Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Finding Peace Through the Body

How does it feel in your body when you are open, surrendered, relaxed?
How do you know you're in that state? What's your breathing like? Your posture? The feeling around your head, neck, shoulders? Your vision?

The reason why I ask is I'm starting to think more and more about the choice we have over how we walk in the world day-to-day. Do we want to be stressed out, tight and reactive; or would we prefer kindness, openness and breath? We mostly don't think we have a choice. When we're reactive, we believe our thoughts are real, and they--consequently--create our physical state. We're angry at someone and our body becomes congested by shallow breathing, tightness and a low-level of pain. Or we're stressed about something at work and our thinking sends messages to our body that there's never enough time, we'll never get it done. Our bodies take in the energy of the thoughts and go into 'fight or flight' mode, ramping up for battle.

But the truth is, we can flip this scenario by focusing on the body first. Anytime we want, we can check in to see how it feels to be in our bodies. Right now: do I feel relaxed, open and content? If the answer is no, we can ask: what would it take for me to change that state in my body to the one I'd rather be in? Leave the mind out of it, ask it to step inside, and make a choice on the body level for a kinder state of being. Begin to create the reality you want through breath, posture, perhaps a stretch.

If it's hard to get there right away, use a memory of when you feel relaxed and open. Maybe it's an image of you lying in the sun, getting a massage, taking a nap with a pet. If you catalog the series of sensations connected to that feeling of relaxation, you can begin to recreate them by going there with your mind and body the next time you're stressed. What's it like when your body feels relieved, relaxed, unbound? Again: what is your breath like, the feeling in your chest, a sense of lightness, an openness?

Now come back to the present moment, take a deep breath and build that state again through your body. Feel the breath the way it feels there, then the expansion through the chest. Take a few breaths. Now bring in other senses: the melting feeling of being in the sun or the surrendered softness of being touched. Watch what happens as your body goes into this remembered state. After a few breaths here, notice if the situation you'd created as stressful in your mind has the same impact.

Our bodies remember, and they tell us--by being keepers of sensation--when we're stressed or out of alignment with how we want to feel. But they can also be the doorways for how we get back. To allow them to be that, we just need to be willing to disengage from believing in the story about what's stressing us out and create and experience peace and openness through our bodies now instead. It just takes practice.

If it helps, find a word that you can say that brings you back to that relaxed and peaceful state and series of sensations you imagined earlier. It might be 'peace' or 'contentment' or 'love.' Say it to yourself when you visualize that moment of relaxation, and then practice saying it throughout the day and repeatedly calling up the state you associate with the word. What's your breathing like? Your level of openness? The sense of relief in your body? See if you can feel that state getting more easily accessible as you practice saying the word.

The power of this remembering is to see that we have more of a choice over the state we're living in than we think, all the time. Through the simple physical cues of the body we can practice and recreate what we most want to be feeling in our lives, or notice when we're in some other state and change it.

I encourage you to stay open to the possibility that you have more of a choice over the state you're living in than you think. Practice some of these awarenesses with your body. Then watch your life change on the outside to meet the kinder, more peaceful state of being you've learned to create from the inside out. Thank-you body!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting Rid of the Skeletons in the Closet: Other People's Voices About Your Body

Do you remember what kinds of things other people said about your body when you were younger? Ways they treated you that made you feel bad about your body? One step of the process I do with clients to reconnect them with their bodies is to do an inventory of the beliefs they took on about their body over the years. Like a couple reviewing the history of their relationship, we look at how you got to a place of negatively relating to your body. What happened in the past that brought you here?

One of the ways we take on beliefs about our bodies is through actual physical experiences: illnesses or injuries that make us feel like we're not sure we can trust our physical selves. But another way we can take on beliefs is through the way our body is treated or talked about by others. It's important to also take a look at the impact of those forces, because we may want to undo the beliefs we once took on--especially now, as we want a better relationship with our bodies moving into the future.

Looking back on the messages we got about our bodies, it's not hard to see where we may have abandoned a loving relationship with our bodies for someone else's criticism or judgment. One client I worked with was constantly 'scanned' by her mother and analyzed for how much she weighed. It was easy for her to lose a deeper connection with her body because it was always being examined from the outside, and her worth was associated with it. The belief she took on was something like, "My body is only worth something to me if it pleases my mother."

Another client lived through constant sexual harrassment by a stepfather who made lewd comments about her appearance and her attractiveness to boys--something she grew to be both desirous and afraid of. Her stepfather's voice made her feel that her body was something she couldn't control, that brought her unwanted attention. The belief she took on was something like, "I can't trust or control my body and the attention it brings; it's forcing me to experience things I don't want."

I urge many of my clients--and you too--to look closely at the actual beliefs you may have taken on about your body as a result of the observations and actions of others. Then ask yourself if you still want those beliefs. Sometimes we need to literally review our history in order to mine out the moments and patterns that created what are now beliefs we don't question. But we can begin to question them, to apologize for taking them on, and even to undo them.

One powerful exercise can be to write a letter now, from the desire to have a better relationship with your body, to anyone who treated or spoke about your body in a way that demeaned it, belittled it, or caused you to take on a negative belief about it. In that letter, you can say that you no longer accept (if you ever did) their behavior or their truth about your body and that you are now forging your own way with a body relationship that includes trust, respect and compassion.

Tell this person or group of people that you are learning to love your body no matter what, and that they no longer get to be right about how to treat or think about your own body. Sign the letter and date it, and make a note to yourself that from this moment on you're no longer living with other people's baggage about the way you relate to your body.

It's amazing how powerful this can be. You begin to realize that ultimately no one has the final word on your body and how it feels to be in it. And you begin to recognize and let go of the beliefs that may have accumulated over the years that take you out of a better relationship with your body. Realizing they never belonged to you and choosing to no longer carry them around makes you and your body both breathe a sigh of relief.

Take the skeletons out of the closet. Tell them you no longer need them.
Then when you're done with that letter, look at those old beliefs you may have taken on from others and see if you might reword them into new and beautiful ones, ones that make you and your body sing with delight and a deeper place of peace and self-love. It's your choice now, and no one else's.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Body As A Bodyguard to Intimacy

Have you ever wanted to get close to someone and then realized that your body won't let you do it?
You get a weird feeling, feel sick or shut down. You like everything you see and hear but your body doesn't go there with you. Something else is calling you away from the person in front of you.

Of course, for the most part it's good to listen to these instincts. When we learn to listen, our bodies can show us truths we might not want to hear with our conscious mind. But what if your body is simply defending itself based on old patterns and beliefs? What if the body is putting up its defenses and you don't need or want it to anymore?

This often happens when we've been through past traumatic events or if something makes it hard for us to get close to people. A client recently admitted that although consciously he says he's thrilled to be in relationship with his current partner, his body's repeated inability to sustain an erection seems to be saying something else. As we move into exploring the body's message for him, we realize that his past history--and a particularly damaging and abusive former relationship--means part of him may feel he needs protection every time he lets his guard down. As he begins to open up emotionally, his body has put up a different kind of road block for him.

From the standpoint of the body relationship, what do we do if our conscious mind and our body don't seem to be on the same page? We get curious. As Joe and I work with his experience, we realize that he needs to let his body know somehow that it's safe for him to be vulnerable and aroused; that he's now capable of taking care of himself emotionally and that he chooses to be present and open in his current relationship, even if that openness was unwarranted in the past.

I suggest that perhaps Joe write a letter to his body, letting it know how he feels and that it's okay to take away the sexual obstacles to intimacy. (Of course I also suggest that Joe get a medical check-up to see if there's anything else going on!) He's mature enough to handle what's happening and he appreciates the body's attempts to keep him safe by avoiding sexual intimacy. I then suggest that Joe let his body know how he'd like to be experiencing sex and create a vision of himself being able to have sex with his partner and enjoy it, fully embracing both the power and vulnerability of that act, giving his body a map of what he'd prefer to be experiencing instead.

The same process is important for any disconnect we go through with our bodies, but I think it's particularly poignant with sexual issues. Our body is the boundary with which we meet the world, and it is possible for it to react to protect us if it doesn't know it's okay not to. Even if we think we're 'over' something and ready to handle the intensity of sexual intimacy, our body may be holding on, not believing us, thinking it needs to take charge.

Ask yourself if this is true for you anywhere in your sexual experience. Are there places where your body holds back that you might let it know that it's okay to trust instead? On the other hand, are there any truths your body is trying to tell you that you ignore, but that keep showing up in sexual side effects or shut down? What would happen if you listened instead and tried to discern what's being said?

I'm always amazed at how little most of us use our body as a resource or move through physical challenges without dialogue. If you are struggling with blocks in your body around sexual intimacy, ask yourself if there's anything your body might need to know from you in order to let down its guard. How could you kindly thank it for doing what it thought it needed to do and let it know it can stop and move toward greater openness and receptivity?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Your Body Tells You Something You Don't Want To Hear...

This past weekend was Labor Day weekend, the final hurrah of the summer. I returned to my family's home in Maine for lobster, blueberry cobbler and the occasional cocktail. There's also homemade ice-cream and cannisters of nuts, chocolate and cookies. My husband, a former bartender, whips up fresh summer drinks with lime, mint and rum. It's the ultimate opportunity for indulgence. The only problem is, indulgence isn't fun like it used to be.

You know what I mean. Come on, you do. Even if you think you don't. Indulgence feels like a headache the next day. Or a sense of something happening in my stomach that doesn't quite feel right. More important these days, indulgence can feel like I ignored a deep part of myself, and I'm sadly realizing I don't actually find that enjoyable.

This epiphany is showing up the most in my use of alcohol, which I've never particularly overdone, but which often accompanies a good meal or a piece of chocolate. Lately, alcohol just makes me feel sick. And I mean actually dizzy, with a headache and the sense that I just need to lie down.

I want to ignore it. I want to say, 'just forget about it, have fun!' and yet I think my definition of fun is changing. My body must be changing. And now, in the moment, alcohol is no longer appealing--no matter how much my mind wants it to be, or my emotions want it to be a social lubricant at the party my parents bring me and my husband to. I just have to listen, say no, and respect what my body is saying.

But it gets me thinking about the crossroads we're faced with when our body is telling us something we don't want to hear: a negative reaction to a food we love, a sense of tiredness when we want to push to get the best workout for the week, even a gut feeling that a relationship isn't right when we want to convince ourselves someone is perfect for us. It's like any relationship when a partner's truth is inconvenient, not what we wanted to hear, interferes with our agenda, our own perfect plan.

What I have come to realize in most of my other relationships, however, is that when that inconvenient truth is spoken (and I can actually hear it) there is almost always something very important, some gift gleaned, by actually listening and finding middle ground. That kind of humility and openness to my partner's needs aren't just good because they make my partner want to stay. They're also good because my partner's thoughts and feelings--even if I don't think I want to hear them--almost always have something to teach me. They help me to grow.

The same is true of our bodies. And yet, mute partners that they are, unable to threaten us with divorce, they often do get ignored when they tell us something we don't want to hear: when they give us a symptom we wish weren't there, a reaction to something we'd like not to have. Things usually have to reach a fever pitch--legitimate overweight or some kind of health crisis--before we listen.

Lately--as I have come to feel in most of my relationships--I'm wanting to choose the kindness of being in a listening, compassionate relationship more than I want my way. Even though it's annoying and inconvenient, I think I'd rather not have that wine if it's going to give me a headache or eat the homemade ice-cream if it's going to make my digestion feel stuck.

I used to think this was boring; maybe I used to think it was too much like my body controlled me and I wanted my freedom. But these days I think I'm beginning to see that within a loving connection to my body is a kind of freedom and peace that exceeds the wild whims of junk food and alcohol. Not unlike a swinging single finally committing to a relationship that matters, I'm truly seeing that playing a field of choices that might harm my body is not as much 'fun' as moment-to-moment listening, awareness and attunement to my body and my life.

Call me crazy. But I urge you to think about how you respond when your body sends you a message you don't want to hear about something you'd rather keep doing, ignoring the body's voice. Then take yourself through to how you'll actually feel when it's all over. Will you still be glad you made that choice?

Think of it as body maturity, body commitment: finally settling down into this relationship you'll have for the rest of your life. What if you let yourself fall into it, belong to it and partner with it? How much more time would you spend experiencing your body rather than resisting it? What will you do the next time your body tells you something you don't want to hear?