entering the body

The idea of a mind-body connection was never something I could attain. For my entire life, I’ve been active—a dancer from a young age, a swimmer, hiker, aspiring yogi, and wannabe runner. I’ve been wiggling since birth. But movement, for me, was never a mental or spiritual process. It evoked no obvious emotional benefit aside from tiring my body out for a more restful sleep. Movement was a duty, not a mental release.

When I began practicing yoga as a college student, I saw it purely as an opportunity to sweat. It was merely a physical process—an hour inside a cramped studio above a tattoo shop on St. Marks Place. During savasana, my mind raced; I made mental notes of things I should’ve been doing instead of playing dead on a floor, for what felt like an eternity.

My relationship with my body has always been complicated, which may have accounted for my unwillingness to just be in the moment, feeling. Pushing my body far into exhaustion by moving only left me craving more. It never felt like enough. The endorphins were masked by photos of waif-like actresses basking in their bikini glow. In those years, I never once did paused to express gratitude to my body for what it allowed me to do. Instead, I asked “Why aren’t you doing more for me?”

And then, years later, I learned my body would eventually fail me. At 27, during a time in my life when I finally found comfort in the body I’d been given, I tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. What this meant was I had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer in my lifetime, along with links to all sorts of other goodies like pancreatic cancer, autoimmune diseases, infertility, the list goes on. What this really meant was I needed to say goodbye to parts of my body that I dismissed and abused over the years. Was this my body’s karmic retribution for nearly three decades of being deaf to its needs?

Suddenly, I was equal parts terrified of and in tune with my body. I considered every morsel of food that entered my mouth and carefully listened to how it reacted. So strong was my concern for my body that I stopped moving altogether, for fear I’d damage it further. 

I stopped moving for nearly a year. Instead of building strength before my impending surgery to remove my still healthy breasts, I just sat. I waited for something else to go wrong. After my surgery and prescribed waiting period, I was given the OK to start moving. But I froze. I was completely unwilling to move. Each time I reached for a glass or opened a jar, I felt my chest muscles contract across my newly-bare chest. After 27 years of ignoring the possibility of a mind-body connection, now I was too connected. With every raise of my arm or step across the street, my mood shifted. I paused, I listened.

Finally, after a year of sitting quietly, listening to my body for signs or trouble, I dusted off my yoga mat and walked into class. The class was not nearly as crowded as those in the beginning of my yoga days. I did not have to worry about slipping and tumbling into a person inches away from me. There was space to stretch and move and feel. As I shifted through my downward dog into chaturanga, I felt the support of my chest muscles with every centimeter of movement. In those few moments, I finally found the quiet attention to the moment and the movement that I blocked out for years. In learning my body’s failings and the challenges they brought, I finally gave into the space I created to express gratitude to my body—for its strength and its survival.

 

By Suzanne Zuppello

 

Suzanne is a writer, adventurer and truth seeker. Currently living in New York, she can often be found in various places of the world, covering stories on everything from women's rights to food. Her creative motivation comes from wanting to better understand humanity and the collective experience.

CommuneKenna Conway