How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 29: How yoga taught me to love my body.


You’ve heard all the good ideas: change your attitude, don’t compare yourself, accept yourself as you are, be friendly toward your body. But really, when you wake up in this body with all its pains and flaws, dress it in whatever’s clean, feed it whatever’s in the fridge, trim its nails, and clean its skin and furry places, how exactly do you love your body?

Do yoga. If you want to love your body, roll out your mat and say hello to your downward facing dog. It doesn’t matter why you think you’re there… to get a hot ass, pacify your anxiety, relearn to touch your toes, or meet the cute yogi who lives next door.

I once heard Ana Forrest describe yoga as having “coyote wisdom”--- whatever reason brings you through the door, the deeper wisdom of yoga always sneaks in close behind.

Years ago, I arrived at my first yoga class in pain: desperately hoping to diminish my too-large posterior and looking for relief from disparity between my heavy baby and my back’s ability to carry him. The long-term emotional pain of disliking my body was no less frustrating than the more recent agonizing back spasms.

I hoped yoga would both heal my back and miraculously change my body into something I could love. Instead, while healing my back, it turned me into someone who could love her body.

What I discovered in standing poses was a new appreciation for my body, for its strength and its ability to heal itself. In arm balances I was amazed by my body’s ability to find leverage and lift with muscles I didn’t even know I had. Inversions literally turned my world upside down, broadening my self-perception from beyond my life roles to see myself as whole and good. In backbends I found myself able to soften, expand, and open my heart to myself and others more deeply than I had ever imagined. In forward bends I learned to look inward for answers and to trust the wisdom that bubbled up from within my heart.

Yoga laid me open emotionally, nourished me spiritually, and challenged me to find and respect my edge physically.

I remember lying on my mat one day during a training with Anusara Yoga founder John Friend and hearing the words: “Look for the good. See first what’s good and right in a pose and in your students.” For a moment I despaired: how could I see what’s good and right in my students if I couldn’t even see it in myself? John’s words challenged me to see what was good about my body, good about my practice, good about my life.

Is it true the good has been hiding in plain sight all along, but I’ve been too focused on what’s wrong to see it?

Could my too-big posterior actually be just right? Having mostly recovered from anorexia many years before, I still treated my body like a vehicle I was embarrassed to be seen driving. After having loathed my body for decades, could yoga help me learn to respect it, enjoy it, even love it, just as it is?

The answer is yes. Slowly, as the ability to listen to my body and the sense of my own worthiness as independent of my appearance took root and grew in my awareness, my desire to wish away my hips into nothingness began to dissolve. Why should I wish away these perfectly good hips? They are mine. I choose them.

I choose this body to love and cherish, ‘til death do we part.

It’s possible that Tai Chi, hula hooping, or belly dancing could have had the same effect… but yoga is what did it for me. A physical practice that teaches self-awareness, self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-compassion could take many forms, but yoga’s particular combined outlook and approach offer the chance to embody all of these benefits fully.

One person’s experience, even my own, proves little; but a study done by University of California San Francisco psychologist Jennifer Daubenmier showed that women participating in yoga classes showed less “self-objectification” after the series than before-- a small but significant shift that could lead to a more positive relationship with one’s body. In Daubenmier’s words,

“There is some evidence that poor awareness of one’s inner thoughts, feelings and body sensations has been linked to eating disorders….I had started yoga classes myself and had taken classes in Buddhist psychology. I thought yoga fostered a greater mind-body connection, an awareness of physical sensation in the body, and a greater ability to respond to those sensations appropriately.”

Through your yoga practice you can let your body teach you to love it. Let yourself be inspired by your body; let your mat be home---where you and your body replenish and reconnect.

Keep coming back to your mat, and let yourself fall in love with your body.

Source: “Yoga: a new way to fight anorexia and bulimia,” by Devon Haynie, Columbia News Service, http://jscms.jrn.columbia.edu/cns/2007-02-13/haynie-yogatherapy.html.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 28: When Fashion Magazines Attack.


You’ve heard the old joke: a doctor comes into an exam room and asks the patient what’s wrong. He says, “Doctor, every time I do this,” slapping himself in the face, “it hurts!” The doctor says, “I can cure you. Don’t do that.”

It seems simple, right? Just don’t do things that hurt. But we all know it’s not that easy.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a waiting area and picked up a fashion magazine, thinking to spend an idle few minutes checking out at the latest in glam makeup, high-heeled shoes, and micro-mini pencil skirts. I start with “Go Cute and Strapless for Spring,” and “10 Secrets Women Should Know about Men,” then move onto “Secrets Your Trainer Never Tells You,” and “The Fastest Route to a Bikini-Ready Body.” For no apparent reason, my head starts to hurt and my stomach growls. Wishing a scone and a latte would magically appear, I worry that I’ve eaten too much today and exercised too little. My thighs feel fat and uncomfortable. I’m miserable, while a mere twenty minutes ago I felt just peachy.

For years I thought I hated waiting rooms, hated being patient, hated hanging out on someone else’s whim. But I know differently now… I suffer from Post-Airbrush Syndrome, or PAS.

Did you know, reading fashion magazines can be hazardous to your health? They should carry Surgeon General Warnings on them: “Observing pictures of airbrushed models may change your brain chemistry and cause mood swings. Do not use while operating heavy machinery.” All we need are the electrodes and the control group; someday science will back me up on this.

Several pages into the magazine, the mood shift begins: increased crankiness and irritability. As you head beyond the diet tips, and past the 100th photo of an unnaturally perfect body, physical symptoms soon follow: headache, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

The airbrushed world between the magazine pages stares back at you with its tongue out and its hands waving alongside its ears. Nanny, nanny, boo-boo.

Your life is not airbrushed. You wonder why not. Your mind struggles with the cognitive dissonance of the imperfect, tangible world of alarm clocks and wrinkles you see around you, and the smooth perfect lines of airbrushed non-reality.

As you look up from your PAS induced stupor, you may feel as if someone slapped you in the face. I can cure you. Stop reading fashion magazines.

You might be one of the lucky few women who can read a fashion magazine without a single morsel of creeping self-doubt. If so, I congratulate you. For the rest of us, just start to notice how you feel before you pick up the magazine, while you’re reading it, and after you’ve put it aside. Are you still feeling friendly towards your body? How’s your inner best friend feeling? Loved? Admired? Valued? Or do fashion magazines arm your inner critic with a handful of body-hating grenades?

If it’s the latter, just stop.

Know that picking up a fashion magazine is like inviting your inconsiderate uncle over for a dinner of fresh criticism over rice with extra meanness on the side.

Better yet, ask your body, your best friend… “Hey body, what do you think of fashion magazines?” My body answers, “I’d rather be outside in the sun. Or play with the dog. Or even just sit here and breathe deeply. Actually, I’d rather do anything else.” What kind of magazines does my body like? Any kind that doesn’t encourage me to be at war with it. Simple.

Listen to your body, keep breathing, and just say no to PAS: Post-Airbrush Syndrome.

Next post: More ways to love your body.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 27: Defend Your Best Friend

Imagine: you’re at dinner with your extended family and your best friend. Your uncle, looking your best friend up and down, says, “You better lay off the cheesecake and hit the gym. Looking pretty chunky there.” What do you do? Do you chime in with him? “Yeah, he’s right, you’ve really been packing on the pounds,” and then helpfully recommend she order a low fat salad and ice water?

No way. You stand beside her and say, “No one cares what you think, Uncle Bob. She looks gorgeous just the way she is. Don’t ever talk that way to her again.”

Perhaps, depending on your sassy-ness quotient that day, you even glare at him menacingly and stomp your heel close enough to his foot to make him back away with a new appreciation for the sharpness of your elbows.

He knows you mean it. And you promise your best friend you’ll never force her to sit through another meal with him. You might even leave with her, arm in arm, determined to forget about him entirely and show her a fun evening after all.

Now imagine the same scenario, but without your best friend. Just you, your body, and your family, and Uncle Bob tosses his boorish comments in your direction. What do you do now? Are you your own best friend? Do you tell him to mind his own business, and reassure yourself of your own beauty and worth?

So many of us in this situation turn on ourselves, believing everything he said, and imagine that everyone else at the table agrees with him as well.

Perhaps you sit silently at the table, eating only ice cubes, humiliated, privately fuming at him, at yourself, and vowing to start your diet right this very second. Or even if we leave, we secretly know he’s right, and use his words as arrows to shoot at ourselves for the rest of the week, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

Be your own best friend… be your body’s best friend. You wouldn’t let people badmouth your best friend. Don’t let them badmouth your body, either. What Would Your Best Friend Do… WWYBFD?

You know the situations where badmouthing happens in your life. Maybe it’s your mom, your friends at the gym who complain about their bodies and weight, or your co-worker who’s always on a fad diet. Sometimes it’s not that anyone insults us personally, but by complaining about their body, makes us feel self-conscious and inadequate about our own.

Make of list of what your best friend would tell you to say to each of these people:

1. “Mom, I love you, but my body is off limits. I’m happy with my body. We can talk about anything else, but I won’t listen to you go on about how you think I need to lose weight and somehow that’s the cause of all my problems. I don’t believe that anymore and neither should you.”

2. “Hey ladies, I’m tired of hearing everyone complain about their bodies all the time. Geez. Is there anything you like about your body? I took a great walk yesterday along the bay, and my knee injury didn’t bother me at all. It felt amazing. My body’s pretty awesome.”

3. “I know you like to tell me about your latest diet, but I’m really not interested in [the caveman diet, the cabbage soup diet, the-latest-hippest-diet-here] or how much weight you lost. Did you do anything fun this weekend? I went dancing with a group of friends and we had a blast. We set the dance floor on fire!”

Set limits with your friends and family.

They are not allowed to badmouth your body. If they can’t live with those limits, you might have to put them in a time out. Yup, adults need time-outs too.

Find friends and family members who are supportive of your newfound friendship with your body and who see the beauty in you whatever size you are. Spend time with them. You are worth it. And if you don’t believe me, just ask your best friend.

Next post: A love-hate relationship… your body and fashion magazines.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 26: Love in a Bottle… Share Some with Your Body Today


Have you ever given yourself a massage? I’ve heard yoga called self-massage, and I agree… but have you ever gently rubbed yourself all over with lotion or oil, from head to toe? What if you could give yourself nearly the same feeling of contentment and well-being you receive at the hands of a massage therapist… or even more?

I first heard of self-massage, a yogic cleansing practice, from yoga philosophy teacher Carlos Pomeda. Every morning, Carlos told our group of yoga students, he practiced self-massage, rubbing Ayurvedic (yogic medicine) oils into his skin, all over his body. I was surprised. Even after years of doing yoga, I was reluctant to touch my unclothed body; unless my skin was itching or flaking off, I rarely treated it to any kind of lotion. But I looked at Carlos and realized for the first time (I know, it seems odd) that he was not a supermodel. He didn’t have the “perfect” body. And he wasn’t afraid to touch his body and give it the attention and moisture it deserved. If Carlos could do it, surely I could, too. I sensed that my body needed this practice, but I just filed Carlos’ suggestion to the back of my brain for later.

Months later, I did an Ayurvedic cleanse (an eating cleanse, I call it---I don’t do starving cleanses), where our guide asked us to do self-massage with warmed organic raw sesame oil every morning before showering. Being told I had to do it, putting it on my to-do list, worked for me.

If I have to rub warm sesame oil all over my skin I guess I can force myself to do it.

I set the bottle of oil into a cup of very hot water to warm it, then gently smoothed the oil on my arms and hands, moving eventually to my chest and belly, then even my hips, legs, and feet. We were supposed to even use it in our hair and ears, but quickly I found that using it above my neck was too messy for me, also, the skin on my face is plenty oily already, thank you.

But the rest of my body loved it, felt nourished and replenished by me, the one person whose love matters the most.

Far beyond the end of the weeklong cleanse, I found myself using my sesame oil every day to commune with my body in a basic, loving way.

One morning something else Carlos had said floated to the top of my brain: during his self-massage, he often repeated mantras. Om Namah Shivaya, or “I honor the divine within myself,” is one he mentioned, and so I began to repeat it to myself in both Sanskrit and English. “This body is divine, too,” I whispered, smiling that the yoga teaching I’d heard so many times should arise at this extraordinarily appropriate moment. To my utter surprise, I found myself believing the words, my body soaking them in, filterless, and an overarching sense of being beloved and cherished settled into me.

Why does this work? I don’t know, but I have lots of theories.

Self-massage reassures the body on a cellular level that it is worthy of touch, worthy of love.

It increases your attention and empathy with your body, and tells your brain, this is me, this is part of me, this is mine, I am whole. It bypasses our thinking patterns and allows us, for a few minutes each day, to relate to the body not as a vehicle but as the alive, vibrant, strong, yet fragile being that we are.

Massage given by someone else is wonderful as well. In fact, I often have students and friends come to me about someone in their life, usually a young woman, who appears to be headed down the road to anorexia, and ask if there is anything I can suggest. Among other things, I always suggest massage. Get that young woman to weekly (or more frequent) massage appointments with a loving, affirming therapist who can, through touch, remind her of her beauty and worthiness.

According to the University of Maryland Clinic website,

“For centuries, human touch has been shown to be emotionally and physically healing. Particular massage techniques may either stimulate or calm the body's muscles and tissues to create a desired effect. When a practitioner massages soft tissue, electrical signals are transmitted both to the local area and throughout the body. These signals, in combination with the healing properties of touch, help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the activity of the immune system, reduce pain and tension, and induce a calming effect. Massage may also enhance well-being by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/massage-000354.htm

Try a daily self-massage with warm oil for a week, before or after you shower. Make it your personal daily retreat. You probably don’t even have to go out and buy any oil---use the olive oil in your pantry. Use a natural oil, free of additives… make it something your body wants to eat and enjoy. Or head to the health food store, in the food oil section… and look for the raw organic sesame oil to get started. Or if you want a more personalized oil, contact your local Ayurvedic practitioner and ask them what type of oil they recommend for your body type.

Notice how your body feels during the week you’re doing the self-massage, and notice any changes in how you feel about your body.

If you notice the self-massage bolsters the friendly and loving relationship you’re creating with yourself, keep it up, and see where it leads you!

Next post: To be your body’s friend, protect it from its enemies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 25: Nice Albatross, Pretty Albatross




How do you make nice with your albatross, the part of your body that drives you crazy? If you’ve followed the blog so far you intuit where this is headed--- How would you treat a friend who’s driving you nuts? Perhaps a friend you broke up with after a long ago fight… how do you heal those old wounds?

First, you clear the air. You talk. Sit down with your albatross and tell it how you feel. Share your anger, your frustration. Then imagine its response. Listen, and let it tell you how it feels. Touch that part of your body with your hands and gently ask your albatross what it needs from you to heal your relationship with it. Listen for the answer, and then give your albatross the comfort, the soothing words, even the apology it needs.

Years ago, a friend offered me a massage in her lovely backyard garden studio in Berkeley. She described her style of massage as “energy work”, which sounded like something my inner Midwesterner would chortle at, but I was willing to go along anyway.

A pool of afternoon light through the open door warmed the massage table and I settled like a kitten in the sun to enjoy the kneading of my tight neck and shoulders.

As usual, when she started to massage my thighs and hips (my albatross), even with a sheet draped over them, they tensed from my usual discomfort and self-consciousness. She encouraged me to relax as her soothing hands loosened my inner knots. As I felt my hips and thighs relaxing, I sent a half-hearted apology to them.

Me: I’m sorry I’m so hard on you. I’ve always wished you were smaller, and I just can’t seem to let it go.

To my surprise, my hips answered back…. We know.

My mind turned over this response, and tentatively reached out again: I don’t want to fight with you, but I don’t know what else to do.

My hips responded: We don’t want to war with you either. We want to help you. We’re here for you. We want you to step into life fully. We want to work with you and have fun with you. We love you.

A giant tear trailed down the bridge of my nose and dropped onto the sheet below my face. I had never cried during a massage before, and part of me couldn’t believe I was doing it now. My heart cracked. I’m so sorry. I want to work with you, too. I love you. Let’s work together from now on. We’re in this together.

Offer blessings to your albatross. Tell it you want to be friends. Perhaps even give it a different name, an affectionate moniker that reflects the relationship you want to have with it. Look for what’s beautiful about that part of your body, without comparing it to what you think it should look like. Look for the good in what it is.

Every part of your body deserves your love. Every part of your body loves you.

Give that part of your body some extra love and attention. Get out the body crayons, sparkly eyeliner pencils, or non-toxic markers, and draw a smiley face on it, or a beautiful flower, or a spiral, or some loving words. Wear something that makes that part of your body a little extra visible or playful. For me, wearing short skirts, even over pants, helps give my thighs and hips a sense of flirty fun. Write down five good things about that part of your body and repeat them to yourself whenever you catch yourself treating them like an albatross.

Here’s the cool part: if you can heal your relationship with your albatross, you can heal your relationship with any part of your body, anytime.

No only are you learning to be a better friend to yourself, but the practice of listening and forgiving helps you be a better friend to everyone in your life. Your albatross, instead of driving you and everyone else crazy and over the side of the boat, becomes the means to create connection and beauty in your life, inwardly and outwardly.

Next post: The TO DO list your body’s been waiting for all its life.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 24: Killer Zombie Albatross on the Loose


Quite possibly, you don’t remember the details of Coleridge’s spooky “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from your high school English class. I didn’t. Aside from a general warning that shooting the bird that helps you and your shipmates out of danger is a bad idea, and if you do kill said bird, said shipmates will force you to wear it around your neck as a really humiliating fashion statement, I couldn’t tell you much of what happened without sneaking a peak at Wikipedia. Turns out, everyone on the ship, except for the guy wearing the dead albatross around his neck, eventually goes crazy or dies.

What does a poem about a crossbow-wielding, morally deficient sailor and the sea bird who stalks him from the grave have to do with loving your body?

Turns out, the albatross around your neck, that part of your body you can’t stand, might be driving the people around you crazy, and killing your relationships.

Think about it. Suppose you hate your belly and wear clothes that hide it from the world… the minute your best friend suggests going shopping for a swimsuit and a weekend trip to the beach, what do you do? Do you say, “Sure, I’m totally there”? Or do you snap at her for being a insensitive jerk who obviously doesn’t care about your feelings and if she wants someone to go swimsuit shopping with, she better stop by the Best Friend store and get a new one of those, too?

When a colleague at work says, “That dress is great on you,” do you pretend to gag and launch into a diatribe about your belly? “What, with this spare tire? If I weren’t so fat, it would look a lot better. I’m so sick of this stupid muffin top.” You’ve almost guaranteed that person will never wade into the land-mined terrain of giving you a compliment ever again.

An unnamed woman in my life, we’ll call her Bea, can’t take a compliment without complaining about her “back fat” (I swear I have no idea what she’s talking about---it looks like lovely skin to me) and, surprise, her belly. Sometimes I forget how sensitive she is about her body, and then BOOM, one stray compliment and I find myself surrounded by body-hating-grenade-induced carnage. Seriously, all you can do is duck, cover, and hope you don’t get taken out by shrapnel. Nursing my wounds, I walk around her triggers more carefully for a while--- until I forget again.

Then sometimes the worst happens. Our friends start to avoid not only our landmines, but the whole DMZ. Our best friend really does find a friend to go swimsuit shopping and swimming at the beach with. Uh-oh. Now we’re pissed. Excluded, angry, frustrated as hell. Our friends stop inviting us to things they think will trigger us, and of course that only triggers us more.

We don’t go out dancing, we won’t wear shorts, and we certainly will not take off our long sleeves, even if we’re absolutely melting for hours in an endless line in the blazing hot sun at the amusement park we are not amused by… all because we don’t want anyone to see our albatross. We give up the freshness of air on our skin, the cool buoyancy of water, the warmth of sand between our toes, never to be enjoyed by us ever again…all because of our albatross. We can feel like we’re going a little crazy ourselves.

Your albatross is not worth losing your friends or your sanity over.

Don’t let it kill your enjoyment of life. A friend of mine tried on eighty swimsuits one day… 80. She told her friend sitting in the dressing room with her that she hated them all. Her friend looked stunned for a moment and said, “I see nothing here but beauty.” Her friend (demonstrating the patience of Mother Teresa) finally convinced her to take one, and when she arrived at the beach, she looked around and saw women of all ages and shapes and sizes--- lumpy, slender, soft, tall--- playing, swimming, sunning, building sandcastles with their kids, and generally not caring about what anyone else thought of them.

Anyone who cares enough to comment about your weight or size should go back to junior high where they can smack their gum and bully each other to their heart’s content.

Most people have better things to do; you can’t tell by looking at them, but mostly they’re thinking about whether they’ll have to change their toddler’s swim diaper before they can claim the last beer in the cooler. So relax and enjoy yourself. No one cares as much as you think they do.

Guess what lifts the sailor’s curse in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and causes the zombie albatross to drop from his neck…. He’s freed only when he learns to see beauty in the ugly things he was formerly disgusted by, offering them love and blessings from his heart. His dead crewmates? They rise up out of the waves, full of good spirits, and sail on to friendly climes. Invite in the possibility of offering love and blessings to that part of yourself you find most ugly. Tomorrow I’ll share with you some practices to do just that.

Next post: Make nice with Mr. Albatross

Friday, March 18, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 23: How do you get the albatross off your neck? Ask it nicely.


What part of your body really drives you crazy? Sure, you can feel okay about your elbows and earlobes, the mole on your left shoulder, and even your belly button, but when it really comes down to it, you just don’t have enough time left to love your _______________________. Fill in the blank with whatever part of your body you’ve always prayed would disappear one morning, but never does.

“Dear God, please take back some of this abundant belly you’ve given me. There must be someone on the planet who needs it more than I do. I wouldn’t want to be greedy. Please distribute it as you see fit.”

The albatross around my neck, the annoying, humiliating part of my body that I felt I could never love, was my thighs. They expand where they should contract, dimple where they should be smooth, squish where they should be firm. Nothing about them was right. They certainly didn’t look anything like what I thought they should look like.

Standing in the mirror, I would mentally airbrush them away until I could stand to look at myself, and then despair that I couldn’t just slice them up and throw them away.

Not only was I afraid to look at my naked thighs, but I was grossed out to touch them even long enough to put on lotion. I fantasized about starvation cleanses, boot camps, and liposuction, all to tame my thighs into the perfect little twigs I imagined they should be. I would cut myself free from my albatross, and life could finally begin.

Does this ring any bells? Your albatross might be a different part of your body, your story about it might be different, but the overall approach might be the same… the only options are obliteration or hostile indifference. But why? Why should we hate this part of our body, or any part?

Why should a part of our body keep us from enjoying our lives fully?

Imagine for a moment, how your life might shift if you stopped worrying about this part of your body. Imagine that not only do you stop worrying about it, but you start to like it and appreciate it. Impossible? Nope. I did it.

You can change your relationship to your albatross, resuscitating it into a dear friend and companion who can lead you out of the stormy seas and back into the clear wind.

First, listen. Find a comfortable place to sit and contemplate. Talk to your albatross, that part of your body you can’t stand. Ask it questions.

1. Why are you like this? Let your albatross answer. My thighs respond, “We’re like this because of your genes, remember those? Both your grandmas and your great-grandmas had thighs like this. We’re proud to be part of a long line of big-thighed women.”

2. I’ve been mad at you for a long time, but I never though to ask you how you feel. Dare I ask? My thighs say, “We’re tired of you being mad at us all the time. We can’t help being what we are. We don’t want to embarrass you. We just want to enjoy life.”

3. I don’t want to fight anymore. How can I learn to be a better friend to you? My thighs answer, “Maybe you could try seeing what’s good about us.”

4. What’s good about you? Seriously? Okay, you have to help me out here. My thighs, happy to be finally asked, say, “Well, for one thing, we’re strong. We’re sturdy. We hardly ever hurt. We helped you carry a nine and a half pound baby in your belly… that was cool. We’re pretty flexible too. In fact, we’re kind of pretty, if you stop comparing us to all those airbrushed models in your head. Your head is too crowded for us to look good.”

Did you notice that my thighs listed five to six good things about them? Write down whatever your albatross suggests, even if you don’t believe them. Remind yourself of them whenever you catch yourself aiming at your albatross through the crosshairs. Aspire to see the good in them, however long it takes. Soften to this part of yourself, and invite in the possibility that you will someday see what’s right about that formerly troublesome part of your body. You’ve already made an auspicious start in learning to befriend your albatross.

Next post: Bird CPR? Breathe life back into your albatross.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 22: Never give up, never surrender!


Don’t tell me. You’ve tried being friendlier to your body, you’ve tried seeing the good in it, you’ve tried imagining it as a magnificent pillar of evolutionary achievement, but you’re still not feeling the love. Don’t worry. There’s still time. As long as you’re alive, as long as you have a body, there’s still time to fall in love with it.

If you’re feeling discouraged, don’t panic.

Many of us have a lifetime of negativity towards our bodies that takes more than a day, a week, or even dare I say, 22 blogposts to undo.

Perhaps you looked in the mirror this morning and saw your mean girl sneering back at you, or found yourself machine-eating your way through a box of Girl Scout cookies instead of taking care of yourself. That’s okay. Give yourself a break.

What would your best friend say? Again, we’re talking about your idealized best friend, not meanies like Simon Cowell or Ann Coulter. Your best friend who sees the best in you, who knows your faults and flaws, and loves you because of the complicated person you are, not in spite of it. Your best friend knows your talents and skills, has watched you live through pain and joy, and supports you unconditionally, but also won’t put up with any self-pity or rationalizing bullshit.

Maybe your best friend would say, “Oh honey, let it go. One step back doesn’t undo your two steps forward, and even if it did, you’re still on the right track. You just keep moving. You’ve tackled harder stuff than this. We’re in this together.”

“We’re in this together,” are magic words for me. I whisper those words to my body, and imagine my body whispering them back. In those moments when I’m feeling anxious about some new challenge life has thrown at me, “Body, you and I, we’re in this together,” is exactly what calms my blood pressure and bolsters my inner confidence.

Look back at the exercises and practices for learning to love your body that we’ve covered so far: the “Hi” practice, letting go of old, yucky rules about our bodies and replacing them with new ones, imagining meeting and conversing with your inner best friend and your inner demon, setting aspirations for how you want to feel about your body, dialoguing with the body about past trauma, making a list of things you like about your body, etc. Which have you tried? Which have resonated most for you?

Think about each practice as a seed you’ve been given. Maybe two of the seeds you’re excited about (Pumpkins! Strawberries!), and you put them in a cup of dirt on your windowsill and water them everyday.

One day perhaps you forget to water them, but you remember later, and they’re still growing fine, if a little slowly. Some of the other seeds, you’re not sure about. (Fennel? Rhubarb?) You’d like to plant them, but you don’t feel confident they’ll grow or that they're right for you. That’s okay, save them for later. Maybe some you’re pretty sure will never grow, or you don't want to grow. (Okra? No thanks. Pineapple? Around here? No way.) No problem, just hold on to them too. Plant them whenever you feel ready, or not at all. Just know you can return to them at some later date when you need them most.

True change doesn’t happen overnight, just like our little plant in the paper cup doesn’t grow into a magic beanstalk while we sleep. Sometimes we’re like a little kid who checks the paper cup every fifteen minutes, and then runs to Mom, saying, “It’s not working! Those seeds must be dead!”

Four of the most important words I ever heard came from one of my first yoga teachers: “Be patient with yourself.” Your love for your body will grow, slowly and surely, by planting a couple of seeds at a time, and letting them fully take root in your life. When you’re ready, you can plant more, letting your love for your body become a welcoming, flourishing garden, full of beauty and wonders you’ve only imagined. Not through beanstalk magic, but through consistent, tender care.

And don’t worry, the Love Your Body Handbook isn’t nearly through… still more seeds will be arriving shortly for you to plant or save, as you desire.

Next post: Get focused: turn your albatross into a faithful companion.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 21: Your Magnificent Body Wants You to Know Just How Awesome It Is.


Have you asked yourself, “What has my body done for me lately?” Perhaps you recall a too-tight waistline, a humiliating stumble, an untimely fart, or a stomach flu that seemed to last forever. For many of us, our bodies seem like an inconvenience, an embarrassment, or our worst enemy. (Hopefully, some of the practices we’ve done so far in the blog have helped shift that perspective.)

Today I’m going to answer the question of what your body has done for you and does for you all the time.

In her eco-spiritual workshops, Joanna Macy shares with her participants a practice called the “Cradling”, in which one partner lays down, and the other partner touches their hands, feet, head, etc., cradling each part of the body in turn. As they hold each part of their partner’s body, Macy reminds them of the beauty and significance of each individual part and the whole (Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, p 124). Adapting Macy’s practice, I’ll take you through this guided meditation on your own. Find a comfortable place to sit, like on a couch or the floor, someplace you can see and even touch various parts of your body.

Place your dominant hand in your less dominant hand, and look at it. (At any point you can change hands to give the other some appreciation as well.) Cradle it, feel its weight. Imagine you’ve never seen this hand before. Flex your fingers, and admire their complex movement.

“The narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,” wrote Walt Whitman.

Your thumb, in particular, is an engineering marvel, an ingenious twist of nature that opened up a world of untapped opportunity to your species. Bend your elbow and turn your wrist. Notice the muscle tone and bone structure, how it all fits together so perfectly. Your human hand is unique in the universe, with its structure and intelligence, its fluidity and strength. After millions, billions of years of evolution, through the tiny flagellae of the protozoa, the fins of ancient fish, the webbed foot of a primal amphibian, the furry paws of our long-ago ancestors, your hand is the result---capable of painting a delicate bird on the inside of a glass ball, performing surgery on the miniscule bones of the ear, lifting a heavy box of books, stirring a pot of nourishing soup, offering the gentlest soothing touch to a loved one. From the first parting of your fingers in your mothers womb to this moment, your hand has grown and learned so much: how to lift soup from a spoon into your mouth, how to pick up a thin coin, flick a marble, hold a pencil, to wash a fragile glass, build a wall, and prune a rosebush.

Through this hand, these hands, you have come to know so much about the world and about yourself. Offer your hands a blessing, a thank you.

Gently release your hands and sit so that you can touch your legs and feet. Look at one of your feet, even hold at in your lap, if possible, cradling it. (Feel free to change feet at any time.) Admire its shape, the line of its bones and muscles. Your foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons.

The 52 bones in your feet make up nearly 25 percent of all the bones in your body.

Wow. And you stand on this foot all the time, barely even having to think about it. This foot effortlessly balances your weight, helps to hold you upright, and propels you forward, supporting you literally every step you’ve ever taken---from your first steps as a child, your first bicycle ride, climbing, running, hiking. You’ve already been on a lifetime of adventures with your feet, your legs, and more miles yet to explore. Offer this foot, these feet and legs, a blessing of strength and healing.

Lie back and place one hand to your belly and one hand on your heart. Perhaps you can even feel your heart beat or the tiny rumblings of digestion in your belly. Your belly contains superficial and deep muscles that allow you to stand upright, and provide a container to protect the crucial organs within your abdomen. Your belly is the home of your digestion, gleaning nutrients to support your life, and effectively releasing whatever isn’t necessary. The skin on your belly can be particularly sensitive, and sensuous, responding to a tickle, or a lover’s touch.

Your belly can fill with deep laughter or can lurch with instinct, letting you know in an instant that something isn’t right.

If you’re a woman, your belly might have once housed a growing baby, taking care of all of its needs and releasing it into the world when it was ready. Offer a sense of gratitude to your belly.

Feel your heart beating. Without any thought or effort on your part, your heart beats constantly, throughout the day, even while you’re asleep, efficiently drawing oxygen into the bloodstream from the lungs and distributing it throughout the body, even to the spaces of skin in between your toes.

This heart, just like every our human heart on the planet, resilient yet vulnerable, strong yet fragile. Whisper a thank you to your generous heart.

Place your hands on your head, perhaps one behind your head, and one over the forehead or chin. In the words of Joanna Macy, “Cradle it with reverence, for what you now hold in your two hands is the most intricate, complex object in the known universe… a human head of Planet Earth… a hundred billion neurons firing in there… vast potential for intelligence… only a portion has been tapped of that capacity to see, to know, to envision.” (p. 125.) Your skull has survived birth, has grown to learn about its world, experienced pleasure and pain, disappointment and delight. Your head is very much the same as every other human head… from an ancient shepherdess in the hills of prehistory, to the Queen of England, from Tolstoy to Mandela. And yet your head is totally unique, totally you. Offer a sense of gratitude towards your head and all it contains and has experienced.

Your dreams and hopes and longing are explored and fulfilled in this body, and no where else.

This body has supported you to the best of its ability through every moment of your life, however difficult or enjoyable. Your body makes everything possible; song, music, intimacy, thought, friendship, laughter. Your body offers its support generously, unconditionally, throughout the whole of your life. Offer your body a blessing of peace, well-being, and wholeness. Let a sense of gratitude towards it overflow into the whole of your spirit.

Adapt this practice to resonate with your own ability or disability, your own talents, skills, and longings. Make it personal and meaningful to you.

Repeat it whenever you notice yourself feeling irritable about your body, to reconnect to your body’s wholeness and beauty.

Next post: Be a good magnifying glass to your body.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 20: Actions speak louder.

Have you ever been in a relationship that’s all words, sweet notes, and whispered promises… but when you need someone to step up, take action, and show the money, your honey-lipped beau is suddenly AWOL?

Your body needs more than lip service. Dropping the self-criticism is great, but then your body gets to humming, “What have you done for me lately….? Ooooh, yeah.”

What have you done for your body lately? Do you know what your body likes? My body loves to eat well (lots of veggies, preferably home-grown asparagus), do yoga, dance, and hula hoop. It loves to spend time outside in the sun. It loves being taken care of… bathing, massage, pedicures, and gentle primping (take note: it does not like Brazilian waxing). My body loves to feel appreciated, and to wear fun, soft clothing (too-tight shoes are a big no-no). It loves sleeping on feather pillows, cups of warm tea, and fuzzy socks.

Like an attentive lover, notice what your body responds to. Does your body feel wonderful after a big bowl of soup, but vaguely nauseous after a package of Twinkies? Does your body feel exhausted and cranky after a tough spin class, but energized and alive after a hip-hop session? Does your body prefer a cool breeze, or a toasty warm fire? Does your body tend to break out when you eat chocolate, or just feel relaxed and contented? Do you feel depleted by a hot bubble bath, and replete from a long sitting meditation, or vice versa?

My body hates jogging. My knees hate it, my feet hate it, even my lungs seem to hate it. I wanted to love running; my mom and my sister are (or were) both avid runners. I kept making myself try it: start slow, ease into it, try different shoes, try a different time of day, try leaning forward more, try just 15 minutes… none of it mattered. All my body said was, “No, no, no!”

But mention dancing and my body is all perky and ready to go, like the adorable head tilt my retriever mix gives when you utter the magic word, “walk.” My body will dance without complaint for hours, whatever time of day, whatever music, whatever shoes or surface, whatever style of dance or lack thereof. Turn up the tunes and my body doesn’t even register pounding knees, achy feet, and panting breaths. I feel great during, before, and after. The message couldn’t be clearer: ditch the running shoes, Kimber, and head for the dance floor! Surprise… your body loves activities it finds fun and nearly effortless. Tune into what your body enjoys and your mind’s enjoyment won’t be far behind.

Start by noticing the effects of different activities and foods on your body. Keep a journal, but don’t get too heady or analytical. Just a few notes about any physical sensations before and after meals and activities. Notice your moods and energy level. Be scrupulously honest with yourself. It’s not about what you wished your body liked, or making your body want what your mind thinks it should. At last--- this is your chance to get to know your body, the life-long friend who’s always been there for you, and give back some of the love.

Much of what creates trust and bonding in relationships is need-fulfillment: knowing you can trust another person to meet your needs, and they can trust you to meet theirs. A good parent feeds their children, makes sure they are clothed and fed, gets them to school, listens to them, guides them, and showers them with affection. Ignoring someone’s needs has the opposite effect: distrust, neglect, bitterness. Sound familiar? Perhaps like the negative relationship with our body we’re hoping to leave behind? To leave it behind for good, recognize your body’s needs, wants, and enjoyment, and fulfill them as much as possible. You’ll come to trust and admire your body more and more, as your body grows in its admiration and trust for you.

Make a list of what your body loves to do, and do something to show love for your body everyday. Add to it as you make new discoveries about what your body enjoys most. You never know what you’ll find out, just by paying attention!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 19: Have You Criticized Your Body Today?

What if someone could tell you whether your marriage is headed for divorce? Psychologist John Gottman, the author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, can watch you and your spouse argue and tell within just a few minutes whether your partnership will last beyond the next five years, within 90% accuracy. By observing and cataloguing your physical and verbal cues, he and his research team can tell from a short interaction whether you and your spouse will be able to work it out, or are headed for a long walk off a short pier.

Through their impressive research on couples, Gottman and his researchers have discovered the Rule of Five: in order for humans to feel they are happy in a relationship, they need to experience at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. If our negative interactions start to creep up beyond this, or the positive interactions drop off, we consciously or unconsciously start to head for the nearest exit sign.

What does this have to do with your body, you may ask? Well, how many negative interactions do you have with your body each day? In a recent magazine survey, women reported an average of 13 negative thoughts about their bodies each day, and some reported 35, 50, or even 100 self-criticisms directed toward their bodies daily. (“Shocking Body-Image News: 97% of Women Will Be Cruel to Their Bodies Today” Shaun Dreisbach, Glamour Feb 2011)

Do you think the woman with 100 daily self-criticisms balances them out with 500 pleasant thoughts about her body? Yeah, right.

In fact, for most of us, if we were married to our body, our body would haul us into divorce court and demand the judge throw the book at us, for enduring endless years of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Think of the alimony payments!

Like it or not, you can’t divorce your body. But you can change your relationship for the better. The Rule of Five suggests a practice to alter the course of your relationship with your body. Start to notice your negative thoughts about your body. Notice what triggers them and notice the stories they trigger, even the emotional response that arises alongside them. Notice how some of them are stupendously unoriginal. “You are a fat, worthless pig,” is mentioned in the Glamour study as a universally common self-directed insult---and here I thought I’d invented it in tenth grade. Notice how often self-criticisms arise. Even count them if you like… you might be surprised at how much of your mental energy during the day is directed toward criticizing yourself. Then notice if you have any positive thoughts toward your body. What? None at all? Really?

Make a list of five positive things about your body. How else are you going to start remedying the imbalance? Stretch your mind, think of nice things other people have said about your body, and add any wacky good thing about your body you can think up. My list looks like this:

1. My toenails are cute.

2. I like way my knees have funny dimples.

3. My hands remind me of my beloved grandmother.

4. My grown-up body figured out how to hula hoop, even though it was hard to keep the hoop up at first.

5. My body is like a clock I never have to wind… it takes care of me all the time without me having to think much about it. It’s pretty freaking cool.

If you have trouble making your list, ask your friends and family for help. Write down the list and stick it in you wallet, on your dashboard, on your bathroom mirror. Remind yourself of these five things (and who said you had to stop at five… keep going if you’ve got more!) until you know them by heart.

Now you’ve got two ways to bring the Rule of Five back into balance, evening out the negative with the positive. First, stop criticizing yourself so much. Go back to the “Hi” practice (from Love Your Body Blog Part 4), and try to be at least neutral toward your body instead of giving yourself a hard time. Reduce the supply of negativity. Second, when you catch yourself being negative towards your body, pull out your wallet, dig out your list of five good things about your body, and read them to yourself. Close your eyes, and repeat them. Even apologize to your body for the criticism you just flung at yourself. No one should have to live married for a lifetime to the mean girl in their head. Your body deserves better.

Be a good partner to your body. Be the partner your body deserves and longs for. Try the Rule of Five practice, and let me know how it goes.

Next post: Give the inner judge a vacation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 18: What’s that, Body? I’m listening….

No matter how alienated you have felt from your body, your body wants to be friends with you. Your body is resilient, forgiving, and happy to move towards a more loving relationship with you. Like working with an ignored or abused dog, your patient, loving, and consistent attention will win you a relationship based on trust and affection. In the last post, we focused on one particular betrayal or hurt in the body. Today, look at the wide range of difficulties your body has lived through, and walk a mile in your body’s shoes. See your life from your body’s perspective.

Make your own chart like the one below, listing particular challenges you and your body have faced. Tell your body how you felt about it, and let your body answer.

Injury

I say: You hurt so badly. You were in so much pain, but I needed you to work and not hurt so much.

Body says: I felt so bad during that time. But you wouldn’t slow down and let me heal. You just seemed frustrated with me. I was doing the best I could with what you gave me.

Weight loss/dieting

I say: I wanted you to be thinner, and more attractive. You made it so hard on me, with all your cravings and hunger and tiredness. I was so mad at you! Why couldn’t you just get with the program?

Body says: I know you wanted me to change, and I didn’t mind eating better and exercising some. But you took it too far and I didn’t like it. You kept beating me up over it. I hated feeling like your enemy.

Illness

I say: You got really sick. You kept me from doing lots of things that were important to me. I was annoyed by how weak and sickly you made me feel.

Body says: I needed lots of rest. I was tired and needed to save my energy until I felt better. I needed you to take care of me and be kind to me.

Infertility

I say: I wanted to have a baby my whole life and you were supposed to help me do that. I’ve supported you through everything, and when I really needed this one thing from you that I was counting on, you dropped the ball. I was so disappointed with you.

Body says: I knew you wanted a baby so badly, and I really wanted to give one to you. I knew how important it was to you, and I’m so sorry I couldn’t do it. Then I felt sad and abandoned, like the only reason I was valuable to you was if I could have a baby. Then when I couldn’t I felt less than worthless.

Menopause

I say: Come on, it’s not enough you have to grow older, but then you start to freak out on me? Hot flashes, moodiness, dryness, hair growing in weird places: you’ve gotten totally unpredictable! I feel like I hardly know you anymore.

Body says: I’m changing again, and I can’t help it. I know you want everything to stay the same, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Don’t worry, we’ll find an equilibrium again. Just be patient with me and help me figure it out.

Empathize with your body… look at what it has to work with---an intelligent, but sometimes rigid and resistant mind. Apologize to your body, and hear your body’s heartfelt apologies to you. Make a pact with your body to talk things through the next time, as they’re happening, so that bad feelings and mistrust don’t build up. Can you sense what working through these old issues allows you to do? You’re developing a sense of trust toward your body based on dialogue and listening, remembering that you’ve already worked through many difficult experiences together. From here, you can meet new challenges with the same resilience and commitment to stay connected no matter what life throws at you.

Next post: Your lifelong friendship with your body starts here.