“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” ~Maya Angelou
As a child, I got bombarded with the message that I was too much. Everywhere I turned, people said I was too loud, too smart, too heavy, too talkative, too impulsive, too intense, too happy, too forward, too silly.
My too-eager little self took those opinions as commandments, so I tried to fit the image of what others said I should be.
I made myself smaller. It never worked. Our authentic selves force their way to the surface no matter how much we repress them.
But I kept striving to be less than I was, in both body and spirit. My energy got smaller. I felt “less than.” It took me until my thirties to realize the truth.
I made myself smaller so others were more comfortable with me.
Even though it made me uncomfortable with myself, I kept doing it. It was easier to be small. Even my handwriting got smaller. For months after a painful rejection, a tiny, controlled print replaced my usual messy scribble.
As my energy grew smaller, my physical body grew larger. A year ago my petite frame peaked at nearly 210 pounds.
I see now that my spirit—my energy body—craved balance.
To avoid being “too much,” I bit my tongue, repressed my impulses, tensed my muscles, and held my breath. I dampened my own spirit, and it rebelled. My energy body wanted its due, so it forced my physical life to get bigger.
I gained weight. I acquired possessions. I indulged in excessive behaviors.
Like putting a thumb over the end of a garden hose, my entire being forced its way out, powerfully fighting to occupy the space it wanted, the space I denied it.
A recent health scare illuminated this imbalance for me. I left the hospital feeling vulnerable, raw, and lonely. For the first time in my life, I made myself feel that emptiness. I didn’t have the strength not to.
In the past, I would numb such feelings with food or alcohol, so no one could accuse me of being “too emotional.”
This time, I consciously chose to let the emptiness fill me instead of me trying to fill the emptiness. To my surprise, my energy body loved all that space. It stretched out and relaxed.
Around this same time, I moved to a new apartment and started spending time with a man I liked. Suddenly, both internal and external factors motivated me to rein in my excesses and focus on achieving the full potential of these new possibilities.
I radically changed my actions. I intentionally let go of old thoughts and behaviors. They no longer served me.
The result: I lost 50 pounds over the next three months.
I’m convinced my physical body shrank because I first allowed my energy body the space to grow. The more grounded I became, the less my energy body needed to rebel.
When both the new home and the new romance fell short of my too-high expectations, I almost retreated into old habits. Disappointment triggers my feelings of “less than.”
But this time, I broke the cycle. I accepted reality, and welcomed any emptiness it contained. It’s the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.
I began by asking these questions:
1. What are my excesses?
Compulsive behaviors are the first sign that my energy body feels small and is trying desperately to get attention.
Are you overeating? Overworking? Overspending? Are you overly concerned with appearances? Overly critical of others? Do you sleep too much? Drink too much? Party too much? Where is your life out of control and out of balance?
2. Where is my chaos?
I’ve struggled with clutter my entire life. What part of your life is disorganized and messy? Your home? Office? Car? Purse? Finances? Your relationships? Your thinking?
If something is a mess and the thought of organizing it overwhelms me, it’s a sure sign that my energy body feels too small to accomplish the task. Therefore, I don’t even try. Pretty soon, chaos overtakes my life.
3. What am I feeling?
If I live in one default emotion, it’s usually masking deeper, more unpleasant feelings I don’t want to deal with. Like a giant X marking the spot, I have to identify what’s at the surface before I can dig below it.
Do you live in a constant state of worry? Apathy? Anger? Confusion? Fear? Do you cling to others and crave closeness? Do you hide from others and crave distance? Do you try to analyze or control others but avoid turning that attention on yourself?
This is life in a reactive mode, where we spend our days rushing around, missing deadlines, putting out fires, and bending to the will of others. Instead of proactively creating the life we want, outside energies dictate our behavior. Our energy body feels too small to resist them.
So how do we help ourselves become bigger on the inside?
Anything that coordinates breath with movement unites body and energy. Most people know the popular methods such as yoga, Pilates, dance, martial arts, or athletics. For me, it was something called The Alexander Technique.
Developed by F.M. Alexander in the late 1800s, his technique requires no special equipment or location. He discovered that habitual muscle tension interferes with the body’s ability to move with ease, so he developed a way to release that tension.
Alexander was an actor who kept getting laryngitis. He observed himself in mirrors and saw that he tensed his neck when he spoke, which made him hoarse.
He spent years exploring how to release that tension, and found he could do it just by thinking about doing it. His thoughts could affect his body, interrupting the habitual movement that caused his muscle tension. He could then redirect his muscles into more efficient movement.
The Alexander Technique helps create a feeling of space in the body. It literally makes us more comfortable in our own skin.
The beauty is that, by releasing physical tension, it releases emotional tension. When I let go of the muscle tension generated from years of making myself “less than,” all the emotions gridlocked behind it come rushing out.
I can interrupt and redirect not only my habitual movement, but also my habitual behaviors!
When I figured that out, something wonderful happened. I found the space in my life to make different choices. Everything opened up.
This is the space, the emptiness, that allowed my energy body to grow. I started to reverse all those years of being less than I was.
I now understand Lao Tzu’s quote, “To become full one must first become empty.”
When people say that change starts from within, I think this is what they mean. We need to feel bigger on the inside, bigger than anything we might encounter on the outside.
Any kind of tension restricts our spirit. Space is what it needs.
Give your energy body space. You too deserve it.
Photo by Zach Dischner