As a head psychologist at a Nutrition coaching company, day and in and day out I used to hear about the constant negative remarks clients would make on how they look, how the major goal for them is to look beautiful and thinner at the end of the program. Our perceptions about our body, about ourselves often becomes reduced to how we “must” look and how we sadly don’t look that way.
There is a lot of pushing away of who we are right now leading to this feeling of alienation we experience about ourselves, our bodies. Often we find that the body we inhabit in is merely a vehicle of our brains. The glorification of our minds, our intellect only creates a distinct isolation from the very body we inhabit in.
Hence, the experience of not feeling like our body wants to listen to us, the experience of wanting this body to be something else other than what it is right now only creates a further lacuna in the way we live our lives. We feel anguish when we don’t lose that weight, we feel hopeless when we try but don’t see the results and we push ourselves to the extremes to win the battle of control over our bodies.
This actually reminds me of a beautiful poem my supervisor shared with me in my Mindfulness class:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
The poem resonates deeply with me on several levels, in this context though it is poignant to note “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” In this culture of body shaming, and isolation we feel from our own skin what does this powerful line invoke for you? What would it mean to allow “the soft animal of your body love what it loves”?
It is my experience that, when I allow my body to lead, I begin to go deeper into the experience of my own life. When I am triggered by an emotion, If can move into the body and not the mind (that will rattle away negative thoughts) I experience a sensational treat in my body.
Emotional pain when met with in the body, as sensations-that thumping of the chest, the burning in the chest even, the tingling all over the legs and that acute jabbing pain in the lower back, all feel like fireworks within. When I can bring attention to this firework within I learn more about the nature of my yearning, my pushing away and my confusion and in learning about this, in sitting with this firework and watching it with curiosity and non-judgement I begin to choose the only response that my body knows, movement, forward movement with intention and impact.
In terms of eating, I can discern my physical hunger from all the other kinds of hunger only when I go deeper into my body’s experience, not what my mind thinks it wants, and learn about what the body wants and how I can gently allow it to get what it truly wants. So if I am triggered to eat because I walk to and fro the kitchen while alone in the house, I know what my body wants deeply is not food, but companionship, the presence of someone. When I can give myself this presence, when I can really own my feelings of loneliness and stay present with myself as I would with a friend, the urge to eat disappears.
The body is not ashamed of anything. The body only experiences. When we can step away from the train of thoughts that take us away from our body and into our heads where shame resides, we can begin to honor it for how it is constantly in sync with who we are at the moment. Be it how ashamed we feel about how we look or how we have chosen something that is not health for us. The experience of staying with the body, learning to understand what it wants, where it is, is the first step in learning to embrace a healthy more skilful way of living our lives.
As we look within and really begin to shift our perceptions about our health, here are some useful resources as you begin the practice of Mindful Eating:
- Stop, Breath, Think: This is one of the best apps of Mindful meditations out there! I highly recommend the Body Scan meditation as a way to being to cultivate a relationship with our bodies, despite what our minds tells us.
- Intuitive Eating: This is a great primer of the principles of intuitive eating. One of the prized possessions from this PDF is the hunger/fullness discovery scale that I highly recommend you begin to use as you begin the process of becoming aware of your body and how it talks to you in the context of hunger and fullness.
- Eating Mindfully: Dr. Susan Albers has a great resource and website with a quick guide on beginning to eat mindfully.
- Health at Every Size: This is a powerful website with resources on what it means to be healthy at any size and how we can cultivate a relationship with our body outside of what our society tells us about beauty.
- Other resources: take a look at this post by Dr. Albers on the books that you can begin to read to cultivate a mindful relationship with your body and with health, at any size.
- Mindful Eating Workshop: If you are in Hyderabad, don’t forget to attend our weekend workshop on mindful eating. It is packed with tools that you can take away to help you honor your body, and live fully and with love for the body you have now.