Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Seven Year Itch: Surviving the Boring Body Relationship

Call it the Seven Year Itch. You've been with your body awhile, say decades. It doesn't always do everything you want and it may even, at times, have disappointed you with pain, illness or weight gain. That 'in love' feeling you may have had as a kid, the sense that you and your body were invincible and could do anything, may have shifted to a more ginger, tempered approach--one earned by years of body history, of learning that things can happen that leave a scar or a symptom. The truth is, we're not immortal. Much as we'd love our bodies not to change, buckle or age, they do. What do we do to keep the love alive?

It's the same crossroads we come to in relationships, if we're lucky enough to have them for that long. They go through cycles. Sometimes your partner is boring, disappointing and blah. Sometimes there's connection, beauty and grace. What is it the makes the difference? There seem to be a few key pointers for those relationships that survive, and I think they apply to the relationship we have with our bodies too.

1) Commitment - In our relationships, we can be with someone and still have one foot out the door, always looking to see if something better is going to come along. Ironically, we can do the same thing with our bodies, wanting to be someone else or escape from where we are with some magical, miracle cure, diet, etc. Our relationship to our bodies benefits greatly from our fully choosing to be present, without fear, to whatever is showing up. If we can see our bodies as great teachers (even if we don't always like the lesson while it's happening) we stay in the relationship in a different way, uniquely committed to it. The same is true when we honor any relationship. We actually want to listen to what our body has to say instead of judging it and wishing we were somewhere else.

2) Patience - The best relationships honor not just our strengths but our weaknesses, having some compassion for whatever's hard for us. Patience with your body and yourself means that slow and steady wins the race, that you have good days and bad days and that you're here for each other one day a time. Instead of being impatient because your body isn't giving the results you want--or you're not following through the way you thought you would on some new regimen of self-care--have patience that you're both moving toward a goal. The most important thing is the connection along the way. Impatience breeds contempt and a lack of respect, and makes you both miserable.

3) Fun - Don't forget to actually enjoy each other's company. When was the last time you did something that felt great for both of you, that connected you to each other? Sometimes that can be as simple as checking in, taking a breath, feeling what's actually going on in your body. Maybe it's also putting on some music and dancing around, going for a walk outside in the fresh air, stretching, getting a massage, taking a bath. We can be such stern task masters in relationship to our bodies that we forget we can also enjoy them and all the senses they provide us with.

Boredom, judgement and disappointment can plague all of our relationships. We all have the fantasies we'd like to escape to. But sometimes the escaping keeps us out of really creating the best relationship we can have in the here-and-now. What could you do right now, today or this week that would surprise and delight your body? How can you renew your commitment to it by taking some move toward it rather than away? Maybe the Seven Year Itch can become the Seven Year Hug.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Conversations With Your Body

For those of you who've read Neale Donald Walsch's book
Conversations With God, you know that he struggled with life challenges including homelessness, joblessness and depression before he finally threw up his hands and cried out to God. And to his surprise, God answered. The result was the Conversations With God series, which is Neale's ongoing conversation and questions to God, the answers he heard back.

I mention the book not just to plug it--though it's a fascinating read for anyone who hasn't thumbed through those pages--but because I wonder if we don't do a similar thing with our bodies. We rally against them, fight them, try to get them to do what we want, feel disappointed when they get sick or injured. But I don't know if we really believe that we could talk with them, interact with them, have a relationship with them.

What if we knew that our bodies were there to talk to, make requests of, interact with? What if, instead of resenting our bodies for not being the weight we want them to be, we assumed we could present them with our request and ask them how we might make it possible? What if we learned that we could partner with our bodies instead of just resenting them?

It's a radical shift, I know, not dissimilar from the one that found Neale Donald Walsch. But it seems like we spend so much time and energy acting as if our body is some inert thing we can't have a dialogue with, something we have to feed and clothe without ever getting to know it. What if we're wrong?

I encourage you, especially if you're struggling with your weight, to stop acting as if your body is a thing and start acting as if it's a partner, a living thing to talk to about what you want for it. What happens if you sit for a few minutes with your body and present a desire: 'I'd love to be about thirty pounds lighter...how do we do that?' Then see what happens. Do you get any messages back, any urges in your body that give you more information? I can promise you that you will. Then the question is, will you listen?

What if you let your body be involved in the process of creating change, showed it the vision you'd most like of your healthier, lighter self and asked how that might be possible? Imagine the possibilities when you stop spending your energy acting as if you can't have a relationship with the very thing you're wanting to transform!

Today, give yourself a few minutes to get quiet. Sit in meditation with your body and scan it for sensations, feelings. If you just listen to what's present, what do you find? Then create an openness to dialogue, making yourself available to speak what you most want and to listen to what the body has to say in return. Ask the question you most want to ask. Present what frustrates you the most about what's happening. Then see what you hear back. Is your body frustrated too? Are there changes it would like to see happen? What would it like you both to be doing that you aren't?

Each day, give yourself time to revisit the dialogue, and throughout the day begin to check in with your body, asking as you eat, move: do you want this? Do we want this? Does this align with the vision we're creating of how we want to feel and what we want to weigh?

When your body becomes something you're in a relationship with and not just an object to be fixed, there's a different level of accountability. It's harder to ignore. And it's there to work with you, even to experience the same frustrations you do. You can no longer blame it or separate from it; you're connected to it.

Spend a week being willing to begin the dialogue--the one you didn't think you could have. Don't be surprised if you begin to realize there have been whole conversations you've blocked out: insights and feelings the body had to share about how to get to your goal, but you were too busy blaming or judging it. Write down what you're learning. See how it feels to be in a different kind of relationship, to acknowledge that you're in a relationship at all.

Once you start, it's hard to go back. Like Neale's voice of God, your body will come out of its silence and show up in a way you may never have expected. Let it. Then see how you both can heal and transform, together.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Power of Now

natalie is being here nowA friend of mine recently confessed that she's been feeling very out of touch with her body. It's showing up in extra weight, in eating things when she's not really hungry, and in an increasing sense of awkwardness whenever she does anything physical. Sound familiar? The more time that goes by, the harder it is to check in with herself and the less she actually wants to be in her body. Like other relationships that grow distant, when we start to lose touch with our bodies, it's harder to reconnect the longer it goes on.

Why is that? You feel guilty or you've lost the path back. You think there's something you have to do in order to make it all better, some dramatic gesture like getting back into an exercise regimen or making a huge change to your diet. "If I could just start going back to yoga every day..." she lamented. Then every day she doesn't go back to yoga is another day she feels she's done something wrong.

What if we changed that paradigm and said it's not so much about what we do (though that's important too) as it is how we 'be' with our bodies? It hadn't even occurred to her that one way to start connecting with her body was just to communicate the desire to connect, to sit, and to begin to pay attention. We talked about what might happen if, instead of making a list of all the things she thought she needed to do to feel better in her body, she could just listen to it right now and hold an intention to reconnect. No big dramatic changes, no fireworks or Biggest Loser. Just a shift in perception and a willingness to hear.

If you've been feeling at odds with your body and want to reconnect but keep missing the mark, keep not 'doing' the things on your list that would make it all better (supposedly), ask yourself instead how you could 'be' right now in a way that would begin to give you a sense of the connection you really want.

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and with awareness, begin to scan the body for sensations. Notice how the mind wants to get involved, distract, and just come back again to the body, exploring what's there. Notice if there are any feelings, sensations, messages. Notice if your body responds to you at all as you make space for it to be heard, seen and made important.

Sometimes this reset is the most profound for a relationship, not all of the 'things' we think we're supposed to do. One client I worked with had a long list of the classes, smoothies and breathing exercises she was doing to connect with her body and wondered why she still felt dead inside. Something in her wasn't letting in the simplest thing of all: an intention to just 'be' with her body, pay attention to it, be willing to go back inside it and see what's there.

Ask yourself if you might be willing to take one moment to reconnect, whether you get to yoga this week or not. If you're stressed out at work, see if you can take a deep breath, feel the sensations in your body and follow them instead of just wishing you had time to get to the gym. Reconnecting is really as simple as your next breath, your next thought. The more complicated we make it, the more we begin to believe that we'll never get there unless we're doing all the right things. Don't buy into that.

What could you do right now to reconnect, listen and open to your body again? How long will you wait to let yourself be exactly what you need, one moment at a time?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Happiness Diet

I just returned from a delightful vacation away--a few days of sun, swimming, and all the sleep I could stand. I was--and still am a bit--open, relaxed and contented. And I was surprised to discover while on vacation that my appetite was different. I didn't want sweets with the same desperate desire. I stopped eating when I was full.

Of course I'm always working with these awarenesses with clients around the body relationship and food, but I was struck by how easy it was. I wasn't needing to check in as much to see where my urges came from. I naturally gave myself what I wanted and stopped when I was done. Clearly, when I'm more relaxed and less stressed, I'm naturally more in touch with my body and less likely to use food as an escape. I have nothing to escape from!

The question is how to bring that awareness more and more to our daily lives. One of the questions I often like to ask clients is, 'If you were blissfully happy right now and you could feel your whole body infused with that light and openness, would you be eating what's in front of you?' If the answer is 'yes', then they're probably really and truly hungry. If it's 'no,' they're more likely to be using food to fill some other need that gets supplied when happiness floods their system.

What's true for you? The next time you go grabbing for something, practice filling your body with a sense of happiness and light, and then ask yourself if you still want the thing you're grabbing for. If you find that you don't, ask yourself what experience gets you closest to that happiness and light and go do it! Too often we've tricked ourselves into thinking that experience is food.

The advertisers don't help us: images of women with perfect lips floating away by eating a chocolate filled with caramel...the ooey, gooey images of that perfect candy bar or ice-cream. But inside, when we're truly happy and in touch with our real needs, sugar that makes us crash afterward isn't the first choice. We may want something very different, something that honors our ability to move and be more connected to the world.

It just takes discipline, a moment, to get connected to what we really want rather than what we've been sold as happiness, escape or bliss. Home from vacation, I'm watching my mind fabricate all kinds of escapes from insurance paperwork, catching up with client scheduling, the phone calls that need to be made. My urges toward sweets are also urges to time with myself, more sun, deeper breaths. How can I make those things more possible in my life right now, so that I don't need to 'escape' with food? What is it I really want?

It's another reason the body relationship is so important too. If we feel safe and connected, in good dialogue with our bodies, it's much easier to find this place than it is when we are judgmental, warring or trying to get away from our physical selves. Cultivating a good body relationship gives us a reference point, a place to check in about what we really want and be honest rather than running away or shutting down. Another way of asking the question above often comes up in body relationship work: 'If I felt really connected to my body and alive right now, would I want this (fill in the blank)?'

When our body relationship is off, we're more likely to act out with food or treat ourselves poorly because we're not consciously cultivating the possibility of feeling good in our bodies, listening to them and being honest with them. When you choose happiness and the possibility of peace instead of constant criticism or disgust in your body relationship, you're giving yourself a lot of the qualities of a vacation. Then you're able to make choices that feel better for both of you, rather than running away.