When I was small, around three or four, I sat in front of the square television in my parent's living room watching the 1961 musical version of West Side Story. My uncle Berny gifted us the VHS version and I remember how excited I was to push the tape into the player and watch the screen come to life. The dancing! The singing! The costumes! It is safe to say that my first true love was the character Tony played by Richard Beymer.
While sitting there, I would turn my hips inward and push my feet out behind me. For some reason this felt comfortable to me and I would sit like that every day for years. My childhood doctor once mentioned to my mom that if I sat that way for too long I may get stuck that way. Boy was his right.
The twisting of my hips was only the beginning. I spent the next twenty years wearing the most odly shaped shoes. High heels that lifted only the back of my body contorting me to work against gravity with every step. Pointed shaped shoes that squished my toes and override their natural function and mobility. As one can imagine, this led to shoulder pains and back pains, and at least two inches off of my true height due to the bend I had created by leaning forward on the heels. Yet there I was walking blocks and blocks in New York City in shoes meant to deform my body.
It wasn't until I met a world champion Archer who's whole life was about centering himself and his body that I realized that sitting that way and wearing those shoes for all those years had literally made me crooked. I remember how difficult it was to accept his observations about my body. I respected his experience and decades turning his body into a performance machine, but hearing that I was "crooked" made me feel emotions I didn't care to feel. It also felt daunting to go from where I was, just realizing how twisted I had become, to where he was, soaking his feet in ice buckets and running eighteen miles in an afternoon.
How was it that his body could hold a bow and draw weights of fifty pounds with a single hand but I couldn't sit in childs pose without crying? Since, I too am in pursuit of centering myself and my body, I slowly and intentionally attempted to learn his approach and begin to restore my body to her original and intended design and function. I started with morning yoga in his loft apartment in Portland where while following the yoga teacher's instructions I would breathe through the sharpest pains in my hips that I had ever felt in my life. At this time, I never imagined being able to do yoga or sit Indian style without immense pain. Yet like any good student would, I continued the attempt to center my body.
This led to letting him teach me how to walk. It may sound odd to say that at twenty seven I needed to learn how to walk, but I did. My parents had done what all great parents do, took me from crawling to full upright moblity but no one had ever talked to me about form. How do you walk in alignment with your natural hip disposition? In what way do you use your feet to create stability? What is the connection between your feet, knee, and hip movement that allows you to work the muscles as they are naturally intended? These are the things he taught me as we walked and jogged miles and miles in Forest Park and strolled the wet and rainy streets of Oregon.
At the same time that I was discovering that my body was crooked I was also navigating seasons of depression. I had grown up with a psychologist as a mother so cognitive therapy was my main tool for working with my mind. Little did I know that if I wanted to overcome my depression I would not only have to do the cognitive work to befriend my brain and learn what foods my body needed to sustain homeostasis, but I would also have to straighten my body and confront the grief I felt about how twisted my body had become.
It's been ten years since I embarked on my journey to centering myself and my body. Sunday, for the first time in my life, I sat Indian style at the kitchen table during dinner without a single pain in my hips. Upon this realization I began to weep and was flooded with memories of that little me sitting awkwardly with her feet out behind her on the living room floor. She was so content and joyful to be sitting there watching her favorite film, but she had no idea that she was creating decades worth of chronic hip and knee pain. I closed my eyes and imagined myself there with her helping her to move from that position into a simple Indian style like I see my neice so naturally sit. I am so grateful to have such awareness of the importance of how we move when we are small.
Over the last ten years, I have followed the instructions of the Archer; ridding my closet of shoes that contort my body, embarking on a mostly barefoot lifestyle when possible, and using one of his inventions to create body movement that embraces my natural mobility and function.
In that time, I have also confronted and overcome many of the mental blocks that were holding me hostage in depression and have come to love and attune to my body in a way I never thought possible. It isn't lost on me that society turned me into a teenage girl who thought she was fat and ugly no matter how small her waist or how often I followed their deeply dysfunctional cardio and starvation instructions to maintain my "beauty". And, so, I too have had to spend hours in the mirror rehabilitating my self image, overhauling my relationship to food, and engaging in body movement that doesn't harm me. I still have to practice all of this to this day. I am also at the least, an inch and a half taller than I was in 2013.
Taking the first step on any healing journey is daunting. When you can see what is possible but you also can count the hundreds or millions of steps it will take to become whole it is difficult to know where to start. I am so grateful to the Archer for teaching me so patiently, for being committed to his quest so I could benefit from his research and discipline, and for showing me that like all things in life, with a daily practice and comittment you can truly create change.
If you are interested to find out more about centering your body you can find his platform and tools here: www.venndesign.co
About the Creator
I am a coach who helps women break free of societal conditioning that holds them hostage in doubt and anxiety so they can live in full expression and creativity. Writing is one of my modalities and I believe stories help us heal and expand.