What are the sneaky ways in which we continue to self-harm?
Do we only value our bodies when they are fast, high performing?
When they are pain free? When they are young? When they are beautiful? When they are building muscle or function?
Teaching orthopedic preventative medicine through fitness is a bit like walking a razor's edge between asking and allowing for more function- and also recognizing that wherever we are now is enough.
Many of us have not been socialized to practice loving kindness toward ourselves- and that extends into our relationship with our physical bodies in a myriad of ways.
Most of us have grown up in an extreme version of capitalism, where we look at natural resources (both within and without), at labor, at physical bodies (both ourselves and others) as a tool to be mined and shaped for our profit or power.
Many of us women have grown up in religions and cultures that have only valued our bodies when they are providing something for others- an ornament to be adorned, a womb to be occupied, a body to be productive.
Yet our bodies and experiences have worth far beyond their productivity- just as they are in this moment. They are the purveyors of our souls. They guide us in our pleasure and through our emotional landscapes. They help us carry out the meaningful work of our lives.
We and our bodies are no less valuable when we are at rest watching Netflix, than they are when we are chairing a board meeting. We are no less important lying down under the stars than we are when we are running races. We are no more valuable when we are professional athletes than we are when we are learning how to use a power wheel chair.
We are as valuable in our fragility as we are in our resiliency. Our bodies and our experiences are inherently enough just as they are.
I can see the ways in which the women that I love in my family had unwittingly accepted for themselves and socialized me into constant effort- toil during the workday, and unyielding effort into the evening in domestic labor. I once asked my mom how she was able to work full time, cook, clean, help us with homework and she paused for a moment before saying “Well, I guess I didn’t sleep in the 80’s”. And she wasn’t kidding.
Meanwhile, the men in my family were allowed to rest and eat, to recover after work. They recognized that they had done enough.
The women in my family wore their constant effort and fatigue like a badge of honor.
What are the messages we are giving women and girls we love about the inherent worth of their physical selves?
How do we depart from unconscious associations? One way is through the practice of metta and loving kindness meditations. Another form of loving kindness meditation comes to us from Hawaii.
The ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono (which loosely translates to “allowing a restoration of balance”) is a beautiful practice for women to come back to the inherent enough-ness of ourselves.
The prayer goes like this, and can be applied to any body part:
“I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
I love you.”
You can start this practice today. You can choose whichever body part you have the most conflicted relationship with (say, your bones or your thighs) or the body part you have the most joy around (your ears or your feet that carry you).
Apologize to your body. Ask for forgiveness from your body. Thank your body and let it know that it is loved just as it is.
In what I now regard as one of the greatest blessings in my life, I developed an autoimmune condition called Grave’s disease in 2015. My athletic body, in it’s infinite nature wisdom, simply refused to continue to go at the level that I was demanding of it. It dug its heels in and let me know- no more. Fortunately, this message was so loud, I could not ignore it.
All of this took a lot of soul searching. In addition to learning from my family that my body needed to be productive in order to have worth, I learned from men I was in relationship with that how I looked (or didn't look) gave me value. Growing up as an athlete, I learned that my athletic prowess under pressure was what gave my body value. I learned from bosses that the number of clients I saw in an hour was what made me worthy. As a person who grew up in a working class family, I learned that my struggle was somehow building character- and I needed to toil endlessly just to survive.
Since that time period, I have been working on the re-establishment of balance. I worked less. (There is a whole tangential but related discussion here about class, and how those of us who come from working class and poor families are not afforded rest- but that will be for another blog).
Rest, relaxation, play all needed to become a priority for me again. The simplest practice I started was allowing myself 20 minutes to lie down after work. I would lie on the bed without my shoes on and just space out or read or meditate. I slowly started to reconnect with my physical self on a deeper level. The past 8 years has felt like a long overdue remembering, that will never be completed, but will continue to unfold.
As an example, the Ho’opnonopono prayer for my thyroid goes something like this:
My dear body, I am so sorry for not listening to you when I was overdoing everything for so many years.
Please forgive me.
Thank you body, immune system, thyroid for all you have done to help bring my body and mind back into balance around work and rest.
I love you.
Yours in Gratitude and Rest,
I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you is my mantra with every dog that I work with at the shelter where I volunteer. May we all be free from our self harm and free from harming others.