trainings you actually teach your yogis how to *teach*"

  • Susan Golden, Studio Owner, Maine

    "Cyndi’s sense of humor and genius teachings have made this OM 500 TT very, very stimulating every minute of the day. I’ve learned so much. I can’t wait to let it all come together and bring this to my teachings and to my life."

  • Natalie Levin, OM Yoga Graduate, OM Warrior Weekend Teacher Training Program 2003

    "I am a graduate of the OM 2003 Warrior Weekend Teacher Training Program.  I had the honor to teach at OM yoga in New York City for several years.  I have since moved to another city and was instantly offered teaching jobs based solely on the fact that I had been a teacher at Cyndi Lee’s OM yoga.  Studio owners in my current city thought so highly of Cyndi Lee’s OM yoga Teacher Training that they hired me immediately and I found and continue to find that my OM yoga Teacher Training opens door after door for me.  OM yoga (practicing there, teaching OM yoga, and learning from Cyndi Lee) helped me professionally in my own yoga-teaching career.  Even more meaningfully for me, I feel that the path of mindfulness and attention to alignment that pours through the pores of OM yoga has influenced me and helped me to soften enough to become more “myself” since I first walked into the OM yoga studio."

  • Jeri Wilson, Studio Owner, Maine

    “I’m Jeri and I’m a studio owner in Maine and I just finished my 500 hr TT with Cyndi Lee. It was an excellent experience, partly because I had been trained primarily in Anusara and I was challenged to think very differently. I found it was very helpful to come back to teach with Cyndi’s influence. She is very, very funny and she will work you and challenge you and you will feel like you have actually gained something really deep from the training.”

  • Jeanie Gasque, Yoga Teacher, South Carolina, OM 500 TT 2015

    "Cyndi's skillful guidance lead me to a greater clarity of alignment based vinyasa.  The yoga combined with the charm of Lynchburg made the Sun Session an unforgettable experience."

  • Gina Callendar, Yoga Teacher, Yonkers, NY, OM 500 TT 2015

    "Cyndi truly follows the middle path and instills that in her teachings.  She combines disciple and humor to create an engaging, thought provoking and enlightening experience.  I had the pleasure of taking her 500 hour OM Yoga Teacher Training.  I have deepened my practice, work to continue challenge myself and never want to stop learning.  I am pretty comfortable teaching, but withCyndi’s guidance I am more confident in my hands-on adjustments and clarity of instruction with my students.  Thank you Cyndi for reinforcing my foundation, challenging me as a student and becoming my teacher.  I hope to continue to learn from you for many years to come.  Namaste."

  • Erica Settino, Founder, , Karuna for Animals

    "I have been teaching yoga for 12 years and over those 12 years I have often felt burned out and at a loss for inspiration. Now that I have taken Cyndi Lee’s OM 500 Teacher Training, I feel completely different, completely inspired, and so, so blessed. If you are even considering it, you must do it."

  • Donna Levenstien, Yoga Teacher, Lake George, NY

    "I am a student of the OM 200 and OM 500 TT. I keep learning from Cyndi Lee who is just a master teacher, every class I take, every hour I’m here she says something wonderful that I can bring into my life, onto my mat, into my classes with my students. As a teacher and a student, I feel enriched every time I’m with her and in her class."

  • Ann Megyas, Actor, Yoga Teacher, , Hospice Worker

    "I’m so glad I decided to take Cyndi Lee’s 500 hr TT. It advanced my personal practice in ways that I could not imagine. There is no pose I am afraid of anymore. It’s advanced my teaching practice, it’s advanced my dharma study. It’s just been a thrilling experience the whole time."