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.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sick Body, Good Body

I'm not sure how to explain this: I’m sick. You probably wouldn’t notice from my appearance.

In fact, if you look at all my health indicators, cholesterol, thyroid, glucose, red blood cell count, B12, blah, blah, I appear to be wildly healthy. On my yoga mat I can still rock an awesome eka pada kundinyasana two (imagine sticking your leg over your arm and then lifting both legs and balancing on your hands… oh yeah.). But I’m sick. I’ve been sick for months.

One of the goals of the Health At Every Size movement is to get people to think about health as their primary goal, not weight. You eat your tasty greens and veggies, you give your body enjoyable movement, and you focus on being healthy and happy, not on losing weight.

Health is a worthy goal, and one I wholeheartedly believe in. I’ll take the equation “health = good” over the equation “thin = good” anytime.

But what happens when you’ve been doing everything “right”, and you get sick anyway? Does it naturally follow that if “health = good” then “sick = bad”? Am I only a good person if I’m healthy? Is it my fault that I’m sick?

We do ourselves a disservice if we turn health into a magical mantra to ward off evil sickness, as if we could somehow hold illness and death at bay by building a fortress of carrots mortared with flaxseed oil, kale chips, and sweat.

I hate to be the one to say it, but no matter how healthy we are, no matter how good our “numbers” are… we are all going to get sick. We are all going to die. Yup. No matter how well we take care of ourselves.

And guess what? It’s not your fault.

Our bodies are fragile and strong, vulnerable and vibrant, aging and youthful, all at the same time. If you get sick, it’s not because of your weight, or because you eat doughnuts, or because you skipped your workout, or because you don’t do enough pranayama (that’s breathing exercises for you non-yogis out there). You get sick because you have a body that is perfect and imperfect, a body that wants to heal and find balance, but sometimes gets overwhelmed by it all.

Your beautiful body doesn’t suddenly become bad when you get sick. Your sick body is worthy of love, too.

When your best friend gets sick, do you stop calling them? Do you bully and shame them because they can’t get out of bed? Nah. When your best friend gets sick, you send them flowers, bring them a casserole, make them tea, and even listen to them complain a bit. You encourage them and help them heal. Just like your best friend, your best friend body needs extra love when it’s sick. ‘Cause hate doesn’t heal. We know that.

I’m giving my body lots of extra love right now, taking care of it, feeding it and treating it right. And yet, part of me feels embarrassed about being sick. Much of my persona as a yoga instructor is tied up in having a healthy, vibrant body. Acknowledging that my body isn’t always healthy feels vulnerable and scary. It feel weird to call myself "sick." Sometimes I feel great, other times I feel terrible. Mostly I’m coping pretty well; aside from the illness, my body feels strong and capable.

Perhaps you’re hoping that at some point I’m going to reveal what’s “wrong” with me. (See, it’s even in the language… I’m sick, there’s something wrong with me, I’m bad.) I would love to tell you. If I knew.

I have Illnessa Mysteriousum. What, you’ve never heard of it? Apparently neither has anyone else! Here are (some of) my symptoms over the past year: loss of sense of smell, chronic sinus congestion, headache, asthma, coughing, hoarseness, fatigue. I’ve tried some eastern medicine and some western medicine. We’ve mostly ruled out allergies and are exploring the possibility that I picked up a lung-attacking parasite during my trip to the jungle last summer. That, or an autoimmune thing. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for the answers this amazing body deserves. You and me, body, we’re in this together.

Love You Body Blog part 59

Friday, August 19, 2011

“Did Loving My Body Almost Kill Me?”

Can you imagine my reaction when I read this headline?

As these things magically circulate around the internet, this headline came to my attention via a reader of one of my favorite blogs, “Dances With Fat” (by the luminous Ragen Chastain), as the title of a recent article by Jess Weiner in Glamour magazine. What would cause a plus-size model/self-esteem speaker to decide after a negative medical checkup that she had to lose weight and declare that loving her body had almost killed her? I had to know more. Fortunately, the answer didn’t take long to figure out.

From the article it appears that, to Jess, “loving her body” meant:

· accepting her body at the size it was

· letting go of weight loss as a goal

· not going to the doctor

· eating poorly

· not exercising regularly

· not listening and responding to her body’s cues

· regular public speaking gigs to encourage other people to love their bodies too

Do you think the list above reflects love towards your body? I know for damn sure that’s not how I love my body. Ignoring your body, feeding it poorly, keeping it from enjoyable movement… we know that’s not love. Not for our bodies, not for our pets, geez, even my houseplants get attention and water. (I haven’t figured out what kind of movement they enjoy but when I do, they’ll get plenty of that too.)

Loving your body isn’t some kind of Orwellian excuse for not taking care of your body. In fact, loving your body is the reason to take care of it, just like you take care of your beloved child or sick friend or rare orchid. (Some people are fanatic about their orchids. You know who you are.)

Here’s my list of what it means to love my body:

· accepting my body at the size it is

· letting go of weight loss as a goal

· going to the doctor regularly (and acupuncturist/massage therapist/etc.)

· eating healthy and nourishing food that my body enjoys

· moving in ways that my body enjoys everyday (yoga/hula-hooping/dance)

· listening to my body’s cues and responding to them appropriately

You’ll notice some similarities between the lists… at least in the first two items. Then they diverge dramatically. What’s weird is that Jess concludes the article by saying that going to the doctor and treating her body well demonstrate love toward her body… huh? I thought she said loving her body almost killed her?

I think I see what happened… Jess misunderstood what it meant to love her body. Then instead of acknowledging her mistake, she declared the whole idea of loving your body misguided, even though she herself is currently enjoying the benefits of treating her body with more love.

Ah, what a tangled web we weave.

Jess lopped off the body and weight acceptance aspects of loving your body and decided that going to the doctor, eating well, exercising, and listening to your body are what matter… on her way to losing more weight.

Yay! Another opportunity to clarify an important aspect of loving your body: Jess, you didn’t need to ostensibly give up loving your body in order to lose weight. You can love your body and lose weight. You heard me.

Think about it. If you start listening to your body’s cues, and giving it lots of leafy greens, and fresh air, and realize that your body doesn’t like big gobs of sugar (or carbs or meat or whatever), and you feed your body and your heart what they need, you might indeed lose weight over time. Without thinking about it too much or ever stepping on the scale. Or you might not. Whatever. Losing weight isn’t the point if you truly love your body.

The point is that your body will feel good, whatever size or weight you’re at. And most likely, all the indicators of health (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) will look good too. And despite all the fear-mongering to the contrary, more likely than not, you will be healthy too. Whatever size you are.

And you know what’s truly loving toward your body? Not stressing it out by cycling it through rapid weight loss and weight gain. Ouch. Poor body.

I suspect we haven’t heard the last from Jess Weiner. But I hope she arrives at a more nuanced/balanced/thoughtful understanding of her relationship with her body before she again declares that loving your body can endanger your life.

Loving my body saved my life. It saves me everyday. With love, from my body to yours.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Leave Judgment, Enter Joy

Walking down the street, I used to have two different reactions to women’s bodies. The first was disgust tempered with pity… Ew, I would never want to look like that, poor thing. The second was jealousy… OMG how does she do it? I wish I looked like that! Ugh, so unfair!

I was caught between aversion and attraction… rejecting what I didn’t want and resenting what others had that I wanted. You can imagine that by grouping every woman into the category of “I’m sorry for you,” or “I hate you,” you’re not going to make many friends. Casting oneself as the Great Uber Judge of All Bodies is a lonely role to play.

Weirdly, I did not wear my Uber Judge hat when with my own friends… they were wonderful… I loved them… their looks were not the point. I loved Susan’s eyes, and Tab’s hair looked adorable in braids, and Deidre’s light-up dimples could eradicate my worst moods. But the minute I strode out into a group of strangers, I’d pull my safe, lofty, body-judge hat over my ears and eyes and let the judgments fall where they may. Of course, I assumed that everyone else wore their Uber Judge hat as well, throwing their own judgments my way, thereby making every trip to the store a running gauntlet of self-consciousness, resentment, and pity.

Fortunately, at some point I realized that my internal ranking system was a little, shall we say, superficial. All my body judgments served no purpose but to make me exhausted and crazy. If I could appreciate the sparkle in Susan’s eyes and not worry about her dress size, couldn’t I do the same thing with the woman walking down the street toward me? Could I enjoy someone wearing a lovely dress without wishing I was her, and hating being me?

I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s a Buddhist concept that neatly encapsulates the idea of being joyful for someone else’s success. It’s called mudita, or sympathetic joy.

Could I look for beauty everywhere, and be happy for its existence? Imagine the freedom of walking down the street, and instead of feeling frustrated and hateful, feeling light, open, and joyful! Instead of every person increasing the desire to cower in the shadows, every person you see could increase your happiness.

There are three basic steps for this:

1. See something good in each person. (This might take some practice.)

2. Be glad for them. (Think of them as someone you genuinely want to be happy.)

3. At the same time, appreciate what is good about me. (Not seeing myself as better or worse than anyone else, but recognizing my own uniqueness.)

You can practice this at home with a piece of paper and a list of people in your life you want to feel sympathetic joy towards. Go through the first two steps above for each person, and check in periodically with the third step, remembering to see what is good about you. If you still find yourself feeling envious of someone on your list, ask yourself, “What is it about their life that I want for myself? How can I invite that quality or experience into my life?” If you still find yourself feeling pity for someone on the list, ask yourself, “What is it about their life that I avoid or fear? Can I soften around that fear, and acknowledge that I have the resourcefulness and resilience to meet whatever life offers me?” Invite a genuine feeling of well-wishing for each of these people in your heart, seeing their goodness, and feeling joy for them. You may find this practice like taking a bath in love: wonderfully refreshing and transformative.

When I let go of being the Great Uber Judge of All Bodies I finally saw all the beauty I’d been missing… in myself and others.

Love Your Body Blog: Part 57