body awareness when recovering

“Wing” by Skia

Some mornings when I get up, I walk to the front door to let the dogs out while flapping my wings.  I waft them up and down as if they’re moving me through thermals high in the air, then when I get to the hall I pull them in and flap a bit more fervently as if my bird-self is flying through a narrow pass. By the time I open the door for the dogs I’m just a regular frowsy-haired morning person staring out at the dawn. My wings are arms again.

I act pretty normal most of the time, although I do have moments. I sing made-up songs, balance silly things on my head, quietly misbehave to keep myself amused in restaurants, laugh at the inopportune times, and am chronically too curious for my own good. I’m not sure this qualifies me as officially eccentric but it has been known to tax the patience of people who love me.

My family hasn’t bothered to ask me why, in the privacy of our home, my arms occasionally turn into wings. I haven’t wondered why either until I thought about it this morning while in that Realm of Insight, the shower.

Two thoughts occurred to me. One is a faint memory of an adult telling me to put my arms down and behave myself.  I recall this as happening in a cinder block room that smelled faintly musty, so probably Sunday school. I may have been happily twirling in my Sunday dress with my arms up like a ballerina or been a fairy sprinkling magic dust or been, as now, a bird. I’m guessing I was probably four or five years old since the adult in this memory is visible only as legs and hips. That memory is colored by vast shame. (I must have been a ridiculously sensitive child.) A thousand similar reminders to be a good girl left me with my arms down, flying nowhere. I can assure you, that’s no fun. I’m still in recovery from excessive politeness. I’m progressing well, thank you.

The other thought is how darn good it feels to move this way. My arms and hands move, of course. They reach upper kitchen shelves, lift eggs from nest boxes, greedily stack up library books, hug dear people —- but much of the day my arms and hands are in pretty static positions typing or reading or driving. Basic body boredom. Biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA, says our bodies crave natural movement. Instead of regimented exercise, she advocates moving throughout the day in lively ways that feel nourishing to us. She calls this nutritious movement. Try flapping your arms like wings. Does it feels wonderful to you too?

Our bodies are internal guidance systems with immeasurable storehouses of wisdom to share with us, as long as we actually take the time to pay attention. I understood my baby’s world better when I let his movements choreograph my own. Mirroring my children’s actions took me back to what it was like to be a child.  I even got some surprising insight into my own poor posture when I gave myself a few minutes to go fully into a slumped position, ready to find out what that slump had to tell me.

Maybe bodies are on my mind because I’ve had a bit of a health setback and spent a few days in the hospital recently. I still feel like someone hit me with a shovel, although thankfully now it doesn’t feel like as big a hit with as large a shovel as it did before.

We may think we’ve already learned the lessons difficult times have to teach, but there’s always more to learn. Here are some lessons I’ve revisited lately:

  • The bright light of gratitude has a way of shining fear away (even in the terrifying confines of a closed MRI) and it’s possible to be grateful for the dark stuff too.
  • It always helps to pay attention to where in our bodies we feel good —  right now for me it feels marvelous to breathe deeply, to stretch, to laugh, to sleep.
  • What feels healing is different for different people. For me it’s time in nature, hugs, time to create, stories other people share, good books, new ideas, playfulness, and more hugs. (Pretty much the same joys I’d list any time.)
  • When our arms want to be wings, let them be wings.
  • LAURA GRACE WELDON