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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Seasons of the Body

Fall Fun Lovely Autumn

The blahs this week. Darker skies at night and I am tired in my bones, even with enough sleep. My body is tired and restless at the same time, in anticipation of some shift of the seasons.

I resist its knowing: the way it would feel to crawl into bed early with a book, to feel my tiredness held and soothed. Instead, I push with the activity of a summer that is leaving; it will be replaced by decaying autumn. Eventually I succumb.

Our bodies know the seasons and live them; I feel mine slowing down, looking around, wanting more contemplation, stillness and rest. My body is a part of the natural world, knows its way through the rhythms and ebbs of energy, of light and dark.

How does the season of the fall live in our bodies, take us as physical selves into the point of passage from one stage to the next? Fall is harvest too: the reaping of lessons, the gathering of what we've sown. Our arms can be open to receive.

My body is pliant, soft and open and tired, restful, vulnerable.
What does your body right now teach you about the season of fall? What wisdom of the seasons does it bring to you to contemplate or to live, slowing down for long enough to let it in?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Spirituality of the Body

How do you know when you are in the presence of something greater than yourself--something holy, divine, inspiring? Religious philosophers have called it the 'numinous,' the 'mystery.' Its presence can feel like a moment of clarity or calm or like a flush of heat, a quickening of the pulse. Mystics have been deeply stilled by it or pulled into spasms of energy or chanting. Whatever it is, it is a powerful place when we feel it.

But this is my point exactly: we feel it. As physical beings, even the holy moves through us in grounded and physical ways that we experience in our bodies. A feeling of bliss can still be catalogued as a change in our breath, a sense of lightness, an expansion in the chest.

So often we have separated the spiritual from the physical, believing they exist in two separate realms. But actually, they are necessarily intertwined, just as they are in us as human beings. When a spiritual or mystical experience of the divine comes to us, it also must move through the nuances and languages of the body.

I think the two worlds are becoming more connected--spirituality and the body--in terms of how we conceive of and articulate what it means to live a spiritual life. Today, practices like mindfulness and yoga that seek to understand and listen to the wisdom of the body are gaining in popularity. Even centering prayer, out of the Catholic tradition, borrows much of its technique from meditation practices involving the breath and the following of sensation. It may be that our body, separated for so long from the world of spirituality, is in fact our greatest guide into it.

Often I will ask clients to trace their feelings or discomfort inward toward the body, particularly when an issue is coming up strongly or feeling unresolved for them. As we move into those depths of sensation--a tightness here or a feeling of energy there--feelings and awarenesses get accessed. 'What do you feel when you stay with that constriction in your chest?' I might ask. And out of that might come a fear or anxiety the client had been unaware of in their conscious life, the knowing of which releases her to look at it and heal it so it no longer stands in her way.

If we could learn to look at the pains, sensations and constrictions in our body as spiritual teachers, we might hold our relationship to our body in a totally different light. Instead of trying to escape unwanted body sensations or issues or tame them in order to 'get to' our spiritual work, we might instead see our bodies as the very place where that deep spiritual work can happen. What would change in your relationship with your body if you trusted that listening to its language might bring some of your truest learning and surrender?

Too often we see the issues with our bodies--whether its weight, pain or injury--as inconveniences to be subdued and erased. But this other way of thinking about the body asks us to assume they have a lesson for us, something kind and knowing that's trying to be said. We might ask: what spiritual lesson does this issue with my body force me to face? What might I have to learn about myself if I chose to listen and surrender rather than resisting it?

Just this day, try on this way of thinking and ask if there's anything going on with your body that calls you into a spiritual lesson or practice. Chronic pain, for example, can be one of the greatest teachers of how to live in the present moment; there may be no other way through it. Overweight may move us to making choices around self-care or even to sitting with the pain caused by our attachment to the thoughts and opinions of others. What is your lesson?

Once you sense it, see how it would feel in your body if that issue were cleared away and get a sense of walking in your body in that new feeling. Thank it for giving you the message about what needed to be changed within and ask it if it might join you in releasing the lesson and moving into a new future. Our bodies are willing partners in our transformation; its as if they too are waiting for us to discover it in order to open them more fully to life.