A Better Way to Body Love.

nude woman black
via afunkydamsel at Flickr

Imagine what it would be like if we all grew up with a sound understanding of how to be mindful and loving towards and within our bodies—to schedule the right amount and type of movement every day, to make time fore restorative and relaxing self-care, to let go of body judgement, and to connect with others on this in a supportive, non-judgemental way.

For many of us, pain, illness, food intolerance, depression and fatigue are signals that our bodies are out of balance.

Perhaps this is our bodies screaming:

Have you forgotten about me?

When did we stop listening—I mean really paying attention—to what our bodies were telling us? Why do we think it’s okay to simply ignore such things, to not love, or even like, ourselves entirely?

How did we forget how precious these bodies of ours really are?

The problem, I think, is that most of us never learned to love ourselves this deeply at all—there’s just no room. Life gets in the way. We work 9-5, rush to work, come home bagged, cook dinner or eat out, maybe squeeze in a workout, some social time or a hobby, party or relax on the weekends. Add kids to that mix and our schedules are filled with—well, many things that don’t include real opportunities for us to just sit and listen.

If such activities were incorporated into our lives from the getgo, I’m guessing that we would be so much better off spiritually, energetically and psychologically.

Well, it’s never too late to re-write your story.

Rewrite Your Body is an innovative, affordable, self-paced digital workshop geared towards learning into tune into our body and reframe our relationship to it. Through a variety of exercises and via some fabulous guest teachers, participants have the opportunity to really dig into some core issues body issues facing far too many of us today.

I took the course because I battle with fatigue, depression and minor ailments on a regular basis. I’d been feeling isolated and unmotivated in a new city. I was (am) lonely, and it shows in the way that I’m treating myself: when I’m disconnected from my body, I’m disconnected with most other elements of my life.

For me, the course offered fun, real ways to step into a new type of relationship with our bodies. Clearly we need something more than the “cut calories and hit the gym” method to help us feel healthier and better about ourselves. At least, that doesn’t work for me, partly because I don’t love the gym, but mostly because there is a lot more going on with me and my body.

There is a lifetime of negativity inside to unlearn.

So just choosing to take this course—that intention—was me accepting the fact that I needed to do something new and different in my quest for a lifetime of core self-love, focus and empowerment.

Learning our body stories is complex, and each of our stories is unique. So, this is fun, but it’s also work. Don’t take the course unless you are ready to ask and answer some pretty tough questions about your body. This is not so much about how our bodies “look,” but how we can learn to work with ourselves from the inside out to find greater joy and acceptance in life.

I loved how the course made a point of questioning and examining assumptions that we have about our bodies and even the activities we choose. For instance, we had the privilege of working with Dianne Bondy who encourages us to examine our perception of a “yoga body.” Her beginner yoga session was a perfect opportunity for me to take a step back and be gentle, rather than forcing my body into uncomfortable distortions in a room crammed full of heavily sweating bodies and hating what I saw in the mirror.

Her gentle video session made me feel much more at ease with myself than those hot yoga classes have lately.

No matter how “advanced” we are, some days we just need to come back to a peaceful space and start simply, at the beginning.

“In order to understand the mind-body connection, we must first begin to view our body (and our lives) holistically.” ~ Zachary H. Avery

Zachary reminded us that this re-building of relationship will take time and patience, since we have to understand our bodies stories first before starting the process of re-writing.

The course showed me that this type of healing and care issn’t about the future; it’s about what we are doing, in action, right now, and how we can incorporate these things on a regular basis to re-build the broken connections between mind, spirit and body.

I was reminded of how important it is to learn to just be with myself, in this body in a way that feels right for me. This means touching in regularly to hold ourselves in a positive space, both literally and figuratively.

This is probably the best gift that we can give ourselves—even if it’s just five minutes a day.

Imagine how different life would be if we just created more space to tune in and understand the ways in which our body relationships frame every element of our lives—there is so much depth here that all too often goes ignored.

There is clearly a desperate need for us to get back in touch with ourselves, and Kate’s course is a perfect place to begin and continue. Thank you Kate and crew for offering such a sweet array of accessible and empowering tools to help us understand ourselves in a new light.

Here’s to us all finding new ways to love ourselves on this journey.

 

 

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Squeezing out Crap & Letting in the Good.

sidewalk in the sun july 2014

I feel it happening, little by little, as each slightly embarrassing bead of sweat that leaks out of my skin and hits the yoga mat.

I’ve been doing hot yoga for two weeks now and sometimes when one of those little suckers hits the mat I still instinctively think…ew. But I already don’t think it as often as when I first started. I am trying to think of each little teeny plopping sound that is made as a marker of progress…like I’m letting go of little bit of of myself that I don’t need anymore.

Little salty tear-like drops of myself, just coming out.

Our bodies are strange and unpretty things.

With every little push then it just falls away. But the pushing part is work. It’s good work, but not always comfy.

That that is part of the growth process, after all. That it is why we are all in that steamy stinky intense room together.

Those little sweat droplets are the pathway into the new life that I am building. Middle-aged. Single. Insular. Footloose. Unsure.

Free free free.

Maybe too free.

You could call this a kind of detoxing—but that implies that it’s possible to get it all out in one go. It doesn’t come out in one go. It’s much more complicated than that. It takes time to actually transform.

Even to “lose” one pound (change our body) takes time.

Squeezing my body (fat) into pretzel-ish formations. Looking at it in the mirror. Not being happy about what I see, but doing the thing anyway. Trying anyway. Knowing that after each class I can feel it getting there. Such small steps.

Drip…drip…drip. 

The scariest thing about changing your body is that to do it for good you have to step away from the habits that are so deeply engrained. Sometimes that means friendships, family, other things that make you happy.

With every little bit of trying, with every little push into dropping that sweat, it gets easier. What gets easier is not the yoga, but the understanding that the loving (ourselves, another) is in the doing, not the seeing.

It is not easy to know when that is not what you’ve really known for the past 36 or so years. I’ve figured a bit of that out, but mostly what I know, deep down, is not that. It’s not engrained in my psyche that doing something active daily (and leaving out a ton of other stuff) is what will keep me the most solid and genuinely joyful in the long run. We are taught that an 8 hour work day is the priority and then if we’re lucky/determined we get an hour on a treadmill every other day and that that’s enough.

Except this is absolutely not enough!

And that makes me mad. Nothing to do with my particular upbringing, but with how deeply we are generally conditioned to just do what we are “supposed” to do—which generally does not leave much room for deeply caring for ourselves or our space or our planet.

How are we living like this? 

So this is sort of a metaphor of all that most of us have to spend time unlearning in order to find the spaces where the real joy comes through. Exercise is just a facet of this, an example of the kind of thing that most of us just aren’t offered or taught or brought up with.

So with this as an example, what I didn’t quite know before is that the belief in self—in change—comes with the action of grounding down, of something that feels like pain but is actually just feeling.

There are so many bits and pieces to unlearn and let go of, each facet of life affecting the next. Each piece of crap that’s let go of affects the others. We have ourselves so deeply convinced that a specific thing is “good” that we don’t even know that it’s crap. Or maybe we know that it’s crap but we don’t understand how that one thing deeply affects the rest of our lives and the lives of others.

For instance: insisting on buying the cheap soap at Wal Mart because it’s on sale. It’s just one thing but over and over again it’s so much more.  Or not keeping an extra bag in your purse. It’s just one thing but it’s a habit that in the grand scheme of things is about so much more.

It’s freaking hard to unlearn the crap.

But it’s the only way we can let in the good.

For  me, a part of this was was releasing my hold on most of my possessions about seven months ago with the long term intention of not having much stuff. But with an influx of money and time that came with moving to a new city, that meant more money and time to buy stuff.

And holy crap is it amazing when I invest in something quality that I know I’ll use regularly for years to come.

But there is still lots of crap to be sorted through and dropped off.

So this is a lifelong thing, this getting lighter. But I’m doing it. It’s not a smooth road. I fell off the path a couple of times but I’m back (still) on it.

I know that the people that do and have and will love(d) me for real don’t care about the new creases on my face or the growing patches of cellulite on my body. Maybe I can change those too sometime. Maybe not.

That’s not really important in the long run but it’s a part of a bigger picture that is scary: aging.

Change is scary. I’ve read and felt that a thousand times in small ways. But actually figuring out what the crap is that you have to drop and admitting that it’s crap is the scary part.

With every real thing dropped I’m lighter and freer to actually live right, to do this life thing in the best way I possibly can.

That’s where I’m at.

Onwards.

Why I’ll never look great in a bikini (and I don’t care)

Ladies, look at this bikini: is it not the cutest, sexiest thing on the planet?  Would you feel confident slipping it on, showing off your flat abs and prancing around on a beach?

I’m going to guess that most of you expressed a resounding “no way” and experienced an inner ‘shudder’ at the thought of your (belly) flab bounding around instead (if you answered yes to this, you are one of the lucky few.  And if you are naturally thin and see the drawbacks to that, still consider yourself one of the lucky few for the purposes of this article).

I went bathing suit shopping recently because I was looking for something I could swim in, because I swim for exercise (and fun) once a week.  When I mentioned this experience to other women, I was happy to find out that most of them – even people that I thought would look/feel great in swimwear – hated bathing suit shopping just as much as me!  Even people who appear to be confident, well-balanced, healthy, and in good shape – they hate it too!  It is so comforting to know I’m not alone.

Why do we hate it SO much, though?  Well, besides the ugly fluorescent change room lights  that highlight everything we don’t really want to see (ugh!! why do they do that to us?) we hate it because the beauty industry sets impossible standards.

But wait, we already know that!  By now we’ve probably read countless articles blaming the media for our body image issues, etc.  We are relatively educated about that and are probably maturing beyond many such insecurities.  We get that not every body is the same, we are learning to appreciate our ‘curves’, we are accepting of each other, etc.  We are intelligent, open minded, mature, healthy people.  Carefree but slightly less skinny TV characters (like Hannah in Girls) are popping up a little more frequently in the media and inspiring better body acceptance.  We understand the values of exercise and healthy eating, and many of us do just that.  We know why and how to keep our weight to a reasonable level, and we learn to stop judging our Oprah wings/cellulite/belly/etc.  as bad things.  So why is something like bathing suit shopping still such a bane?

I think we still have a misconception that we can all ‘get’ to looking (something) like this

if we work our asses of.  But I’ll bet that for most of us, this is an unattainable goal.  And focusing on any unattainable goal will ruin the FUN!

So, do us all a favor: the next time you are trying on a swimsuit, will you please try to think really hard about how much FUN you will have while you are in it, instead of how you look? Of course you want to find something flattering and comfortable for your needs and your body type!  Being comfortable is a given.  But, most of us will never look anything like this picture.  And that really has to be OK.  It just does.

Even if you have some kind of extreme diet/exercise regimen and get close to looking this way, how long will it really last?  What are you willing to sacrifice?  It depends what you value.

I have to say that I completely support all those out there who have made a lifelong commitment to genuinely healthy, fit lifestyles, and this shows.  Ko Kaleo is certainly an inspiration and I hope to have a journey similar to hers.  But it took her years to really get off the weight and get toned.

I am not saying you can’t transform your body or shouldn’t try.  I’m just encouraging us to be realistic about our expectations and priorities: we must align your goals to your lifestyle and your natural body type, including your naturally fatter or muscular areas.  Some types of fat will take a long time to go.  Some of us will end up with loose skin.  Sometimes we can build muscle and fix this kind of thing, but it’s just not going to be the same for everyone.

I have been exercising more and watching what I eat more, trying for a while now.  I’ve not  really lost alot of fat but I DO feel a little stronger and more energetic.  I recognize now that I have to keep building muscle for the rest of my life or that I will gain weight/age more rapidly and probably develop way more health problems.  I will probably always be a bit stocky, and have sort of muscular arms.  I am aligning my fitness goals with my body type and they DO relate to the way I look but are not about an unattainable image.  I’m expecting it to take years to really change my body composition.

Given this, here are my workout goals:

1. To lose some fat around my waist, because it is a risk factor in diabetes, etc.  This will probably also make me look more proportioned and womanly (bonus) but I’ll probably always have some belly fat.

2. To have a strong core and better posture.

3. To have more energy, especially as I age.

4. To challenge myself and learn new things.

5. To have fun, be social, and be outdoors.

I will probably never look ‘great’ in a bikini, but maybe I’ll just stay healthy and avoid many health problems as I get into my 40’s, 50’s, 60’s.  Maybe I will be good and feel loved (love myself) anyhow.  Maybe I’ll even prance around on a beach in one someday anyhow, despite the bits and pieces of flab that will probably be bouncing around.  Maybe I’ll surprise myself and my body will really transform unexpectedly as I get used to exercising more and push myself harder.  I don’t know.

I do know that every time I put my bathing suit on and have fun and get exercise, I care a little less about how I look, and a little more about how I feel, and I know that’s a huge step in the right direction.