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I have had a life long struggle with the cycles and rhythms of menstruation and all that it means to be a female in a body.  I was the oldest of five and the only girl.  I lived through Middle School.  I felt confused and dirty and ashamed.  There have been times when the pain and confusion surrounding my sexuality, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles was so deep and debilitating that I was brought to my knees in despair.  One particular Sunday I was home alone while my family was at church.  I had been through a week of intense pain and bleeding with a miscarriage.  What was the purpose, I wondered?  I had searched the scriptures to find insight and meaning, but in those vast pages written by men I felt there really was nothing there for me in my deep need and bewilderment.  I turned to the Lord in tearful pleading.  Why was he silent on what was so important to half of his children, his female children?  The brief things I could find about pregnancy and menstruation were in the Law of Moses about uncleanness.  But I knew that our bodies are temples and made in the image of God.  There had to be something meaningful in it all.  What was the purpose of the roller coaster of pain and loss?  What was the symbolism?  Where was the lesson in it?

I don’t know how long that prayer was.  My deep and fervent crying and pleading lasted long enough that I ran out of things to say, of thoughts to send to the heavens.

And then came the peace— an overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort accompanied by two distinct words.  Embrace.  Feel.  I was told in that moment that the experiences themselves were the lesson.  I needed to embrace and inhabit them fully.  They would open me and teach me.  “Let go of resistance,” was the message, “and embrace the experience.  Feel all there is to feel.  Your body IS a temple, the crowning jewel of creation.  Written in it by my own hand is meaning and symbolism.  Your rhythms and functions, your most inward parts are scripture you can study and find meaning in.  Embrace.  Feel.  I will teach you.”

I always knew my body was a temple, created by God and sacred, but until that moment I didn’t know it in my heart and my bowels.  It changed everything for me in how I feel about my body, how I listen to its messages, and how I enjoy the experience of inhabiting it.

In this journey to find a connection with my body yoga has been the greatest tool.  In the microcosm of an hour long practice on the laboratory of my yoga mat I am given the opportunity to fully inhabit every cell– to feel the rapid pulsation of heart, the expansion and release of breath, the discomfort of resistance, the intensity of effort, the fatigue of endurance, the incessant chatter of thought and judgement, and the quietness of honest awareness.

I am being taught that the parts effect the whole, that intense resistance and effort increase capacity, and that I am whole in my limitations– I am okay in my brokeness.

An essential part of becoming more embodied is not just witnessing but feeling our body, both externally and internally, with unmarried attention, not from intellectual or compartmentalized distance, or from a supposedly higher or ascended consciousness, but directly, letting awareness and sensation fully meet.  To really feel our body is an art in which compassion, patience, and the spirit of exploration all coexist.  Here we meet spirit in the flesh, spirit-as-flesh, and discover the profound mystery and functioning of the soul incarnate.  In this, our physicality is but an expression, a unique shaping of the source of the body, resonating with What Really Matters, giving us a means through which to relate to all that is.  As such, embodiment is the ultimate participatory act.  (from Spiritual Bypassing by Robert Masters)

Embrace.  Feel.  The learning is experiential.  There is memory in tissue, there is knowledge in the heart, there is life giving power in inhale and exhale.  Wholeness comes from integrating all the parts of us– embracing from the outside in and feeling from the inside out– with full participation.

I don’t have all the answers.  I still don’t understand it all.  But I know that my body has treasures of wisdom that I don’t need to fight or resist or hate.  God is teaching me one practice at a time.