Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The "Magic" of the Holidays

(image taken from http://www.layoutsparks.com/1/187496/winter-wonderland-christmas-tree.html)

When I was in college I went through a phase with my body where I had what you'd call a bit of 'magical' thinking. It wasn't that I was totally off my rocker, but I wanted to be able to eat whatever I wanted (a.k.a junk food) and not have there be any consequences. I was curious how much of my weight I could control with my thoughts, and not the physical consequences of the food. If I loved myself enough and sent loving thoughts to what I ate, would that transform it?

I've often heard my clients say how unfair it is that some people seem to be able to eat whatever they want, while instead they toil and experience weight gain, discomfort. I felt the same way. I wanted my body to magically be able to take in whatever I was giving it and just 'be' the weight I wanted it to.

The holidays too are a time that bring up the childlike longing for magic, for things to just turn out the way we want them to. Wasn't it nice as children to make list of the gifts we wanted and see them appear under the tree or on one night of Hanukkah? As we get older we realize that we are the creators of the magic, the buyers and wrappers of the gifts that somehow 'appeared.' We bake the fruitcake and make the holiday dinners. We begin to realize that that the magic is also created by us. It's much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz pulling aside the curtain to realize that the being she had put on such a pedestal was just a human being not so different from her.

It's a sobering realization, but also an important one when it comes to how we view our bodies. We need to find the right balance between the 'magic' that our love and consciousness can create and the very concrete ways that we can love and care for ourselves, take responsibility for our health, in the physical world. Love does heal all; but that doesn't give us the excuse to behave irresponsibly. We need to find the ways that love can come through our actions, and encourage us to create the body and the world we most dream of.

A client recently observed that when she was younger there was a feeling of seeing what she could 'get' from her body--just as we greedily make our lists for Santa and rummage under the tree. As she gets older, she realizes it's also about what she can give to her body, humbly and with gratitude, for all it does for her. It's a different way of living in our lives, to become the adults who can give as well as take, who can responsibly create the magic as well as revel in it.

This year, as the holiday comes to a close, see if you can find the balance, embrace the way of living that lets you be both a child and a kind and loving parent to yourself and your body. Watch for the part of you that wants your body to just 'take it'--whatever junk you have to throw at it--and still show up healthy and alive. And also watch for the part of you that's willing to do the work with your body of creating what feels better and makes you healthier. How do you embrace the magic and consciously and responsibly create it, all at the same time?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our Bodies And the Path of Least Resistance

(Image taken from: randomfartings.blogspot.com)

Our bodies are constantly doing so many things we take for granted: breathing, detoxing, digesting, pumping blood through us.
It's awe-inspiring to stop for a moment and even consider what's happening inside us all the time. There are so many things we can criticize ourselves (and our bodies) for that sometimes it's important to stop and think about all the things that are happening automatically, without our having to make anything happen at all.

This holiday season, when the to-do lists mount and you are scrambling to parties or wrapping gifts, hosting family, baking or cooking, it might be interesting to ask yourself what the things are that you do without even thinking about them? Do you listen simply because you find other people fascinating? Have you always loved telling jokes? Do you have a knack for bringing people together?

It's so easy to push ourselves and our bodies hard to reach the goals we set, only to forget that there are certain basic things we are and do without even trying. What did your partner love about you when he or she first met you? What shines through even in the worst of times when things seem beyond your control?

One of the gifts of this holiday time, linked as it is to the winter solstice, is to see the light in the darkness, to recognize that the hardest part of winter is coming to an end and the light of a new season is coming. It's a time for inspiration, reflection, and for letting in new insights and ideas. We come out of darkness and into a different way of seeing.

Take a moment, through this metaphor of the body, to think about all that you bring to your life involuntarily--as easily as breath or pulse. If it's been awhile since you got in touch with those parts of yourself, give them some room for expression. Let them remind you that you have innate value, whether you are pushing yourself or not.

Do you like to move, laugh, reach out to others?

Our bodies teach us a lesson by doing certain things without our having to manipulate or force them. We need to remember that there are ways we have of being that are easy for us also, paths of least resistance. As we find and allow them, our lives can flow more effortlessly. That's good for all of us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Resolution to Choose Love

(Image from: korinakaycarlson.blogspot.com)

Our culture gives us so many ideas of how we're supposed to be: look a certain way, act a certain way, make a certain amount of money. Of course our bodies bear the brunt of that as well, and we can drive ourselves crazy constantly analyzing whether or not they are fitting the mold the way they 'should' be. I've worked with many clients who are genuinely in pain around that question, always feeling like they don't measure up.

I reached a crossroads in my own life not long ago of feeling like I'd had it with the constantly critical voices in my head, badgering me and telling me what I needed to be like or look like. I realized I was never going to get to loving my body except by choosing to be loving right now. There was no amount of change that was ever going to free me from the negative feelings except deciding to no longer let them in, to be accountable and compassionate to my body and love it right now.

In a sense, that moment was about choosing love for its own sake--not because it makes sense, or because the world (or your body) has proven something to you, given you your dream, but because love itself is a better state of being to be in than hate, loathing and fear. And love, compassion, self-care, kindness beget more of the same. Choosing love meant my life got to change right now. And it was up to me, not anything outside of me. Learning to love my body meant that I could make choices that were healthy out of love and not out of judgment or fear.

I realize now, years later, that this work about the body has really been work about life, too. We are about to enter a season--that sparkling holiday time--when many people choose to be giving, loving, and compassionate just because. I walked into an office I do corporate work with recently and saw a pile of toys practically up to the ceiling for their holiday toy drive. My husband spent last Friday evening with a local charity packing up boxes and boxes of food to be given out over the holidays.

The question that always seems to linger after the holidays is 'why don't we do this all the time?' What would it take to be that kind, that generous, that compassionate even when it's not 'the most wonderful time of the year'? Do we need a reason?

Marci Shimoff wrote a great book called Happy For No Reason and followed it up with another book called Love For No Reason, in which she argues for the benefits of choosing love. Love feels better. Love increases our energy and vitality rather than decreasing it. Love gives to the world rather than deciding it's not enough.

I ask you this holiday season to consider how you might choose love in your body relationship not based on weight or fitness goals but just because it feels better to be in love. Then see if you can make that your New Year's resolution, and not just a number on a scale. What would it be like if you chose to live this year in love and compassion for all your body does? How would your body feel if you finally--without needing a reason or season--chose love? And isn't that what we've all been waiting for, to know that we're loved just as we are right now?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Secret Truths Your Body Holds

Do you know when you've stepped into something that doesn't feel right? Maybe someone is taking advantage of you and you get a weird feeling in your gut. You feel like you 'should' want to spend time with them, but when you try to make plans something more visceral stops you, as if your body knows something your mind doesn't.

The truth is, I think it does.

Our bodies carry memories, truths and feelings we've long since wished we could forget about, and they call us to resolve them, to move more fully into our lives.

A client I'm working with now, for example, would love to believe he's 'done' with an old love, a relationship that ended five years ago. But he keeps noticing that something is holding him back from forming new relationships. He's always comparing current potential partners to that relationship from way back when.

When I ask him if his body is carrying any reminders of that love, he's able to isolate a whole area in his heart and moving back to his shoulder where he actually feels heartache. When we move more fully into the sensation, it's clear that even if my client would love to believe he's done enough work to let the old relationship go, his body knows otherwise. There's something more there to be understood.

So we begin the unpacking: if your body could speak to you from this sensation, what would it want you to know? What is it feeling? As we begin to explore, we realize that what's coming up for him through the disappointment of this relationship is old: a familiar feeling from childhood of being let down again and again by his mother. His body has been holding this feeling in order to give him the opportunity to work through primitive patterns around being let down, learning to love himself even when others can't or won't give him what he wants or needs. Though it seems attached to one more recent story, his body is holding a whole pathway of healing for him, down to his deepest core.

Another client, an older woman in her 60's, tells me her parents survived some intense torture in Communist Russia but that no one has ever talked about it. She wonders why she's having regular panic attacks as she nears the age that her parents were before they escaped. Together we see where in the body the sensations are living that create the panic: what is her breathing like when she's sitting still? What does her anxiety feel like in her body before it gets big and overwhelming? Behind the panic attacks, in the pushing through of sensation in her body, is my client's scared self, the child who had lots of questions that never got answered. She begins to voice those fears and we find ways to help her feel safe inside, even in an unsafe, unpredictable world.

Your body's messages may surprise you. It may look as though you've put something behind you, but your body may still be carrying pieces of it, pieces that make themselves known when you are still, or when something else triggers that place inside of you. Sometimes we even carry unfinished stories from our families that need to be completed somehow, through us. It's as if the body knows what your soul work is and reflects it back to you in sensations, tightnesses or symptoms until you find it. Even illness can have its messages to convey.

Today, scan your body for any places that feel uncomfortable or tight and ask yourself if there's a story living there that you've put away. Even if it doesn't make sense to your mind, try going into the sensations and see what they're doing there, what they want you to know. First explore the physical sensations: what am I feeling? Where? What is the quality of the sensation? Then see if there's a feeling attached to it: sadness, anger, shock. Finally, ask yourself: if that feeling could speak a message to you, what would it say?

We learn very early on how to move with our bodies in the world. As babies they are our first contact with our own sensations, the vehicle through which we discover life. As we get older, we begin to privilege our mind and all the stories it tells us. But still on a basic level, the body is the final and most basic frontier of how we take in and process our lives.

What story does your body tell you that you might need to revisit? Can you make time to explore what's unspoken, the truth that your body won't let you forget?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Body Barometer to Emotional Health

When you feel overwhelmed or sad, where do you feel it in your body? Where do you feel it in your body when you feel excited, happy, confident?
What happens to your breathing in each of these states, or the way it feels around your heart, your head, your thoughts?

The amazing thing about our emotions is that they always have a physical component. Our bodies tell us how we feel. And our bodies often get their cues from the thoughts that are running through our minds at any given moment. If your body is feeling dejected and foggy, your thoughts probably are too.

Why is this important? Because once we start to notice this mind/body link, we can do something about it. If stress is making your heart race or if negative thoughts are making you slump over your desk, you can begin to ask--through the body's cues--if you'd like to be playing a different soundtrack in your head, one that would change the way it feels, literally, to be in your life.

It's an empowering moment when we realize that our body is actually taking in everything we think and believe and mirroring it back to us. But the opposite can also be true: if we can find a peaceful and open place in our bodies, we can often move ourselves to a different mental space, simply by shifting how the body is experiencing this moment. If you're feeling tight, tangled or foggy, take a deep breath and see if that changes your mental space. Give your body permission to unfurl, imagine itself on a beach in the sun, or take a few minutes to stretch and notice how the blood flow and movement affects you.

You can also do this experiment the other way around. Try thinking thoughts that are negative, judgmental and hopeless and watch what happens to your body: your posture, your breath, the sense of aliveness in the core of your body. Notice how this changes if you replace those thoughts with loving and open ones. How does your body respond?

Our bodies give us an important barometer not just for our physical but for our emotional health. They are like a litmus test for what we are doing to ourselves inside. If your body feels crappy, see where your mind is and try changing one or the other: with a different set of thoughts, a deep breath or a movement of opening that gets you away from your desk and into something more positive. Use your body as a reflection of your state of being and be willing to alter what's happening if it's not working for you.

Often we become aware of our dysfunctional reactions to life through our bodies first: the quickening of our pulse, heat, reddening. I will often ask clients to check in with their bodies in those moments to see if the reaction they're having feels helpful or defensive. One way to begin to shift our dysfunctional behaviors is to watch how the body experiences them and see if we can approach the same situation with a deep breath, with less charge and greater calm. Our bodies tell us when we're seeing red.

Try playing with using your body's cues to work with your emotions and your thoughts. If you notice tension or stress in your day, break down what thoughts might be creating your body's strong reaction and see if you can shift it. Alternatively, experiment with relaxing and opening the body as a way of relaxing and opening your mind and your perspective.

Our bodies and our minds are intimately connected and reflections of each other. The more we understand and appreciate this, the more we can use it to help us become healthier and more connected to the life we want to be living, the person we want to be living as.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do Unto Others: The Body Ethic

When I was a kid, if I could get away with something, I usually did. I can remember being clever,doing my best to make something appear to not be my fault. As long as I succeeded at not being punished or noticed, it was as if my 'crime' didn't really exist.

Then a strange thing started to happen. Slowly, over time, I started to feel guilty anyway. It was as if I had--unbeknownst to myself--developed some kind of internal compass that told me when something wasn't right. Even if I got away with it, I still didn't feel good. Some niggling part of me knew it wasn't right, and that meant I needed to apologize, confess, or live with the consequences.

Now, all these years later, I realize that the way I knew something was 'bad' really was deeply rooted in the sensations in my body. A sludgy, slimy feeling would come over me that I couldn't escape unless I did the 'right' thing. I'd feel kind-of sick, distracted and dizzy. I could feel a weight over my heart and a feeling of darkness over my head.

These physical symbols had a doom-filled quality to them, and were unavoidable. I couldn't make them go away by talking myself out of them, telling myself I didn't do anything wrong. To this day, I can feel in my body in a spine-chilling way when I've stepped out of line with my own ethics. I've gotten better, maybe, at compartmentalizing so that I only feel the gross, slimy feeling when I think about the situation that created them. But my body's compass is still undeniable and very strong and clear.

The expression 'do unto others as you'd have done unto you' always made sense to me intellectually as the way I was 'supposed' to operate. But it wasn't until I started 'feeling' my ethics in my body that I realized I didn't have as much of a choice as I thought. In fact, it seemed that if I did something bad to someone else, I pretty much ended up feeling bad myself. The age-old statement worked in reverse too, and was somewhat inescapable.

I hadn't thought until recently about the way our ethics are enacted in our bodies, but I think it's an amazing thing that they are. The same place that 'gut feelings' come from also gives us information about what behavior is appropriate and what is selfish, what is loving and what is, well, wrong. I can still choose to ignore it, but that place of information exists. The ethics we're taught intellectually like 'Do unto others...' actually has a physical place in us as well.

As we familiarize ourselves with our body's language, we can feel when we're in the presence of a 'wrong' step. What are your cues? Do you feel sick to your stomach? Light-headed? Does your heart start to race? Rather than ignoring or shoving aside our bodies' wisdom, it might make sense to listen to it. After awhile, repressed knowing tries to show itself in other ways if ignored. Is there any knowing you've sat on for too long that turned into other physical symptoms: illness, stress, a panic attack?

When was the last time you listened to your body's way of communicating to you about what's right and wrong? Can you recall a time when your body told you loud and clear that something was wrong? What did it feel like for you? What happens when you choose to listen?

It's the simplest of ethics, the ethics of the body. We can literally feel when what we're doing isn't right. Which means we didn't really get away with it. So we might as well listen and correct it in the first place. Our bodies can show us how.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Embodied, Passionate Life

We all know the feeling when we are totally jazzed about something, 'on fire' with a kind of purpose or passion that fills us up.
We can feel it from our toes all the way to our fingertips. Sometimes it's hard to contain.

Our bodies tell us when something really matters to us, because they're more engaged in it. We actually feel it more fully: with heightened senses, energy, elevated heart rate, a change in our breathing.

Our bodies also tell us when the opposite is true, when we're dragging through our days, uninspired and sluggish. We can feel dragged down and exhausted even when we're not doing very much at all.

I wonder which of these two you feel more of the time in your body and in your life, because I think if we really listen, our bodies don't lie about how we really feel about what we're doing (or not doing). One wise client told me that a career coach she knew had said that she could tell what someone's true passion was by how much they moved their hands when they talked about it. More movement meant the person was more passionate about what they were talking about, less movement--not so much.

It may seem simple, but I think it's important to check in with our bodies to see how alive we really feel in the things we're doing in our lives. Why shouldn't we feel fully alive? And if we don't, what can we do about it?

Sometimes it's just a matter of shifting toward something we love, so that our lives feel more balanced and full. You can feel your energy shift when you start nurturing the parts of you that haven't been getting enough attention: taking a class in something that interests you, writing a blog, finding a group to meet with and discuss a favorite book or topic. When your energy rises, so does the way it feels to be in your body. And when things feels better and more alive in your body, you can bet it feels the same way to be in your life.

Finding out what your passion is can be as simple as checking in with your body. As you scan a list of activities, career options or even potential partners, watch to see how much heat, energy or excitement gets generated, even at the subtlest level, in your body. Notice for yourself when you talk about something how animated you get. On the other hand, also notice which things have you feeling like you're going through the motions instead.

Remember that feeling as a kid of jumping out of bed because you couldn't wait for the day to start? We've imposed so many rules and regulations on what our days are supposed to look like that we forget to check in with the delight and vitality available to us. Let some of your body's urges and impressions guide you more fully toward the things you love. You might have a novel in you waiting to be written in the hour before you go to bed; or a secret passion for baking cookies or following celebrity stories. Just pay attention to whether your passion adds to your energy or drains it. Then do more of the things that light you up.

Isn't that what life is all about?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Staying Connected Through the Cold of Winter


It's almost winter, that time of year when cabin fever can set in. On the one hand, our bodies acknowledge it by moving into a kind of hibernation mode--becoming slower, craving heavier, warmer foods.
We often fall into a pattern of slowness and stillness, spend more time inside. Rest, as we talked about last week, may bring us into contemplation and deeper thinking.

On the other hand, our bodies still crave and need activity. I think of running and sledding or having snowball fights outside as a kid, even in the fiercest of weather. Now that I'm in California, the seasons are more subtle and I can find myself going for a run or a hike in the middle of January, barring any rainstorms. But wherever you are, continuing to move your body through the winter months is essential not just for your physical health, but for your emotional health as well. Bound to inside, the body becomes restless, like a child. You might feel like it's crying out for an adventure, or just to unburden itself from the bundled clothing and into a stretch, a yoga class or run on a treadmill.

As much as we want to listen to the rhythms of our bodies, we also want to respect their need for activity and motion throughout the season of winter. If you could give your body a voice right now through your movement, what would it be? Would you go for a walk, even if it means wearing an extra layer, feeling like an intrepid traveler in the cooler air? Would you make time to go to that dance class you keep meaning to get to? The shift might even be as simple as stretching in front of the television instead of grabbing for the extra bag of potato chips.

It's too easy to get cut off from the body's needs in the vastness of winter. Much calls us to be inside and less active, but our bodies still want us to connect with them and use them. How can you be a steward to your body through the winter months, without cutting off into complete stagnation and hibernation?

If you need to, choose a buddy to remind you of your intention through this season. Take walks together or have a cup of tea followed by a stretch. If you have kids, let your kids' activity spill over into yours as they burst out into the excitement of a new snow or the chance to ice-skate. What would it take to join them?

Our minds crave the cave of winter, and our bodies certainly crave more rest and more substance. But they also don't want to be forgotten about, the connection to them lost under layers of clothing. I can remember growing up as a child in Maine feeling like the winter meant saying good-bye to the richness of my body's sensations until the warm sun of summer released them; when I finally started taking dance classes in a studio near my house, it was amazing to realize that no matter what the weather, there was a mirror, music and a wood floor waiting for me several times a week.

Make a commitment to stay connected to your body this winter, no matter where you live or what the weather. If it's snowing outside, ask your body what it would like to do to feel seen, stretched, experienced. When the sun comes back around next year, you'll both be ready to jump right in...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Power of Rest


Are you totally exhausted? Seriously. Do you think to yourself, 'I wonder how I'm getting through this day on so little sleep?' and then do it again, and again? I hear this complaint more and more among clients and friends--some who genuinely have insomnia or issues staying asleep; and some who just don't make enough time for sleep, getting up early with kids and then crashing after a long day of catching up on work.

Of course this isn't great for our bodies. More and more studies show us the value of sleep for our body's sense of rhythm, rejuvenation and overall health. And yet most of us are walking around like zombies, half-asleep, with a layer of exhaustion like a hanging fog in the horizon of our minds.

Our bodies know the difference between a good night's sleep and the sharp awakening that comes with an alarm clock too early in the morning or the kids knocking or dog barking outside your door after only five hours of sleep. Good sleep feels soft and warm, our bodies open like rising dough and greet the world with an innate sense of hope and lightness. Challenged sleep increases paranoia and literally makes us feel less stable. How many times have you bumped into things after a bad night's sleep, as if your internal balance is off?

Lack of sleep affects our internal regulation, our metabolism and our mental clarity. It affects mood, memory and visual acuity. And yet it's something, separated from our bodies and tuned into a fast-paced culture, we almost always prioritize last. Why is that? If we really valued how our bodies feel on a day-to-day basis, I wonder if we could do that. It seems that so many of us have a deep and longstanding call to rest, one that is constantly ignored for other priorities and needs.

I challenge you to value your rest as one of the most important gifts you can give this relationship you're building with your body. What if you created a different way of thinking about it for yourself, acknowledging it as essential rather than something you'll get if you can? How would that change your relationship to your body or your life?

I know, I know. You'll rattle off the list of things that tug on you, the impossibility of more time for sleep. So perhaps you challenge yourself to one good night's sleep a week. Or maybe one morning a week (and you might have to trade off kid duty with a partner to do this) when you get to sleep in an extra hour or so, or have the privilege of not getting up to kids or an alarm clock. Even one day reminds the body of who it is, and gives you you access to your body's true functioning, its greatest gifts (and your own).

Rest is also found in moments--a choice to step away from the computer and stare outside the window; or sit with a book; or listen to music. Sometimes with stressed clients I will actually assign a block of 'rest,' to be put in their appointment book like anything else. One hour of stare at the ceiling, let your thoughts wander, nowhere to be, nothing to do time. If getting more sleep seems daunting, try giving yourself a restful moment and watch how your body responds. You'll get better over time at knowing when you need them, your mind over-full and overwhelmed. Rest restores us to sanity.

We are moving into the season of stillness and cold, when the flowering of trees shifts to bare branches and stiff ground. Listen to how rest might be a natural part of this, calling you to rejuvenate your senses, deepen your awareness of self and soften your body into a trust and reliance on your ability to make time for what it needs. Listen to the body's rhythms--even if your mind calls it inefficiency--how it calls you away from the phone calls and toward the cup of tea, the open mind, the silence.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Getting Off the Diet Bandwagon


I have several friends who are always trying out the latest fad diet. I can count on them to give me a report on their progress--wildly enthusiastic at first, and then, eventually, disappointed and mute. What happens?

My usual response is to support anyone's effort toward positive change, but I realized recently that I might do more for my friends. I can begin to ask them what it is they really want, and how they imagine they'd feel when they get to the other side of this 'new' diet. What is it that they believe being thinner will give them, and how can they have more of that quality in their lives now?

Diets usually don't work because they require unrealistic deprivation and result in an eventual explosion of acting out behavior and sabotage. But thinking about what it is we imagine it will feel like to live in the body we most want is creative thinking. It means we have to fantasize and feel in our bodymind where we're going; we have to connect physically to the goal and not just abstractly, with our mind alone.

Unfortunately, so many of us have lost touch with that. The drive to be 'thinner' has become a goal so ingrained in our culture that it's not always even associated with things like feeling better, healthier, more connected to our bodies. If it's just another mechanistic goal, something to check off a checklist, it lacks the passion and aliveness we need to have to feel really connected to it. Our bodies have become mute objects to be silenced as we subject them to diets, rather than being encouraged to be participants and have an actual voice in the process.

Intuitively, we know what feels good to our bodies. And we can begin, if we're willing to listen, to use that sense to guide us to better health and choices. When I'm willing to ask a friend how it would feel to accomplish whatever weight goal they want, I look for real physical, visceral descriptions like 'I'll feel lighter,' 'I'll feel freer and more able to move,' or 'I'll have more energy.' When I hear things like, 'I want to fit into my old pants,' or 'I don't know, I just want to be thinner,' I worry more that the external goal hasn't been connected yet with the body's possibility.

If you're thinking about going on yet another diet, consult with your body and see if it is excited about what lies ahead. Does the diet feel like a plan that supports you both in developing a more intuitive, connected relationship, or does it require you to ignore your body's needs and force it to jump through hoops? Are you looking at weight loss as a task to accomplish, or have you really connected to it as something you and your body both want, something that will bring you greater health and aliveness?

It's not that I think diets are always wrong, but it's too easy to jump on the diet bandwagon for the wrong reasons, without connecting with the wisdom of our bodies. After too many fad diets, you can lose your ability to sense basic signals your body tries to send: are you hungry? What would feel good to eat right now? Cycles of mistrust begin to develop that don't ever bring you closer to your real body, no matter how much weight you lose.

Encourage yourself and your friends to think about what it will feel like when you lose the weight you want, not just what it will look like, and make sure that the way you're getting there includes your body's voice. Have fun, move with a vision you and your body can both get onboard with, one that still allows sensuality, play and flavor. On the most basic level, our bodies already know what they need to be healthy. But in our fad diet culture, are we taking the time to listen?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

After Sexual Violation: Getting A Healthy Body Relationship Back

One issue I haven't talked about much here, but which I see all the time in my practice, is the connection between sexual abuse and body issues. There are so many feelings that go along with having our boundaries violated sexually: shame, self-blame, helplessness. When we take on too much responsibility for someone else's physical transgression, even if it's a kiss, a gesture or a comment, our body relationship also suffers. It might be hard to stay in the body with feelings of attraction or sensuality because they now feel risky or unsafe.

Sometimes reconnecting to the body means forgiving what has happened in the past and moving forward together. I'll often ask survivors of sexual abuse in my practice if they are still harboring any feelings of blame or guilt for something that was out of their control. Then I ask if those feelings are being lodged somewhere in the body relationship, consciously or unconsciously, by shutting down or off to vital parts of themselves, their sensations and their desires.

The responses to surviving sexual abuse are as varied as people are: some survivors become very protective of their sexuality, wearing bulky clothes or putting on weight to discourage sexual attention, burying themselves in food or numbness. Others become hypersexual, actively engaging in sexual activity that doesn't always feel good, as if they have to redo what happened to them. Self-care and boundaries can go out the window.

The body feels the consequences of both of these responses, and from a relationship perspective it is impacted by our growing distance. As if waiting to regain some hidden or lost part of ourselves, our body wants to reconnect to safe sensuality, to feeling good, vital and alive. Once we begin to look at our bodies as half of a necessary and constant relationship, we have to become responsible for our part in shutting down and turning away from all that our bodies offer us. How do we reclaim that?

One way is to begin to make your new intention known. If you've hidden or not taken care of yourself or your body as the result of a sexual boundary violation, let your body know you're sorry and you want to do it differently. Write a letter or meditate with your body on a new intention or a new way of being you'd like to create. Also, consider the person or people who violated your boundaries and write them a letter, saying that you and your body no longer take responsibility for what happened and are now choosing to be free from that person's tyranny and carelessness.

Watch how it feels to make a new commitment to your body as a survivor, one who gets to live fully in her body rather than abandoning it or numbing it. As you make this commitment, you may feel a rush of feelings--from sadness to relief to anger. Give yourself the time and the space to get the additional support you need. It's never too late to heal.

It may also be helpful to write new affirmations for the body relationship and life you want and see if any resistances come up as you do so. Can you affirm that you deserve to be happy sexually, fully connected to your body? Can you affirm that you are safe and know how to care for youself and your body, from this moment forward? If you notice a lot of emotional baggage standing in the way, contact a caring professional who can take you through this piece and out the other side.

I affirm for you that your body relationship can be something of joy, wonder and sensuality, something that opens you up to the world rather than making you run from it. Ask yourself which one you're doing with your body, and if you're taking responsibility for someone else's mistake, something that doesn't belong to you. The ultimate in our healing journey is taking back the fullness of feeling we had before we were ever violated, now with greater consciousness, compassion and love. Your body is waiting for you with open arms.