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Body Awareness

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Something terrible happened yesterday. A client of mine came into the gym, lifted up her shirt, and pinched the skin on her belly, begging me for help. “Please Sarah, I am disgusting. This is horrible. I have to get rid of this fat. It makes me sick. I am so ugly.”

This makes me sad.

Would you ever say this to someone else? You are disgusting. You are so fat. Nobody loves you. I hate you. I wouldn’t even say that to my worst enemy. I can barely write it without feeling bad. And this is the way we speak to ourselves. This is how we choose to treat our bodies and our hearts.

Now this is just an opinion, but I honestly believe that this bad body talk is far worse for us than Nutra-sweet, nicotine, and cholesterol. The worse we feel about ourselves, the worse we treat ourselves because hey, we don’t deserve any better, right? We are fat, lazy losers who aren’t perfect and don’t deserve love. What in the hell is perfect anyway? Who made up this ideal? This ideal is different for everyone but its damage is the same. It makes us feel like we are supposed to be something we aren’t instead of helping us embrace who we are. It is a picture we have created that tells us when we are allowed to let go, smile, and feel good. Except we will never get there because the more we tell ourselves how horrid we are the less likely we are to obtain any kind of goodness in any area of our lives.

I know a girl called Sophie.

She is beautiful. She is healthy. She has fantastic skin. She is fit. She does not have a six-pack but sometimes you can see the definition in her arms when she works out. Her heart beats strong every day. She has an unbelievable amount of love to give. She is a really fast typer and she tells great jokes.

Sometimes Sophie wakes up and stares at herself in the mirror for fifteen minutes dissecting how ugly she is. She will sometimes cry because she feels so bad about her body.

When this happens, Sophie loses all her fire. She becomes listless. She can’t work out and all she wants to eat are Cheetos. She craves a cigarette and will live in a pretend world where she smiles to everyone and on the inside she is screaming out hate. Imagine the kind of stress that a behavior like that comes with.

That stress is what is keeping Sophie from finding happiness. This is the stress that makes her stomach hurt and gives her the flu. This is the stress that is eating her up, and all because she never tells her body how beautiful and capable it is. The more she tells herself she isn’t worth it, the more she will spiral downward.

I would like everyone reading this who can relate in any way at all to complete the exercise from The Body Whisperer by Martha Beck.

“For a day, consciously observe the stream of thoughts you direct toward your body. (I need Botox. Why am I so dense? I hate, hate, hate my nose.) Once you’ve noticed your own abusive mantras, begin countering each one with some sort of genuine praise, no matter how lame it may seem. If you loathe your upper-arm flab, make yourself think about the fact that your arm, flab and all, can participate in procedures as delicate as threading a needle or as powerful as shifting a car into gear. Praise it for its abilities, as you would praise a horse you wanted to train: Good arm! You’re so coordinated! Wow, look at you go!

This may feel absurd at first, but if you pay attention, you’ll find that countering abuse with praise has a powerful effect on your body. I learned this at a seminar for chronic-pain management. The instructor asked us to focus on a part of our body that was continuously in pain (I chose my back) and then offer those body parts the affection we would give the person we loved most. To my embarrassment, I found I couldn’t do this without crying—but as I did, the muscle spasms in my back loosened perceptibly. My body had been hurting because of illness, but also because I hated it. Offering it affection tangibly changed the momentum that was taking me further into disease, and began the process of healing.

The same strategy can take you from decent health to splendiferous well-being, make you so satisfied you forget to smoke, drink, or binge, and allow your birthright of self-confidence to replace any body shame that may darken your life. If praising your body feels awkward and artificial, too bad. Do it anyway. Gradually, as you feel the beneficial effects, this exercise will come naturally and automatically.”

I propose that in order to honor our bodies, the bodies that take such good care of us, we all try to be a little more aware. This does not mean that we become more anal about the perceived negative, it means we pay attention to what our bodies need. What does your body need?

Mine needs love, and vegetables, and long walks in Golden Gate Park, and lots of sleep. Most of all—my body needs to be reminded how perfect it is to me.

Be good to your body; it’s where you live.


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