Yeah, I’m going there. Do you treat your body like a one-night stand? A quick intense connection and then… well…nothing? Or maybe you’re a conqueror; demanding that your body submit to your intellectual will, and damn the consequences? Or maybe you just don’t pay attention to the relationship at all?
Most of us spend considerable time nurturing the important relationships in our lives; with our spouses, our children, our cherished friends. I’m always amazed to realize, though, how few of us really take time to nurture our most intimate relationship of all – the one with our own bodies. Like many of our closest relationships, it’s easy to take it for granted. Sometimes, we demand of ourselves more than we would ever demand of a loved one. And sometimes, we decide we just won’t bother.
But the relationship you have with your body is the longest, closest relationship you will ever have. This is the relationship that will carry you through good times and bad, from conception to your last breath. When you take care of your body, it takes care of you. It’s that simple. So, how do you relate to your own body? Do you ignore it? Do you force it to achieve, to do, to be something specific? Do you indulge its every whim? Or deny its every desire? So many of us struggle to make peace with our bodies. Beginning to understand our own relationships with them is the first step in creating, within ourselves, a supportive, healthy environment in which we can thrive.
In over 50 years of living and working in my own body, and in almost 30 years of working with other people and their bodies, I’ve discovered that many of us fall into a few body-relationship “archetypes.” Most often, we are a complex combination of these, where stressful or intense periods in our lives may bring out one archetype more than another. Sometimes we get stuck with a dominant archetype that may or may not serve us well. Sometimes, as we grow and change, the kind of relationship we are ready for changes too. The thing to realize is that there is no separating mind and body. What happens in one, shows up in the other. There is no divorce, no amicable split. The things you ignore only magnify with time. No matter what happens in your life, you and your body have to find a way to work together. But when you begin to understand how you treat your body on a day-to-day basis, you can then begin to create a positive relationship that supports you in living your life!
As you read the body-relationship archetypes below, leave self-judgement at the door. Simply observe. There are a million and one reasons that you relate to your body in the way you do: your upbringing, your education, your physical training, how safe you feel in the world, the people you hang out with, your geography, your physiology, your intellect, your emotions, your level of stress, the food you eat, your desire to impress…. the list is quite literally endless. Your list is unique to you, and you are the only one who can negotiate a change if that is what you want. Observe what works for you. Observe what no longer fits your life. As you become more aware of your relationship habits, you can begin to explore new ways of relating that may better serve the person you are today. Let’s have a look at some of the archetypes (as I see them):
1. The One-Night Stand
You jump in, try something and then just as quickly let it go. There may be an intense interest for a short period of time, but when the time’s up, you’re out fast. Maybe you’re onto something new, maybe not. Fitness fads, the latest diet, the latest shiny new thing. You approach your body like a dilettante, never really committing to work deeply and with attention. And your results probably show it. You don’t quite achieve the results you’re looking for. You never really master the skill. Or maybe you do the bootcamp, lose the weight, tone the muscles and six months later, (because you haven’t been working too hard since bootcamp ended), you’re back where you started.
What would happen if you chose one thing, and stuck with it for 6 months or a year, or more? Keep the variety in other places if you want to – but choose one activity that you enjoy, that captures your attention, and stick with it for long enough to really get inside it. Feel your body. When you begin to get restless, know that it’s time to go deeper and finesse your way to the next level, instead of bailing out. You’ll find, over time, that your choice of activity can become a touchstone for identifying what’s working, and what’s not – in your movement, and in your life. Find a teacher, or a coach, or a mentor who can help you move through it. You’ll gain a whole new understanding of your body and how you move, and your results will likely surprise you!
2. The Conqueror
I know a lot of people (myself included) who at some point in their lives, have figured that the conqueror was a necessary part of any relationship with their bodies. What at first feels like healthy competition and accountability with yourself can quickly become an abusive relationship where nothing is ever good enough. There is always a need to work harder, work longer, and endure more. You ask more of your body while giving it less of the support it needs to function well. You eat less, rest less and demand more. Everything looks great from the outside – you’re athletic, capable. But you may find that the injuries and/or fatigue you ignore begin to take their toll on your body.
There are rewards for this archetype in every facet of our society. It’s a hard habit to crack. When you soften your approach, how will you ever get anything done? I’ll grant you, it may take a little longer to achieve the results you want when you give yourself a little space, but the payoff is a healthier, more resilient body that will be able to sustain the results you achieve without breaking down.
Learning to create ease in the effort of reaching your goals is a fine art. What if you were able to balance effort, intensity and drive with ease, flow and space? Start your favourite activity by connecting to your breath, and to the fluid movement of your body. As you add load or intensity to your work, what changes in your breath? How do your limbs feel? How does your spine feel? My key indication that I’ve crossed the line from good training into something else comes when I begin to move from a feeling of integration to one of dis-integration. When my coordination starts to go south, when my brain doesn’t track as clearly, when effort begins to feel stiff, dense and heavy. Regularly continuing to push when I’ve reached this stage is building a kind of “survival” strength – which really is not sustainable in the long term. Go to town once in a while, it’s important to be able to go there when you really need to – but training in this place all the time is a recipe for breakdown.
3. The Neglectful One
No time. No interest. Leave me alone. There is always an excuse for not looking after yourself. Maybe your life really is that nuts… or maybe there’s just something within that you don’t want to have to examine too closely. You put up with stiffness and discomfort, you don’t do too much because you’re not all that fit and the effort seems daunting. You don’t really pay attention to what you eat and perhaps you medicate pain without attempting to support yourself in other ways. It’s easy to lose yourself in a busy, difficult life. I would hazard a guess though that there’s something lying within that maybe you don’t want to deal with, and you probably don’t want anyone else to see it either. Or maybe the timing is not right; you simply cannot take on more right now. If that’s the case, be compassionate, and give yourself time. The space will open up – especially if, when the time is right, you invite it.
The idea of a major change in how you relate to yourself and your movement may seem like too big a leap. How would it be if you started with something small? One day a week, go for a walk, or a swim? You don’t have to achieve anything – the achievement is doing something to connect to yourself on a physical level. Find something you enjoy – and if there’s not really an activity you love – make it social! Find someone – a friend, a co-worker – to walk with. Your choice of activity doesn’t have to be earth shatteringly big – just something you’re comfortable enough doing that you can do it regularly. In some of my darkest moments, when “achieving” physically was at the very bottom of my list, a walk in the woods with my dog was the best part of my day. Once you start the ball rolling, I think you’ll find that, physically, things begin to get easier. You may find that some other parts of your life get easier too. One small step at a time.
4. The Over-Indulgent Caregiver
You put comfort first. You pamper yourself, and choose the no-stress route. You choose not to negotiate with discomfort – instead, you avoid it. You get yourself the latest gear and you arrange for each activity to be perfect. If you’re feeling that conditions aren’t exactly right, you choose to wait until next time. Or maybe you depend on others to create the perfect conditions for you. On some level this seems as though you are just doing what you need to do to look after yourself. But where there is no challenge, there is nothing to work through and little opportunity for growth. You don’t need self-discipline, because there’s no challenge to overcome. Eventually, an overly indulgent relationship with the body becomes a liability. We need a certain level of stress to our systems to improve, and as we age that is true just to maintain our level of physical fitness and mobility. If you want to keep moving well, you occasionally need to add a little edge to your physical life.
It is important to listen to your own body when it comes to physical training. And it’s always important to ensure that you feel safe, no matter what you’re doing. You don’t need to go off the deep end – but a little challenge is a good thing. Start in small ways. Can you go that extra 1/2 kilometer on your run even after you feel tired? Maybe you only make it another 1/4 km, but that’s all you need to start! If you feel a discomfort in your body, ask yourself what is it trying to tell you? Is it a pain that shouts STOP IMMEDIATELY? Or is it a kind of discomfort that asks to re-evaluate how you are moving? Maybe you are simply outside your comfort zone, and what you are feeling is just unfamiliar? Sometimes it’s hard to push yourself further if you’re not used to doing it. Here’s another place where a coach or a mentor can help hold you accountable to your goals. You might not want a harsh taskmaster, but someone who can gently encourage you to move in new directions. You’ll probably be surprised by what opens up for you when you stretch yourself a little.
5. The Loving, Long-Term Partner
A loving, long-term partner is engaged, connected, respectful and accountable for their part in the relationship. A loving, long-term partner offers support without smothering, and inspires and challenges you to be your best without brow-beating you to get there. The loving partner co-creates with you a supportive environment in which you can thrive. In this relationship, there is accountability, self-discipline and motivation. This relationship is a two-way street. You offer support, and receive it in kind. It requires that you pay attention and take action when and where it is necessary. Gradually, with mindful practice, you begin to understand when it’s ok to push, and when you need to rest. The body-mind connection becomes strong enough that one informs the other. It’s a two-way street. You begin to FEEL that intellect and emotions work better when you’re active and healthy physically. You FEEL that your physical body works better when you’re looking after your thoughts and emotions. What results is a felt-sense understanding of how to support your own well-being. At which point you don’t need crazy motivational techniques to drive you to the gym. The way you feel when you CONNECT with yourself is the best motivation of all.
Whatever your relationship to your body is right now, it may be exactly where you need to be right now. No judgements. I find that the relationship I have with my own body fluctuates with what’s going on in my life, my level of stress, my self-confidence and, and… I have experienced every single one of the archetypes I’ve listed here. Sometimes, I get stuck and need some help finding my way back to something that works better. Mostly, I find I’m some combination of all of these. But I continually strive to find in myself a loving partner who can support me intrinsically while move through my life – doing whatever it is I am passionate about in the moment. It’s a dance. What I know for sure is that how I relate to my body is the best barometer I have for how I am managing in the rest of my life – no matter how “together” (or not) I may seem from the outside.
Do any of these archetypes resonate with you? Why? Are you content with the way you relate to your own body now? If not, what would you like to do differently? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m always fascinated by the ingenious ways people find to support or change their own states of being.
If you’re curious about what it might feel like to relate to your body in a new way, why not explore one of Moving Spirit’s private Pilates and Integrated Movement training programs? Our approach is personal, and specific to your multi-dimensional needs. You matter. How you move matters. When you’re ready, we’re here to help.