Empty to fill. Repeat.

The first question our anatomy teacher at the training this weekend asked us was to think about our favorite part of our body.

I sat there miffed. I really couldn’t think of a part of my body I liked. So many parts of my body cause me pain. Many parts I am told are beautiful, but I seem to see them through a wildly different lens than the rest of the world.

I questioned different parts of my body, and a voice inside of me responded.

Do I like my eyes?

Your eyes have caused me pain and still would if I didn’t wear glasses.

What about my hair?

Seriously, your hair is crazy. Do I need to remind you of the football effect…

Oh yeah. How quickly I forget.

What about my fingers? I looked down to see the raw cuticle edges where I had picked or chewed at them. I saw the still swollen and angry scar on my left pinky where it had been attacked by a plate over a month ago during a routine round of dish washing. I didn’t need a voice to answer that question for me.

People started answering the question. They would share the part of their body they liked, and the teach would ask them what they liked about it.

Shit, I thought. What the hell I am going to say?

I was still wondering when the woman beside me answered.

Marieke? Am I saying it right?


Then she said a line about putting the emphasis on the first syllable, one which I have used often in name pronunciation situations.

Crap, I thought. Am I just a walking cliché? I didn’t even have humor to like about my body!

Well, I still had my pirate line.

It’s pronounced, Marrrrrrr-ieke, I responded. Like a pirate. Arrrrrrrr.

She laughed, and I could feel the tension in my body relax. My world made sense again.

Is the voice a part of the body?

It most certainly is.

Then I like my voice.

What do you like about your voice?

Well, it isn’t that I like the way it sounds. I often think it sounds weird when I hear it. I think it is because of what it represents; it is something I have learned to use to express myself and sing with power and confidence, not by myself but thanks to many people who have helped me.

The class carried on. There were questions and answers, slides, explanations using skeleton models, and demonstrations with all of us standing on our mats in different asanas. The time passed more quickly than I had anticipated, and I found myself drawn into a world that I imagined had only belonged to my dad, who was a doctor.

My greatest fascination from ten hours of anatomy was with my diaphragm. A propos, I suppose, considering how important my voice has become for me.

Seriously, though, the diaphragm is amazing. It is the largest muscle in the body surface-wise, and it wraps around the entire lower inner periphery of the rib cage. I love my diaphragm!

When I breathe in, it contracts because I am asking it to work. When it contracts, I have the feeling that it is moving upward because my stomach expands and my chest rises. However, it is actually pushing all of the organs down toward the bladder, which sits below it all, nestled just above the pelvis.

When I exhale, it relaxes and becomes small once again.

It repeats this exercise over and over, without fail, whether I am awake or asleep.

It is a subtle source of great power and one that should not be taken lightly, literally or figuratively.

In yoga, I have heard teachers invite me time and again to ground to rise, push my feet into my mat to bring my arms up to the sky.

I am asked to create a solid foundation to hold me up as I into poses that defy gravity to varying extents.

I have been asked to empty my cup in order to fill it and to think of breathing in as a way of filling my torso with air.

In practicing my assigned yama for the month, Aparigraha (non-attachment), I have been working to empty the clutter in my life (material and metaphorical). I have been peeling back the layers of all that does not serve me and setting them aside, as far aside as I am able. With all of this clearing away of clutter, I am left with space and lightness.

It is in this realm that I am finding myself free to be with my deepest self.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still very much in flux with the culture of consumption. I might give away a bag of belongings and then feel the desire to buy something new. But I am working on shifting this pattern, if even in baby steps.

I have joked in the past that it would be scary for other people to experience what happens in my mind. That I get tired of being around myself and my thoughts all the time.

With less clutter, I find myself more enjoyable to be around. I feel less burdened by being surrounded by stuff. The monkey in my mind is more relaxed and focused. I breath more easily.

I still get worked up periodically, but I find that I have more spaciousness to be witness to what is happening and make choices about what I do and say and how I respond to situations where I previously might have gotten upset as a natural reflex.

I can be more present with my self and the people with whom I cross paths over the course of each day. It is almost like I am intentionally choosing to move in slower motion.

And I like it. To some, it may seem like I am doing very little with my life, like I have taken a voluntary vow to step aside from the pulsing world.

That is not so far from the truth.

I am not doing very much, at least not compared to the 40+ hour work weeks I used to experience and all of the activities I tried to squeeze in on top of that.

At the same time, it is miles away.

I am working very hard, each day, to create new behavior patterns and healthier alignment and fluidity in my body—on and off the mat.

I am working to let go of the wondering what other people think of my choices. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I learn how to create sustainable happiness in my own life so that I may be to guide others along their own paths without losing myself in the process.

Think about your own day, week, and month. Is there tension from life that you are holding onto very tightly? Are you already worrying about the days, weeks, and months to come? Can you feel it in your body? Where in your body are you holding this tension?

Do you feel the weight of all the material things piling up around you?

I invite you to just with it all. Really feel it. You might even talk to it. Ask it how it is serving you. Why does it stick around with such unyielding loyalty?

The answers you find may be ones that have been lingering just below the surface, itching to get out. Or you may feel like there are no answers but to carry on the tension treadmill.

Either way, you will learn something about yourself. And is that not worthwhile in and of itself?

To me, it is the path to the self and also the path to learning to create happiness in life.

But I will leave it to you to decide for your own self.

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