As a yoga and dance teacher, one of the more critical lessons I see students struggle with is to see their own bodies as allies.
At some point we all become alienated from our birthday suits and begin to question and compare. I spent the better part of a full year obsessed with covering up my feet; I despised the shape and texture they took thanks to my dancing. Even when it was over 90 degrees outside, I wouldn’t wear sandals.
This is an example of a small passing struggle, but there are other much more private struggles. Those that run deeper, are much more difficult to discuss and take longer to recover from.
My passion and curiosity for movement has always been stronger than the alienation. This has been my life raft, it is the motivation that keeps me striving for a healthy relationship with my body, to make it my best friend.
Here are a few ways I bond with my body to keep it my BFF (Best Friend Forever).
1. Make a ritual of taking care of your physical body.
Cut your toenails. Pluck your eyebrows. Shave your legs or beard. Exfoliate your body. Cover your face in a mud mask. Sucker a family member to give you a massage or pay for one. Taking care of our bodies reminds us to take care of our lives. We hurry through our cleansing rituals and forget to actually see ourselves. Meditate on your toes in the tub or on the pattern the water takes as it hits the bottom of the shower.
2. Use your body as a canvas.
When it comes to anatomy, the exception is the rule. Each body is incredibly different and that uniqueness makes each one just as beautiful as the last. Sew a pattern, buy the pants you never thought you could pull off and get that amazing tattoo you always wanted. Fall in love with your canvas by using it!
3. Bring your body to new places to experience new things.
Whether a vibrant city or an expansive landscape, experience all your senses in new places. A grueling international hike or a new neighborhood walk, a dish with thirteen spices or one covered in olive oil, the experience of novelty is important for both our brains and our bodies.
4.Define a sleep ritual.
Shut off electronics at a certain hour. Put your phone on airplane mode while you sleep. Read before you turn the lights off. Listen to a night time meditation. This is your moment to rest, to repair the body and mind. It’s not extra, it’s necessary. Make sure you let yourself ease into quality sleep when possible.
5. Breath deep.
Involuntary breathing is good, it keeps us alive, but it can very shallow. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Using breathing exercises intermittently throughout the day or taking a morning practice can help to activate relaxation responses that relieve stress and anxiety. An example would be count to four on both an inhale and exhale.
6. Find a sense of wonder in your range of motion.
Have you ever seen a baby discover it can roll over? So often we experience physical activity like a fight against ourselves. Stop fighting. All goals take time. One of the easiest places to practice this is in a yoga class. Yoga classes tend to place a strong focus on tuning into exploring your body instead of forcing it into a posture. In addition, I recommend trying to replace goals like lose 100 pounds to run a continuous mile or balance in a headstand. When you recover a sense of wonder at the amazing feats your body can perform (no matter how seemingly simple), it’s easier to work with your body instead of against it.
7. Take pride in what fuels your body.
This is hard to write about because there seem to be so many “right” and “wrongs” here. In general, when you make your own meals you are constrained by the ingredients. If you only buy ingredients you take pride in eating (whether paleo, organic or vegan) you are much more likely to feel like you ate for your body. Learn new recipes for foods you’d like to add to your diet and don’t buy the foods you should stop eating regularly.
8. Get and give hugs.
Hugs are powerful tools for our bodies and minds. Neurobiologists recommend long ones for the strongest effect. As you leave your house in the morning or a friend after dinner, don’t forget that all too important awkwardly long hug.
When everything is quiet we can hear the chatter in our mind. As the chatter silences, the volume of the slow steady beat of our heart and whisper of our breath rises. The constant pulse of movement inside our bodies reminds us that we are alive. We are still here today and every day we are alive is one to be grateful for; as long as there is life, there is hope.
10. Reclaim your sense of ownership.
Particularly poignant for those who have one way or another felt significantly alienated by their own body through chronic pain, struggles with weight loss or abuse. Your body can feel like it belongs to an illness, fat-shamers or an abuser. This is complex and takes years, but just by giving yourself the ability to explore what this even means, you are taking a step forward. The process could involve seeing a psychologist, reading a few books, doing some internet research, journaling, taking a trip and/or just sitting by the ocean. Everyone’s path will look different, but it’s certainly one worth taking.
A body is a vehicle for life, both our entrance and exit; you enter the world with it and you leave in it. As your gratitude and friendship with your body grows, so will your gratitude and friendship with life.