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!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Your Body Is Your Valentine

If you haven't already, I highly recommend taking a look at Marianne Williamson's A Course In Weight Loss, which is a truly spiritual approach to finding your way into right relationship with your body and your weight, using many of the principles of A Course In Miracles. This quote in particular seems appropriate to share with you today:

"Love and love only, produces miracles...That includes your love of self, and your body is part of who you are. If you love your body when you're thin but hate it when you're not, then you love yourself conditionally, which is not love at all. If you can't love your body, you can't really love yourself."

Think about this just for a moment and let it sink in. If your body is an essential part of yourself, then no matter how much 'work' you've done to become enlightened, make peace with life or with others, if you still resist, fear or hate your body then you can't yet say you love yourself. Your body needs that love and peace too.

Is there anything stopping you now from choosing love? Do you set conditions for your body which, when you meet them, will allow you to love it? What if the whole point is to choose love for its own sake, so that your life can be lived freely, miraculously and without the pain of judgment?

This doesn't mean that things won't change. Only that change will come from love, from wanting to forgive yourself and your body and work together, rather than being at odds with each other. So many times we think we can create change out of force, fear or judgment. But mostly we find ourselves right back where we started from. It won't mean much to you to lose weight if it comes from fear and if you know you haven't found that place of love within. Your body will rebel against that and so will you.

What loving act could connect you to your body today and how could you begin a relationship of love instead? How could you let your body know you want to begin to work together rather than outside of it, judging you both? Take that step today. Make your body your Valentine. Here are some possible ways you might declare the change:

1) Go for a walk.
2) Get a massage.
3) Write a love poem to your body for all it does for you.
4) Put on some music and dance.
5) Light candles and make some time to meditate on the body, checking in on all you feel.
6) Take a hot bath or shower.
7) Put some delicious-smelling lotion on, slowly and deliberately, letting your body know you're consciously experiencing the sensations.
8) Choose to slow down over your food and listen to what your body needs, how it feels.

Stepping into love is an act of courage that is demonstrated every day. And yet, at a certain point, it really is the only choice we have if we want to give up our bitterness and stuckness and live a different kind of life. As we do this with our bodies, we begin to do it with our whole lives. Your body has a Valentine's gift for you too; all you need to do is to connect, listen, and open yourself to its world of sensations and presence, calling you into the moment in which it lives.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Prayer to Honor the Body

I've been thinking lately about that prayer of St. Francis, how it encourages us to address the needs that are before us by providing what is needed to the world. I wonder how much we do that with our bodies, which we so often ignore in the face of our to-do-lists. Sometimes we need a reminder of the path we truly wish to tread.

This poem is written to honor the body, and remind us of the simple things it requires from us, and is oh-so grateful to receive...

Prayer On Behalf of the Body
Body, make me a kind caretaker of your wisdom.
When you are tired, let me give you rest.
When you are hungry, let me feed you what you truly need.
When you feel sadness, let me comfort your soul.

When sickness comes, let me listen to what you are telling me.
When you are well, let me celebrate the gifts you give.

Where there is breath, let me breathe it;
Where there is energy and light, allow me to let it in.
Where there is bliss, fill me to my fingertips and toes.

Great Teacher and Vessel,
Allow me to give you what I also know I need:
Not so much perfection as an open heart to all that is.
Not so much judgment as compassion for who you are and what you do,
Not so much hatred as love,
Not so much resentment as respect for all you have to show me.

For it is in giving you what I need that I learn how to give it to myself;
And in giving it to myself
I can truly begin to experience my place in this world.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Curiosity Did Not Kill The Cat

(Image taken from wallpapersup.net)

Do we experience our symptoms as something that happens to us, blind-siding and shocking us? Or as a form of communication from our bodies? What does weight gain want to tell you? Chronic pain? What’s the learning you get pulled into as a result?

If we look at our bodies as allies rather than enemies, they are always acting in our highest good. A bodymind scientist named Candace Pert even goes to say that “our bodies are our subconscious minds” speaking to us. This is often misconstrued as blaming or finger-pointing, a la you created your own cancer, you wanted this illness on some level, etc. I think we have to be careful with how we let ourselves interpret the understanding of our bodies as communicators.

From a place of connection to our bodies, as with anything in life, we can look at what there is to learn and understand, not just be victims to circumstance. That’s the shift that wants to happen when we talk about our bodies and their symptoms having a ‘use’ to us. Through them—as with any life experience we embrace meaningfully—we learn and grow, rather than just resisting and getting stuck.

Look at whatever is happening with your body right now and ask yourself the simple question of whether or not you have embraced it and become curious about it, or resented and resisted it. At a certain level it’s just a matter of energy: one point of view opens us and gives us meaning and the other shuts us down.

When symptoms feel like they have the better of us, it’s good to be curious about them and see what’s there. We’re not getting out of it anyway—we may as well embrace it. What does it really feel like to be carrying this extra weight around? How might it be telling you about other ways in which you are dragging, resisting, avoiding life? What is it like to awake in the middle of the night with chronic pain? Like a child, what does it want from you and how does it teach you deep compassion with yourself and your experience?

Anything in life can be a teacher or something we resist. Finding the way to let in the relationship to our bodies rather than feeling like symptoms ‘happen’ to us gives us a way of being curious and making meaning. How can you compassionately listen to your body’s symptoms today? What might they share with you about your life and the lessons your soul has to live?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking the Cycle: Unconscious Behaviors & the Body

(Image taken from naturallyintense.net)

Do you ever find yourself doing things you don't really want to be doing, especially when it comes to food, exercise or self-care?
Do you 'suddenly' find yourself in front of the tv with a bag of chips at 1am? Or sleeping past that alarm that was supposed to get you up for the workout you keep saying you're going to commit to? Or eating that dessert you didn't really want because someone put it in front of you at an elegant meal out?

Our relationship with our body is full of all kinds of unconscious moments, moments that reveal to us that we're not always in control of our behavior and our choices. Once we slip into those moments, it's hard to get out. When we do realize we've 'done it again,' we're more than likely to wallow in guilt or shame, tell ourselves 'I'll never do this again,' and then repeat the same cycle a few days or weeks later.

What makes it hard to live our intentions out into the world and into our choices with our bodies? What takes over instead and makes us do things we don't mean to be doing--and what can we do it about it? (No pun intended.) I have a few thoughts I'd love to share.

1) Don't give in to shame.
One of the easiest things to do when you realize you've repeated a behavior you really didn't want to, is to slip into an icky feeling of shame. Your thoughts about yourself may be bad: "I can't believe I did this again," or "I'm never going to change." When we look at our body as something we're in relationship with, there's a different kind of accountability and a desire to stay connected. You might feel bad about what's happening, but how can you speak to yourself (and your body) differently about it, with more compassion and honesty: "I'm so sorry. I know I did this again. I'm not sure what to do. I'd like to show you I love you more than I do. How can we do this together?"

2) Learn to feel what's happening in your body and what's really going on.
One way out of the cycle of our behaviors is to begin to catalog what gets us there in the first place and to begin to commit to feeling it. If you slow everything down, you'll realize there are ways that you actually feel in your body as the unconscious behavior is happening that give you information. As you reach for the cupboard for something you don't really want, what are you feeling in your body? What's going on inside? What does it feel like in your body when you eat for emotional reasons rather than out of hunger? Does it feel like more of a choked up feeling? Foggy? Can you check in with your body to ask if you're actually feeling hunger first? As you become aware of the differences and take the time to listen, your body may have a lot to say about what you really need.

3)What are the reasons for the behavior?
When we act out unconsciously, there's usually something else that's being communicated. See it as a kind of inner temper tantrum. What was really trying to be said by the overeating, oversleeping? Do you need a break? Are there feelings you need to express to someone about something? What steps can you take to take care of what you're really feeling and needing? This is why staying connected to the body even through unwanted behaviors becomes so important. It wants to feel listened to and loved, not abandoned, rejected or criticized in that moment.

4) Practice giving yourself what you really need.
...And then you can give yourself what you really need. If you finally begin to listen and your body is telling you you're upset about something because you feel heavy in your heart and a little panicky, then you might want to call a friend and talk or go for a long walk or write it all out. If you need to express a feeling or have a difficult decision to make, see if you can get support for doing that and take the plunge. And if feelings are too big or overwhelming, get some help for sorting them out so you can feel more conscious and present in your life. Your unconscious urges are usually replacements for getting to the real issue at hand--kind of like when you procrastinate by cleaning out your sock drawer instead of getting to that difficult email for work.

Overall, it's so important to have compassion for unconscious behaviors and begin to understand the message behind them. They're not there to make you feel ashamed of yourself; they're there because they are trying to communicate something that needs to be heard. If you can slow down, have compassion and stay connected to your body, you have the chance to figure out what that actually is and begin to address it.

Embrace the behaviors as the beginning of a message you can start to listen to; then let the information in. It's been waiting for you all along; it just had no other way of speaking. Being in a kind and loving relationship with your body, one where you can partner with what you (and it) are feeling rather than ignoring it, leads you to the possibility of real change and healing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Returning After A Long Absence

(Image taken from organicsoul.com)

What do we do to begin a relationship with our body when we don't remember ever having one?
I was talking with a client about this tonight as we scanned his past for any memories of when things felt really good in his body. Through struggles with weight and illness, he couldn't think of even one moment. In fact, he could recognize that much of his life and even childhood, his head had been filled with obsessive thoughts about food, his weight and how he was being perceived by others.

Sometimes are best moments in our bodies are ones we can't even remember, before the judgment and self-consciousness set in. One client recounts tearing around in the fields behind her childhood home, climbing trees and pretending she was enacting a live tv show about a kid living on her own in the wild. She fiercely loved her body and all it did for her. But for many of us, even our earliest memories may be tainted with the comments of others, including peers and parents, or a sense that we were the wrong size, shape, weight.

How do we find our way back to our bodies when we can't even remember what it felt like to feel good in them?

We start right now to find our way back in.

If we accept that we are all in a relationship with our bodies all the time, then even this unconscious, blocked out place we've come to with our bodies is a relationship of sorts. It's just not a very good one. It needs more of your consciousness and attention. It's grown some cobwebs.

We find our way back in by doing just that: stepping in. One of the first exercises I give to clients in my Love Your Body work is to spend 5 minutes 2-3 times a week simply committing to sitting, closing their eyes, and feeling all the sensations in their bodies.

In order for a relationship to begin, we have to take a first step and just show up. That's all. What does it feel like when you step into your body? What feelings are there? Aches or pains?

When your mind begins to wander in this exercise (and it probably will), commit to returning to the body like you would a good friend after the conversation has turned back to you. Keep inquiring, stay curious: what is my body feeling right now? How is it communicating? What's it like to be here together?

Somewhere in the process, simply say to your body, 'I'm here,' and see if you notice a response. Your body may have been waiting a very long time to feel that sense of presence from you, to even feel you care.

Because where else do we begin when we've been absent from someone or something for a long time? We have no other choice but to start exactly where we are, and to begin to establish trust by being present. We have to be patient for this process and know that it won't happen overnight. But slowly over time we begin to trust again: the self and the body, finding their way toward each other.

Spend a few minutes atleast twice this week stepping into your body, an open observer and a committed and returning friend. What do you notice? Does your body begin to bend back toward you, like a long lost partner? Can you feel the difference in its responsiveness when you show up with an open, caring and listening heart to the world it has held for you, all this time?

We can't move into the next steps in a body relationship--listening, trusting, forgiving--until we've started with this very simple one. To reconnect, we have to begin by returning, consistently, and without protest or excuses, to inhabiting our own skin, to get curious about what's there and build trust by staying--or coming back as often as we remember. I believe our bodies are just waiting for us to do so.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lullaby of Sleep

(Image taken from indianhindunames.com)

Sleep seems to be a huge issue for clients these days. How much sleep are you getting and how good is it? For some it's an issue of time: "I just don't have time to get more than 5 or 6 hours a night...." For others it's an issue of quality: "Between my kids and my husband snoring, I'm lucky if I get more than a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep..." And of course sometimes it's just the stress of our own minds that keeps us awake, churning and reworking the day or things to come, even as our body wishes for sleep and rest.

A few themes emerge. First, is the importance of how you interpret the lack of sleep. Does it make you crazy, anxious, worried to not be getting sleep? Often this can become a vicious cycle, so that the worry about not getting sleep or falling asleep becomes a problem in and of itself. See if your language and thinking about not sleeping can become gentler and more kind, less stressed: "It is what it is, I'll get however much sleep I get..." That softness and lessening of anxiety around the problem itself can make a huge difference. (I once heard that just resting is worth a larger percentage of sleep time than we think and that also put my mind at ease. Even if I'm not actually asleep, I realized, just lying here is still allowing my body to rejuvenate.)

Then consider if you're being too rigid about how or when sleep needs to happen. If you're not getting enough sleep consistently at night (especially if it's due to circumstances you can't control), can you let yourself rest briefly at other times during the day? Can you step outside of the box and shut your eyes in your car for twenty minutes on a break from work? Take a brief nap while the kids are at school? Listening to the body means getting out of our concepts of when sleep should happen and into the moment of what our bodies want and need right now.

I also think the transition to sleep and into the lull of our bodies takes some ritual, a ritual we may have known has children but have mostly lost touch with as adults. So often we're in bed with the television on or our computers, finishing an email or surfing the internet, then expect that we'll close our eyes and drift off to sleep. Instead, consider that our bodies and our minds may need what we once needed as children: a place of lullaby, story or mystery. Can you light candles and play soft music for a few minutes before you go to bed? Read a favorite book instead of television or the computer?

My husband frequently gets irritated if I try to have too serious a conversation before bed. This used to annoy me (and sometimes it still does) but I also appreciate the wisdom of it. He's protective of his 'sleeping space.' He knows that if he gets too involved in a conversation right before bed about something important, he'll be replaying it and considering it as he's trying to transition to sleep. Instead, he prefers to read or watch something, to get into the story part of his mind and not the problem-solving one. Good for him. How many times do we do the opposite, keeping ourselves awake with analysis of the day or the future, simply because we don't know how to shut it all off?

A sleep expert I heard speak about insomnia recently was very insistent on our need for transitional space, a time before bed when the lights get to be lower, when our minds get to slow down. Our bodies too need to take cues from us that they no longer need to be operating at full speed, reflexes at the ready. To surrender to the vulnerability of sleep is a metaphor for so much of the surrender we can forget how to do in our lives. We are still human beings in need of whatever that mystery of darkness is; we are still mortal, no matter how much we thrive on efficiency and productivity in our waking life.

Practice setting time aside for stillness before bed, and for valuing the quiet place you've created as much as the sleep itself. Notice how your body feels in the gentleness of it, and how much it craves it. Our bodies so often need to know they're safe and cared for; and we can't tell them with our minds but rather with our actions and our choices. This is one way the mind and the body can be reminded, like children, of the sacredness of sleep, and the way we can greet it and open to it like humble devotees, allowing it to take us to its depths.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Standing in Our Bodies

(Image taken from http://ccsalina.com/2010/05/01/taking-a-stand/)
Why does it feel so good to be grounded in our bodies? To feel our feet fully on the ground, take a deep breath, stand tall? When we inhabit our bodies in this way, we seem also to be brought more fully into our lives.

In fact, a great deal of anxiety and depression can come from being out of touch with what it feels like to be 'in' our bodies. When someone is having a panic attack, one of the key tools for coming back is to take deep breaths, to feel their feet underneath them and to slow down their thoughts. We could use a dose of this throughout our days, with or without a panic attack flooding our systems.

We let our minds take over with analysis and worry; along the way we forget what it feels like to be in the non-verbal expanse that is the body, with its sensations and awarenesses, its mysteries. There's something simplifying and humbling about journeying there, to feel in this moment how something is being felt, simply physically felt: not interpreted, anticipated, criticized. Our bodies and their sensations exist without our deciding what they mean.

Have you ever felt yourself drifting away during a massage, sauna or any physical experience that really brought you into your body? The 'you' that leaves is the mind, and you are left with a present experience of the body, one that can often be blissful and surrendering. From this place we remember our basic, physical connection to everything around us. The mind no longer has us in its grip; we simply feel.

It's one of the reasons that sexual experiences, food, exercise can be so addictive. There is a cessation of thought, a rootedness that takes over. That state of being is something we long for. We can cultivate it by moving into our bodies, and noticing when we've moved away.

Just in this moment, take a deep breath and ask yourself where you are. Are you in this moment, or are you thinking about something in the past or future? Without judgment, see if you can take a few more deep breaths and begin to observe the sensations in the body: what does it feel like in your legs, your chest, your neck, your belly? Ask yourself if you can actually feel your feet below you and practice wiggling your toes and becoming more conscious of the surface underneath the soles of your feet.

Notice as you take even a moment to come more fully into the aliveness of the body, what happens to the mind. You may feel a momentary feeling of peace, of cessation of thought. You might also become aware of feelings or emotions that are in the body but not allowed to be felt when the mind is taking over. Continue to explore all of the sensations of the body.

When life seems like too much, or a problem seems unsolvable, see if you can practice going to this place, if only for a moment. Find your feet. Find your breath. Notice how your body greets you and what happens when you come into relationship with it.

There's a reason why we have certain expressions about 'standing on your own two feet' or 'getting the wind knocked out of you.' We want to take back the legs we stand on, the breath we breathe, until we know with confidence that we are here and fully alive, allowed to be just as we are.