How to love the body you have
Do you find yourself not really paying attention to your body or not being aware of it? The main part of your body that you use is the part between your ears? You’re always in your head, thinking, planning, worrying? You know you have tension in your body, but you’re not sure where?
Or are you someone who pays too much attention to your body – mostly in disparaging or comparative ways? You’re too fat, your hair is not beautiful anymore, you have to lose weight, you hate when you catch your reflection in the mirror, your clothes don’t fit, you’re too achy and creaky, you lament your body feeling and looking older? You long to feel the way you used to?
Most of us have an unkind or inattentive relationship with our bodies. Yet our bodies are central; they are our living sanctuaries – where we actually live our lives from.
Usually emotions register somewhere in your body. If you’re anxious, your heart may be racing or you might feel tenseness in your shoulders or a lump in your throat. If depressed, you might feel a lack of energy, or your heart aching, or tears. There’s something physical that happens in your body that lets you know what or that you are feeling. We don’t often notice what that is. More often than not, we build walls inside ourselves between the parts of ourselves that we focus on and the undesirables. (Sound familiar?) With more mindfulness you can become more aware and accepting of whatever these things are.
Our bodies live in the present moment. The key to fully inhabiting our bodies is to fully experience sensations just as they are, with a friendly attitude. Try to mindfully experience sensations from the inside out. See if you can sit quietly for a few moments and check in with where your body is making contact with the chair; or where the air touches your skin; or notice your feet contacting the floor. Notice your breath as it enters your body at the nose and goes all the way down into your lungs and abdomen. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your belly with your breath. See if you can feel your breath headed to your toes. See if you can just check in with your hips, or your left calf, or your heart, and notice any sensations there. No judgment – just awareness. Happiness is more likely to come when your body and mind are in the same place at the same time.
Our bodies are often the source of shame or displeasure or self criticism. To disparage our body in this way is to disconnect from our bodies, and do ourselves a dis-service.
When we wish our body discomforts – physical and emotional – would simply go away, we forget to honor our sore feet for carrying us and allowing us to stand upright. We might neglect our heart when we’re hurt and not allow it to reach out or share empathy with others. We can’t stand our hot flashes and rather than appreciate them for being a sign of transformation, we try to escape them. Our joints ache and we complain, rather than let those aches be a gentle request for some holding or touch that we might need.
To be more mindful with our body presence, we might look for the hidden gifts present in every body experience. This means we have to pause so we can notice them, and be with them; not immediately trying to get rid of them, but listening in and embracing them.
A friend of mine whose eyes got worse and worse and couldn’t see so well, learned to appreciate the artful beauty that was created by the blurriness in his vision. The softness around the edges of what he saw allowed him to soften his heart and daily life. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the person with a toothache who is the luckiest person on earth, because it’s only in those moments of pain that he truly knows how wonderful it is to be without a toothache! Usually when we are without a toothache we don’t really consider the gloriousness of that moment.
See if you can tune in to your body and first see what’s going on there; in your various parts, systems, senses. You might be surprised that a few moments of peaceful presence to your body can feel replenishing. If, when you check-in you find there is something there that hurts, see if you can appreciate what the ache is presenting to you and the gift of what it’s brought to you.
Thank your body for all it does for you, even on bad days. Treat it and listen to it like you would a beloved friend.
Don’t forget about your body.
Every body matters.
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Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
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