Quite a few years ago, during the dawning boom of the Internet, a group of boys from my town started a website that gathered information and commentary on the open-source software movement. The site became one of the hottest Internet properties and the boys grew up minding this beast, now one of the most watched and admired news sites on the Net. They had a bull by the horns, and it required constant, focused attention. During the early days of their work, I enjoyed a few evenings, losing to them in Trivial Pursuit. We talked about their experiences of constant site-sitting, thinking in code, living with computers so intensely, building a community of peers entirely through the interface they’d created. What the Internet might bring to the world.
They had much to say on these subjects and many others. But right now, I am remembering one of them, the most intense one, the skinny, undernourished, over-caffeinated one, complaining what a nuisance, what a weak shell, the human body is. He found the limitations of his body, its requirements for food and sleep, to be annoying distractions at best, and a barrier to his progress at worst. The perfect state for him was a brain-in-a-jar existence. A being that is all thought and creation with very low maintenance.
Now this young man and I had very, very little in common. But we had our love of pizza and coffee. And we had this desire to be separated from our bodies.
We had different reasons. My body had become a nuisance of poor performance. It couldn’t climb to the top of the stairs easily. Its legs were too big to shave before the hot water gave out. Its chafing thighs wore out pants too quickly. It gave people the wrong impression of me. It didn’t match my personality at all. One of the best things about the Internet to me is that people pay more attention to ideas and less to physical form. Well, in many cases, anyway. On the Internet, I could be myself.
By the time I shared pizza with these guys, I had pretty much stopped looking in the mirror. Just enough to get my makeup on straight early in the morning, but I really never looked again the rest of the day. I didn’t pause in front of full-length mirrors to check my look. I just didn’t look. People would have to tell me if my mascara had run or there was spinach in my teeth.
I showered with my eyes closed. My skin was scaly and dry because body lotion took too long. The faster I was in my clothes and out the door the better. And of course, I didn’t spend hours soaking in a tub because I didn’t fit comfortably in the tub. I cut my own hair to avoid the salon experience.
That is, for years, I never got a good look at my self. It was no longer important. The idea of concerning myself with beauty was just so much silliness. The domain of young girls. Not my job. My body was a vehicle that carried my brain and heart and senses from place to place. I tried to make sure it didn’t smell, was covered in fabrics that blended with my environment, but that’s about all the effort I put in. I might not have ever paid attention to it again if the mechanics hadn’t told me that it was breaking down and needed work.
And I likely wouldn’t have learned to lose weight and get fit again if I hadn’t found a way to reconnect with it. Get to know it again. Develop mindfulness about my body and its experiences. Learn to listen to its innate wisdom about what it needs and doesn’t need.
I am picking up body mindfulness slowly, with help and hints from many corners. I recommend that if you’ve lost track of your body, or learned to ignore it, or worse, learned to hate it, that you spend some time with your journal discovering just why. What’s the history of these feelings? And what might you do to make friends with your body again, be good to it, listen to it, learn from it? Here are some ideas and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that might help jump-start your body mind:
* Keep lotion beside your bed, and apply it slowly and with attentive care before you go to sleep. Head to toe. Then lie down and let your mind wander, again from head to toe, acknowledging how your body feels, and helping it relax. Breathe slowly. If you have trouble sleeping, this will help a lot. J&J has a new baby lotion scented with lavender. Lavender helps many people sleep peacefully.
* Get massages now and then. And relax and be quiet during the massage. Let therapists do their work while you attend to every part that’s being worked on, just acknowledging how it feels, and relaxing each part in progression. You should never feel you’re too big for a massage. A good massage therapist will have seen every possible body type and will not judge yours.
* Try a beginning yoga class. Or a yoga tape. If the postures are too challenging, just focus on the breathing work and using the time to feel your breath bringing you the oxygen your body needs.
* When you breathe deeply, exercise, drink water, eat your food, make love, note how your body responds. Try to take an interest in how you feel and why.
* Write down your experiences. If something hurts, investigate the hurt. When you’re successful with exercise and weight loss, celebrate it. Note how you feel.
* Speaking of breathing. I do highly recommend spending time doing just that. A bit of breathing meditation on your body and its good health. I highly recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s audio program. But there are a lot of good ones out there. Learning to breathe is a great stress manager. Managing stress is extremely important in managing your weight and your health.
* Do look at your body in the mirror, make friends, give it a break. It has carried you through every life experience you’ve had so far and deserves thanks for that. It may not be perfect, but its imperfections will not be fixed through neglect. Give your body a pat on its back and offer to take care of it.
Get connected, friends.