Healing our “Connective Tissue”
Yogi gurus have long known the healing power of turning into oneself and deeply stretching one’s muscles and ligaments while at the same time stretching one’s mental capacity for focus and tuning out the static and noise of the world outside. The practice, which is thousands of years old, has far reaching physical, mental, and spiritual benefits for the individual in addition to fostering a sense of community and fellowship for the group.
In a recent Yin Yoga class, where the emphasis is on holding nonmuscular poses to delve deeply into connective tissue and heal joints, tendons, and ligaments, the instructor said in a slow smooth voice “There is a reason why there are only 10 of you here this morning…PAUSE…We live in a society that does not value turning into ourselves, focusing on our values, or taking the actions necessary to facilitate our intentions.” How true. We live within a culture that instead turns out, or rather, tunes out in the generation of ipads and smartphones, to get relief from daily burdens.
Perhaps this observation resonated so deeply with me because as a marriage and family therapist I often see the breakdown of the connective tissues in individuals, couples and families. No one is shocked to hear we have the highest rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and obesity of nearly every other geographic location in the world. Turning out and away from our burdens naturally leads us to seek relief from the outside. The source of this temporary relief may come in the form of misuse of food, alcohol, and prescriptions, to spending hours on Facebook or Farmville, gambling, retail shopping binges, or turning outward to others in infidelity and divorce. Activities that each continue to damage our “connective tissue” to our selves; the bonds we have to our unique values and intentions and prohibit us from taking the actions to reach our goals. Likewise, these activities also damage the “connective tissue” of our relationships linking us to those in we hold closest to us.
Just as the practice of yoga can be strenuous and challenging to the body the practice of turning in to our selves will likely be painful and difficult at times. Likewise, as yoga helps the body to melt away soreness and tension, shifting our focus and tuning in to our true values and needs, will help to ease the emptiness and anxiety that often causes us to look externally for solutions in the first place.
Whether it’s within the practice of yoga or within the context of the individual or the family, the act of turning inward involves behavioral, emotional, and cognitive adjustments. A first, and rudimentary behavioral change is simply turning everything electronic off. Consider silencing the radio and cell phone on your way to work and asking your child to turn off his iPod or DSi. The silence will help you to hear your own worries, questions, intentions or goals, if you are alone and to hear those of your child or partner if you are together. Emotionally, make a shift to be patient, positive and open. Both with yourself and with others. Leave denial, defensiveness, judgment, excuses, criticism, resentments, and competition at the door. Cognitively, remind yourself of what you admire about yourself or your child or partner. What are your/his/her strengths? As you gain strength you may consider asking yourself “What can I learn from this? “ or “What is my part in this problem?
As we begin to heal the connective tissue in our bodies and our relationships we can hope for a society that is more sensitive and attune to individual needs and the needs of the larger community. If we are each looking inward for solutions we can aspire to be part of a society with lower rates of substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, violence, and crime.