“’Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip,” Jonathan would say, other times, “is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, too.’” — Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story)
When I was 17, I found a stretch mark on my thigh — the result of a rapid growth spurt. I agonized for days over that stretch mark, and even cried when showing it to my mom in my great distress. She laughed a little at my angst, but to me, it was one of the first signs that my body had a mind of its own. From thence forward, it would be a battle to fight off, cover up, and fret about the various evil tricks my body would play on me without my permission.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from eating fast food, slathering on baby oil to get a tan, and avoiding any activity that made me break a sweat. I wasn’t very educated back then about a healthy lifestyle, but even if I had been, I imagine I would have still had the same convoluted relationship with my body.
From the time we become aware of our appearance (somewhere during that pre-teen awkwardness), we have a love-hate relationship with our bodies. As we learn about societal standards of attractiveness, we begin to focus on how we fall short of that standard.Think of all of the pain and unhappiness your body image has caused you over the years. It’s perplexing to hear beautiful models or actors talk about their gawky teen years and how they had a poor self-image about appearance.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether we are attractive or average, if there’s a flaw, we are going to search it out like a heat seeking missile, and then stare at it, pick it apart, and obsess about it until that’s all we see.
It’s those same beautiful models, athletes, and actors who reinforce our negative body image when we see them in magazines, tv, or movies. Perfection is everywhere in the media, but in life we are all existing in imperfect bodies that are flawed, flabby, and forever aging. That is a reality, and though we may fight against it, our bodies do have minds of their own.
When you arrive at middle age, your body really wants to grab your attention with its little tricks and antics. It’s working at an accelerated pace to make sure you don’t get too full of yourself. One’s natural tendency is to fight back with a vengeance, perhaps with a super high intensity workout routine, a cabbage soup diet, and little plastic surgery here and there.
But there is another way to relate to your body, one that I’m trying to adopt.
~I have decided to adopt a more spiritual approach to my relationship with my body.
~I wish to bless it daily for all of the amazing ways it supports me.
~I have come to view it as a sacred garment that is housing my unique self and to treat it with loving kindness.
When we begin to see our bodies as a wondrous gift, even with all of its flaws, we can live and work in harmony with it rather than resisting and hating it. If this resonates with you, I’d like to offer some thoughts on how to create a new relationship with your body.
Give up resistance
In all things, when we resist and struggle, we are expending mental and emotional energy that is depleting. This struggle never serves to make things better, even though we believe we can out-think our difficulties and issues. Accept and acknowledge the reality of what is — being overweight, wrinkly, too short, too tall, whatever. This is who you are right now. Allow your mind and heart to rest peacefully in that for now.
Shift your perceptions.
Begin to view your body as a beloved friend with whom you have a sacred relationship. This friend has been with you since the beginning and will be with you until the end. This friend has carried you thousands of miles, has kept you nourished, has functioned reliably most of the time. This friend knows what to do intuitively when it comes to sustaining, healing, and reproducing. It has given you indescribable pleasures and yes, some pain too. But in truth, we haven’t always been kind to our body-friend either. We have caused it pain and betrayed it in a variety of ways. It’s time to be a good and loving friend.
Be kind to your body, the way you would be to a beloved friend. Our bodies may be flawed, but we shouldn’t reprimand or belittle them. In fact, begin to acknowledge the aesthetic of your body. Look at the beauty and wisdom in your eyes. See how fluidly your limbs move, support, and carry you. Look at your hands and how they speak of the loving touch, the meals prepared, the work done. Then regard the amazing mechanics of your body. Your heart is pumping blood. Your lungs are taking in oxygen. Your digestive system is sorting the wheat from the chafe to nourish your body and rid it of waste. All of the organs and systems are working in beautiful harmony to sustain you. There is so much more beauty than ugliness if you look and see.
Take tender care.
As you begin to acknowledge all your body has done for you and is doing right now, your resistance will soften. You will see what a miracle your body is. You will see how hard it is working to house your soul, your psyche, and your mind. You will see how much it respects you and wants to serve you. It is now easier to show respect to your body and to offer it tender care. It may not be perfect or perfectly appealing to the mass media, but even with its flaws, it is working superbly. Treat it well and lovingly so that it can continue to serve you.
Feed your body with whole, nutritious foods. Hydrate it with pure, clean water. Listen to what your body needs for nutrition. Educate yourself about healthy eating if you aren’t sure. Regard everything you put in your mouth, and ask yourself, “Is this showing love to my friend-body?”
Move your body to keep it flexible, to stimulate your internal organs, to maintain a weight that doesn’t stress your system, and to relieve stress and toxins. Create a habit of regular exercise that is simple, fun, and moderately challenging.
Give up habits that are harmful to your body, like smoking, over-eating or drinking, harmful drugs, or tanning.
Protect your body by not putting it in danger. Wear seat belts, helmets, sunscreen. Put down your cell phone when driving.
Care for your body by getting regular check-ups and seeking timely medical attention when you suspect you need it.
Give peace to your body by dealing with stress through meditation, creativity, relaxation, and movement.
Love your flaws.
We have grown to hate our body flaws because they reflect our fears. Our fears of aging and death. Of rejection. Of failure. Of ugliness. Begin to make a conscious effort to love your flaws, as strange as this might sound. Love your humanness. Love the years of living and wild experience that your flaws reveal. Love the peace that being imperfect offers. Love your connection to a world of flawed people. Love the lack of control you have over some of your flaws. Love that you can caress and reshape some of your flaws to show love to your body. Being flawed is essential to our humanity. Love that.
Embrace the sacredness.
We all have different spiritual views about how and why our bodies are sacred. But even in the most secular context, begin to view your body as the sacred garment of your inner self. When you embrace it in this light, it is difficult to reject it and shame it. In fact, you will begin to respect your body and love it for all of its glorious beauty and function. Become conscious of your actions and behaviors and how they affect your sacred body. Seen in this new light, your body will transform from the inside out. You will not have to struggle against it. You will work with it and find that it responds to your love in a myriad of positive ways.
If you want to learn some specific habits that will help you in your journey to love your body, please keep an eye out for The Habit Course, coming in late May, hosted by myself, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, and Katie Tallo of Momentum Gathering.
Visit The Habit Course to sign up for the wait list.
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