Yoga as Embodiment

Yoga has become a mainstream addiction in the North American culture. Many seek it out for its life enhancing, body image enhancing, or just plain feel good appeal. Some have the impression that yoga is easy, others experience it as hard, and others see it as an opportunity to challenge oneself mentally and physically. Even the billion dollar weight loss industry has become obsessed with the promise of Yoga to trim inches and tone, especially if you practice diligently, and all the better in a hot room, 105°F/40.6°C with a humidity of 40% to be exact, each and everyday. 

When I was asked to speak to a fitness instructor and weight loss expert’s audience about Yoga, I was clear that I wasn’t going to pander to that market’s obsessive beliefs about quick weight loss as the path to lasting happiness and fulfillment, simply because I know it isn’t. Instead, I do believe that what we feel and think about ourselves gets expressed in the form that our body takes; shape, size, health, agility, etc.

My approach, more specifically, is that Yoga is a path to sensually inhabiting our body vs objectively using our body. That may result in weight loss, toning and feeling better in our body, however, what makes the practice of Yoga unique and distinctive from other exercise regimens, is precisely that Yoga is about being in our body, instead of behaving inspite of it. What does that mean exactly?

Well, when we use our body/behave in spite of it, the body becomes a tool or instrument that caters to the mind’s agenda. We are functioning within a hierarchical construct where the body is subservient to the mind’s dominance, leading to separation and suffering. On the other hand, when we inhabit our body, we are acknowledging and tapping to into the wisdom of the body on par with that of the mind. This approach to Yoga, an ancient science of body/mind/spirit union and sophistication, validates the value and power of each the body. mind and spirit dimensions of our being for greater harmony inside and out .

So how can you Inhabit your body instead of using your body. Have a gander at the 3 tips below to help you distinguish between inhabiting and using and make an informed choice.

1. Spend more time caring about how your body feels (inhabiting) instead of how it looks (using). Use your inner sensing instead of how you look in the mirror both during your practice and throughout the day to identify how you are on the inside, versus how you look on the outside.

2. Re-pattern your feeling/thinking/sensing processing of life experience. Instead of going from your feelings to your thoughts (using), go from your feelings to your body sensations (inhabiting).

Here’s an example:

Using your body
Feeling: I feel stressed
Thought: Because I’ve got too much work to do
The above pattern keeps you trapped because the thought perpetuates the unpleasant feeling.

Instead try this
Inhabiting your body
Feeling: I feel stressed
Sensation: I sense the stress in my gut
Hang out in the stressed sensation in your gut and watch that sensation dissolve when you inhabit it.

Yoga encourages the experience and dissolving of the unpleasant sensation instead of the chronic avoidance of it that the mind seeks which only perpetuates the suffering.

This new habit of feelings to sensations will not only help dissolve unpleasant feelings and sensations, it will actually also help amplify pleasant feelings and sensations. When you become more self resourced for positive feeling sensations, activities like Yoga, that have feel good appeal, start to show up in your life more naturally.

3. Develop daily rituals of honoring and celebrating your body to support your Yoga practice. A great way to do this is by choosing pleasing yoga tools like the Plank Yoga mat and bags, and choosing sensually pleasant fabrics and lotions on your body.
Here’s a great practice: Instead of just rubbing in body moisturizer (using your body), spend time massaging your body, discovering more of what your body loves (inhabiting your body).

Discovering more ways that help you authentically inhabit your body will encourage more Yoga in your life on and off the mat. Identifying when you’re more in the using/behaving inspite of your body, and choosing instead to inhabit your body, will bring you home to your body as a temple instead of a tool.

Leela Francis is an embodiment expert and the founder of Vividly Woman; A global community of women and women’s circles. She helps women embody, live and dance their power, rocking the world with their passion for life.

The Once Reluctant Yogini

To look at me you would never suspect that I live with a spinal cord injury. I contracted paralytic polio when I was 5 years old in one of the last polio epidemics in the United States. Polio was  known as “the AIDS of its day”. I was shunned by classmates and grew to despise and disconnect from my body. Over four years ago now, at the age of 53,  I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a ‘progressive neurological disease’ and I went back into a leg brace, used a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility. I quit my full time job and went on a mission to heal my life. Through outpatient rehab and harnessing the best of Eastern and Western Medicine and my own inner resources with a deep faith in hope and possibility, I went on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon no longer needing a leg brace or a wheelchair. But something was missing ….

After a recurrence of symptoms and another course of outpatient rehab in October 2009, I was back on the roads running again in June 2010. On Facebook, my friend and neighbor Nicole Burrill aka The Sassy Yogini ( saw I was posting about my solo strength training work outs and my runs. She asked me if I did yoga. I gave an answer as terse as could be ‘No’. I looked at Nicole and thought, there is no way I’m ‘good’ enough to be in a yoga class with someone who looks like Nicole. If there were a picture next to the definition of yogini in the dictionary, it would be of Nicole. Nicole was unrelenting in her quest to get me to the mat and finally I said that my New Year’s Resolution for 2011 would be to try a yoga class.

Nicole talked with one of her yoga teachers, Pat Donaher ( to ask him what would be a good class to bring me to given the diagnosis of post polio syndrome. He said, “If she can run a marathon, she can do anything.”  I went to Pat’s class with Nicole and as she had predicted, I was hooked. I began to connect with my inner child before age 5 when I was a beautiful, flexible ballerina. I felt a sense of playfulness and a freedom in my body as I assumed various poses. I had a workout which I could never have experienced never mind how boring and tedious it is to do squats and lunges and single leg lifts at home. I loved the glow and cleansing that followed after having sweat for 90 minutes (and it wasn’t even a Bikram class) and I loved the energy of the yoga community who warmly embraced me.

I realized that, given my ‘special needs’ it would be prudent for me to supplement my practice with individual lessons. After that first class with Pat, I knew we would work well together. Initially, my goal was to to learn how I could move so that I could ‘fit in’ with the other yoginis. That goal was quickly relinquished and replaced with deepening my mind/body connection and learning how to (as one of my yoga teachers said) “love myself whole.” Through my yoga practice, I am moving away from a polio and post polio survivor who works to overcome my disability, to a woman who embraces my uniqueness, is learning how to love and accept my body wherever it is in the present moment, retraining neuromuscular pathways to give me greater freedom in movement and breath and having a lot of fun along the way. As a girl in a full leg brace and then as a teenager who had to wear special polio shoes, fashion never met function. I love the Plank yoga accessories for the fun and funky style they offer me while the high grade of Plank’s luxe mats provides me with extra support and comfort during my practice. As someone who has a difficult time knowing where my body is in space, I was forever hitting someone with my yoga mat while trying to juggle my bag and mat.  With Plank’s Canvas Series, my bag and mat are compact and affords me the added advantage of taking the stress off of my neck and shoulders. The inner transformation I am experiencing on the mat is reflected in the sense of style that Plank offers me.

The benefits of yoga for the general population are well documented. Thanks to the pioneering work of Matthew Sanford, a paraplegic who is a revolutionary yoga teacher, ( and he is spearheading a movement to incorporate yoga into rehabilitation for those with spinal cord injury and other physical challenges and diseases.  On his website, he cites the benefits of yoga for those with physical challenges as:

– Increased strength, balance and flexibility — both mental and physical

– Rhythm, an inward sense of direction and the ability to move through life in a more integrated way

– The capacity to live more fully within the body

– An enhanced ability to manage stress

– A deepened sense of connection with others

– Hope and a renewed sense of freedom

So if you don’t believe that yoga is for you because you are physically challenged, or even just don’t ‘look’ like a yogini, leave that belief at the door with your shoes. Discover the healing world that awaits you on the mat that will carry you to a life of greater joy, freedom, health and wholeness off of the mat.





Our Plank guest author this week, Mary McManus can be found writing and inspiring on her own thoughtful blog  New World Greetings and we Plankers are truly pleased to be sharing Mary’s story with you!

Additional resources: Spinal Cord Injury and Yoga:

Yoga: Discovering the Mind/Body Connection

Matthew Sanford Transforming Trauma and Loss to Hope and Possibility