Cathleen O’Connell

I was delighted at the invitation to share my own movement memoir with this  burgeoning on-line community inspired by “A Walking Life.”  

Looking for inspiration, I reread a piece I had written a while ago, and found this:

“Walking was my great salvation.  One of my favorite places to walk was Mount Auburn cemetery. The landscape, the beauty and the trees took me out of the swirling thoughts in my head.  Nature always does that for me. I didn’t choose it consciously, but when I think about it now, when I was walking in the cemetery, I was literally treading in the place between life and death. Surrounded by headstones on one side and lush greenery on the other, I had a foot in both worlds, and on those long walks, I ultimately chose to be among the living, not the dead. ” 

Too on the nose? This was part of a longer essay on my recovery from an eating disorder. And yes, walking – aka MOVEMENT- was my medicine.  At times, exercise certainly showed up as a foe in my story – an addiction that didn’t feed me but fed the beast instead. But doing the hard work to heal myself, in part through movement itself, brought the world of joyful movement back to me. 

Movement has always been my medicine. I joyously soared in the air as a long jumper and hurdler on high school and college track teams. But now, at the young age of 40+14 (aka 54), long jump pits aren’t quite as easy to come by. So a regular yoga practice is how I celebrate movement these days – paradoxically finding stillness in the flow.  

And talk about movement bringing you into conversation with yourself!  For me, that conversation is about acceptance. It goes something like this: 

Brain: Try this pose!

Body: falls over 

Brain: Remember, falling doesn’t make you a bad person. Try it again!

Body: holds the pose – could be here all day

Brain: Wow, that’s amazing. You are strong! Let’s mess with this and do something to challenge your balance!

Body: falls over

Brain: Awesome. Falling STILL doesn’t make you a bad person and you are STILL strong. I can’t wait to try that again and see what happens!

Fast forward from my walk in the cemetery – today I’m a yoga teacher who specializes in teaching accessible, joyful, fun classes to people who live in bigger bodies (as well as all other bodies too!)  It’s where I feel absolutely at home. I myself do not live in a bigger body – but I live in a body that I love and that I know is strong – and I want to share that feeling with everyone, in part because I lost that connection and appreciate it even more now that it’s back. Yoga is for everyone – but some communities have been left out of the recent explosion of postural yoga. The marketing of yoga mostly depicts a certain body type and skin color, fewer yoga studios are opened in communities of color, there’s a whole bunch of circus-pose instructors who teach handstands no matter who is in the class. Yoga is for everyone – I do my best to express that with my actions as an instructor.  And while I admit, I love a good circus pose – as one of my teachers says “In this world we need savasana (aka the final resting pose in yoga where you find a comfortable position and just freaking relax) more than we need another handstand.” Amen. 

Movement was and is my medicine.  Thanks to those cemetery walks, I’m among the living, doing “fruit salad pose”, “apple picking pose” and other stuff we make up because it makes us laugh together, and fall together, and then we all get back up again a little stronger.  

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