“Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” ~Buddha
I believe there are four key aspects to our existence: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. The mind is a fairly straightforward concept, and many people can identify with a spiritual component of life.
Yet there is one other aspect of life that I believe is essential to a full and healthy journey on this planet—the emotional element of living. And that emotional state seems to be inextricably tied to the physical.
I have always struggled with the physical. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my body since I was cognizant of my existence. As a chubby kid, I felt different and defective. I sought relief in my grandmother’s frozen cool whip in the extra freezer located in our garage.
I gulped down chalky pink Pepto-Bismol when I wasn’t even sick. Why? Because it was sweet.
I couldn’t handle the monkey bars. The ball always hit me in the face. I was always last to finish running around the field at recess. As I matured, I grew out of the chubbiness but I was never satisfied with my body.
I spent the summer of my 11th year frantically emulating a 1984-era Richard Simmons in his 7-Minute Abs video and simultaneously saving enough money to buy a McChicken sandwich, fries, and a hot fudge sundae at McDonalds.
Disconnected from my body, I grew into a young woman and ignored my physical existence as best I could; becoming what author Geneen Roth calls a “walking head” with that insufferable body attached.
I alternated between trying to eat “right,” permitting myself to eat “bad,” and feeling bad about eating bad. If I ate a salad for lunch, I might have a half-gallon of ice cream for dinner. Alcohol eventually contributed to my lack of self-care, adding extra calories and acting as yet another way to escape my body.
Fast forward through my twenties: After several attempts at Weight Watchers, a failed relationship, a bout with antidepressants, and a nervous breakdown, I managed to lose over 40 pounds with Weight Watchers. Down to the size I wore when I graduated from high school, I was sure my life would get better.
It didn’t. It got worse. So I dyed my hair blond. I drank more wine.
Then I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I fully embraced sobriety, found a higher power, and earned two master’s degrees. I lost even more weight. Now my life should be perfect, right?
Wrong. I still can’t live comfortably in my body. And I’m soothing my discontented soul and body with food. Now it’s ice cream (or more specifically, Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked Frozen Yogurt, which has only 3 grams of fat per serving, compared to Peanut Butter Cup ice cream which has 25 grams of fat, so it isn’t that bad).
Just writing about it makes me want to get up, go to the store, buy it, and eat the whole entire pint. Yet I’ve just prepared the vegetables that will make up my morning “green juice” in an effort to get in all the green veggie goodness possible. I am so all or nothing, black or white, yen or yang. Ice cream or veggies.
In the past few years, I’ve had many of the moments of serenity, peace, and self-acceptance that we all seek, but they elude me now. I sense that my struggles with my body are standing in the way of mental and spiritual growth.
Buddha said that “to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear.”
But I feel paralyzed. Every morning I say “I won’t eat that again.” I vow to cook a nutritious meal instead of eating chips and salsa for dinner. I plan to do yoga tomorrow. I bought a bike 6 months ago and have ridden it exactly once.
Running a 5K has been on my to-do list for 4 years. As I watched my best friend run her first marathon at age 33, taking care of my body has failed to be a priority in my life with any semblance of consistency. My actions do not correspond with my intentions.
Yet I have the knowledge and tools to move through this static phase and overcome the physical barrier that is keeping me from living my most authentic life. Or rather overcoming the emotional barrier that is keeping me from fulfilling my obligations to this body I’ve been charged with maintaining while on this earth.
The physical and emotional—intertwined complex pieces of me that refuse to divulge their secrets separately. How to untwine those ropes of experiences and perceptions that were woven so many moons ago?
I don’t know but I will keep searching. I’ve come too far to give up now. I’ve maintained my weight loss and sobriety, learned how to nourish and nurture my body, came to understand that it’s okay to have feelings, and found a yoga practice I could be in love with for the rest of my life.
I will not abandon myself in never-ending pints of ice cream. These are some of the specific actions that lend to my physical and emotional well-being:
1. Planning in advance.
I shop for major groceries once a week. When I plan in advance, I find that I make better decisions because I’m not constantly stopping at the grocery store. Multitasking is also essential. For example, I make my salads for lunch while preparing my veggies for juicing. Or I’ll cook brown rice and black beans as a base for lunches and also use them for a healthy Mexican dinner.
2. Eating with others.
I find that my most destructive eating habits tend to happen in isolation. I won’t eat an entire pint of ice cream or a bag of tortilla chips on front of another person. When I eat in communion with others I make better choices and fill my space with the genuine pleasure of another person’s company, not with the empty thrill of food.
3. Finding enjoyable physical activities.
I hate running. I don’t understand why anyone would want to put their body through a 26-mile run. But to each his own. That’s the point—we don’t all have to be marathon runners. I find fitness in yoga, kayaking, going for long walks in the city. I’m still trying to figure out how to do cardio without doing cardio.
4. Prayer and meditation.
These spiritual practices are key to my physical health because I feel more centered and accepting of myself when I practice prayer and meditation. When I feel calm and happy, I’m much more likely to take care of my body and stay present in the moment.
Although I may falter in these actions and may struggle with being consistent in making healthy choices, I have hope that I am moving forward with knowledge and self-love.
I now realize that I must love and care for my physical body as more than an uninvited appendage but as the very foundation of what and who I am—and as my vehicle for emotional awakening.
Photo by lululemon athletica