Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Turning the Negative Into Positive: Ways Through Weight Loss

Another book I've enjoyed reading lately crossed my path because of my work counseling bariatric (weight loss) surgery clients at the Khalili Center in Beverly Hills. As I've gotten to know the field a bit better, I'm in awe at the profound changes that weight loss surgery creates and the inner transformation sometimes required to allow it to be as successful as it can.

Michelle Ritchie knows the experience firsthand and wrote a self-help book titled It Ain't Over Til The Thin Lady Sings: How to Make Your Weight Loss Surgery a Lasting Success. I highly recommend it for anyone considering the surgery or going through it, but have also found it to be a beautiful journey through struggles with body image and emotional eating, useful for anyone with those issues.

I've come to understand weight loss surgery in a whole new way over the months of training. It's not a cosmetic, quick fix and it's primarily covered by insurance only when weight has begun to create serious health issues like diabetes, sleep apnea, heart issues and joint pain. In that sense, weight loss surgery is an important help to people who have struggled with weight their whole lives. Some studies already show that having gastric bypass surgery can actually reverse diabetes!

That being said, the journey through is not an easy one. Afterward, patients are restricted to smaller meals throughout the day and are at risk for side effects like nausea and vomiting if they overeat or eat foods that aren't recommended. Often through the course of having the surgery, patients find that they have to, once and for all, give up food as a comfort and face deep feelings that may never have been examined before.

In her book, Michelle includes a beautiful section on 'Learning to Honor My Body' and shows how old negative thoughts can be transformed into new, positive affirmations as a way of moving forward into a better relationship with your body. Here are some great examples to consider, whether you're a candidate for weight loss surgery or simply struggling with finding a healthy body image or freedom from food. 

Old thought: My body is just a prop to carry my head around. It isn't really me.
New affirmation: My body is an important part of who I am, every day of my life. My body and I can work together in a loving relationship.

Old thought: I have to battle against my body (or against my food cravings) to lose weight. Sometimes I feel like my body is my enemy.
New affirmation: My body is speaking to me all the time, trying its best to work with me, not against me. I will listen to its voice.

Old thought: If I really let myself go, I'd lose control completely, eat everything in sight, and become a big fat balloon.
New affirmation: If I really let myself go, I'd release all the feelings that get pushed down by food, and then I'd be free to move on.

Old thought: I don't like my body, and neither does anyone else, so I'll just ignore it, stuff it, or punish it with starving/bingeing.
New affirmation: I can't hate my body and love myself at the same time. I choose to love my body as it is now.

I hope these can inspire you too. There are so many reasons to choose a loving relationship with our bodies as a more effective vehicle for inhabiting our lives. Try writing some of the new affirmations out for yourself and see what comes up for you. Is it possible to step into a new way of seeing the relationship you have with your body?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Year to Live: Inhabiting the Body In Order to Leave It?

I'm continuing to catch up on the writers that inspire me in their thoughts on the body. Last month I shared with you Clarissa Pinkola Estes' poetic and mythical description of the wild body and the importance of seeing our bodies as messengers, sensors and guides. 

This month, I'm struck by Stephen Levine's thoughtful and heartfelt take on the body and dying--or, rather, choosing to live more fully in our bodies because we know we are all dying. If you don't know him, he's a prolific writer and teacher who has aided many people through the process of dying. Over the course of several books, he's shared his insights on the process.

In his most recent book, A Year to Live (from which this excerpt is taken), he reflects on the importance of beginning to use the knowledge of our death to live more fully. Here are some of his thoughts on the body, from the chapter 'Living in the Body' followed by a meditation he includes in the chapter (my bolding). It's a long passage, but worth it!

"Before we can leave the body effortlessly we have it inhabit it fully. A remarkable means of heightening life as well as preparing for death is to enter the body wholeheartedly, sensation by sensation...Awareness resuscitates those parts of the body that have become numbed by fear and encourages their participation in the whole. It also balances the tension in areas bursting with imprisoned energy. It brings the disparate aspects of the body, loved and unloved, into harmony. 

Exploring the field of sensation we call the body allows us to see that we are more than this body, that we are the awareness which inhabits and explores it. Close attention to sensation is a means of being present for, and through, the letting go of the body. It is an encouragement of life to enter the body moment by moment, sensation by sensation, that ultimately can enable it to find its way back out just as consciously.


Quieting enough to feel that subtle sensation just between the scalp and the skullcap, let awareness settle at the top of the head. Feel the hardness of the bone and the softness of the scalp. Note their different qualities. Braille your way into the center of the sensations that arise there. Feel the warp and woof of their texture.

Slowly sweep from sensation to sensation in the brow, around the eyes, in the cheeks, behind the ears, within the lips and tongue and mouth. Moving perhaps tooth by tooth to discern any subtle changes from one to another. Just observing. Just allowing awareness to progress through the body like a lamplighter through a familiar village at dusk, illuminating the way for our evening stroll.

Allow your awareness to move slowly through the throat, noting its dank warmth and long-denied dry spots. Acknowledge that it is fear even more than the well-rippled esophagus that keeps it rigid. Observe each sensation as the muscles of the neck spread out to form the shoulders,. Feel the weight of the arms hanging there. Gradually sweep down each arm through the biceps, elbow, forearm, wrist, and into each individual finger. Feel life scintillating in the fingertips.

And down through the torso, feeling within each organ, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys, bladder--the sensations arising there.

And down the spine, feeling the subtle variations from vertebra to vertebra.

Nothing to create--just a receptive awareness that focus on whatever presents itself for subtler exploration.

And down into the lower abdomen, investigating areas of tension as well as openness with an equal-hearted satisfaction at being inside the process from which we have felt subtly excluded for so long. Inside the life inside our body. And gradually through the hips and genitalia, noting any tension or exclusion of the anal sphincter. (In this process we can exclude nothing if we are to become whole.)

And down into each leg individually, through the thigh and knee and calf and ankle in to the remarkable splay of metacarpals that work the foot and allow us to shift back and forth in bewilderment at this process of reentering the body. And into each toe and the sole of each foot.

Then, to take this technique to another level, practice dying out of that body on the way back up from the toes to the top of the head. It is the top of the head, by the way, that is considered the most skillful point of departure at the time of death.

Watch sensation after sensation dissolve into an awareness that sweeps upward into an increasing sense of spaciousness.

Let each sensation disappear as though that part of the body was dissolving as well.

Rise toward the crown of the head, gathering awareness as you go.

Let the life force follow the open conduit just established, finding its way home, sensation by sensation up the spine, through the heart and throat, and into the top of the head."

Thank-you, Stephen, for the journey! It's a lot to take in, this idea of inhabiting and then exiting the body; also interesting to think, as we explore with awareness, who is doing the exploring. What are we that is beyond this body, watching and moving through its sensations?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Clarissa Pinkola Estes: The Wild Flesh of the Body

Ever read something that lights you up and makes you think, 'Wow--exactly!'? Someone puts something in a certain way that inspires you or makes you feel they understand. In the next few blogs, I want to share some of the words and writers that have done that for me, especially in how they help us think about and relate to our bodies. 

Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a great Jungian analyst and lover of story, whose book Women Who Run With the Wolves was a ground-breaking exploration of the mythical stories surrounding women and power. Though I'd read some of it when it first came out in the 90's, her chapter on 'Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh' was so poetic and so apt a description of the body I just had to share it (my bolding):

"In the instinctive psyche, the body is considered a sensor, an informational network, a messenger with myriad communication systems--cardiovascular, respiratory, skeletal, autonomic, as well as emotive and intuitve. In the imaginal world, the body is a powerful vehicle, a spirit who lives with us, a prayer of life in its own right...

Like the Rosetta stone, for those who know how to read it, the body is a living record of life given, life taken, life hoped for, life healed. It is valued for its articulate ability to register immediate reaction, to feel profoundly, to sense ahead.

The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its color and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of nonconviction. It speaks through its constant tiny dance, sometimes swaying, sometimes a-jitter, sometimes trembling. It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirit, the pit at the center, and rising hope.

The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodges in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream.

To confine the beauty and value of the body to anything less than this magnificence is to force the body to live without its rightful spirit, its rightful form, its right to exultation. To be thought ugly or unacceptable because one's beauty is outside the current fashion is deeply wounding to the natural joy that belongs to the wild nature.

Women have good reason to refute psychological and physical standards that are injurious to spirit and which sever relationship with the wild soul. It is clear that the instinctive nature of women values body and spirit far more for their ability to be vital, responsive and enduring than by any measure of appearance..."

I hope this quote resonates for you as much as it did for me--I welcome your thoughts and perspectives. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Falling Out of Love...With Your Body

Does anyone else remember being madly in love for the first time? (Well, or the second, or the third?) It feels so wonderful in the beginning-a rush of connection, interest and that feeling of specialness. You complete each other's sentences, find out that you love the same obscure song from the 70's and remember the same lines from the movies. You share stories of your lives, music, philosophy. The world opens up bright and open.

In the bubble of newness we believe in an endless future, we believe that our beloved is perfect for us and we are perfect for them. There doesn't really need to be a language for it all--so much is wordless and graceful. And then...something does change. It might be subtle at first, but something eventually rips us from the oblivion. The annoying song he sings over and over when he's brushing his teeth. Or the way she's always complaining about that one friend you don't think is so bad. The bubble begins to burst.

In relationship terms, this is when the real relationship begins. And it's all about how you actually navigate the emerging chaos. For the first time, you have to learn words to express your needs because your lover isn't reading your mind. And you have to start being able to look at what's an overreaction and what really needs to be talked about. Your perfect lover starts to become a mirror for growth, and a bit of self-consciousness.

I was thinking about this metaphor this week in talking with a client who went through a major trauma with her body, being diagnosed with a serious illness. She was moving from the 'honeymoon' period of taking her body for granted and sensing they were 'one' into a whole new world of tentativeness, questioning, and the need to develop a way of listening to and understanding her body like she'd never needed to before.

"What went wrong?" she was asking, in the way so many of us do about those early moments of love turned slightly less radiant. And yet without this turn of events, she might have ignored a real relationship with her body for years to come. Now, for the first time, she's thinking about what it has to teach her, what she might need to do differently to serve it, and how they may have needed to be communicating for some time. There's so much more to know and to connect with than she ever suspected.

That moment of things changing can happen in a moment through a trauma, illness or injury. But it can also happen gradually when you feel a loss of control every time your body puts on weight or doesn't respond the way you want it to when you're sick or tired. The question is what you do with that feeling of initial surprise, disconnection and change. As with any relationship, we have a choice to be scared and resentful or to be curious. "What do you need from me right now?" is a good question to ask the body and see if there's a response. Or give yourself a chance to work through difficult feelings of judgment and discomfort by asking what you might need to learn in order to be with this change in a more loving way.

Falling out of love is an opportunity, and certainly not the end. We can't always go back to the way things were, but would we really want to? Instead we get a chance to know ourselves and our partners in a deeper, richer way as they really are. It's not something to be afraid of as much as to explore.

I was so heart-broken when my first love ended and it took years to get over it; but what I learned from that relationship made me more available and open to every relationship after. What does falling out of love with your body have to teach you? And how can you compassionately move from here to the real stuff: a lifetime of relating to and listening to the uniqueness of your body and all you will move through together in the years ahead?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Looking for the Good--A Remarkable Interview

So, it's not the circumstances in our lives, but our attitude towards them that makes all the difference. We know this, on so many levels, but don't always put it into practice. Certainly with our bodies--as I wrote about in the last blog-- and in our whole lives, being at war with ourselves just creates more of the same.

There is a stunning example of this concept on one of Tony Robbins' sites--an interview with a 108 year old Holocaust survivor who somehow chose joy, through it all. A cancer survivor and musician as well, she says "I look for the good," and she finds it. She also speaks about something more than food having the power to feed and to heal us.

I invite you to check out this interview this week and consider the power of joy, and of looking for the good. Your life will reward you for it.


All my best,

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Your Body And the Law of Attraction

I want to share this perspective from the Law of Attraction today, which is why it becomes so important to start with creating the best possible relationship with your body now, not waiting for it to become something else before you choose to love it:

"If this body does not feel the way you want it to feel or look the way you want it to look, it is very natural that a large number of your thoughts (a very imbalanced proportion of your thoughts) would be slanted toward the lack side of the equation rather than toward the truly desired side of the equation. From your place of lack, you will attract only more of that, and that is the reason most diets do not work...your attention is given to the stuff you do not want, and so you hold it to you. The way to get to where you want to be is to give your full attention to what you do want, not to give your attention to what you do not want."

--from Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Wealth, Health and Happiness by Esther and Jerry Hicks

What can you do today to focus on what you do want, rather than on lack? Can you give your body love and a vision of what you want rather than shutting down or criticizing? How would that change your life, how you relate to your body, and--ultimately--the outcome?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tumblr's Love Yourself Challenge!

I love this image on tumblr--and there are many others that will inspire you, make you smile, and remind you that we're all in this together. Caring for and loving ourselves gives a beautiful gift to the world around us.

This week, go to their site and post a comment or one of your own images. Spread the word!