A thing that I have been working on — and slowly making progress with — is listening to my body. So much of our culture sends a message that your body is something inherently bad, something to be changed, somehow separate from who you are. The domination of the conscious mind as our conception of self has haunted Western thought since the Enlightenment.
Combine that with my personality tendencies and some of the specific circumstances I grew up in, and I’ve often found it rather difficult not only to listen to my body, but to trust it. In the past, I have ignored, punished, and disbelieved my body to the point of burnout and getting miserably sick. As I’ve gotten older, if I push it too far my body will quite forcefully assert its need for rest, and pronounce limitations that I’m reluctant to accept (for example, I can no longer do standing room only concerts).
There is a concept called “embodiment” that basically posits that you are your body, and living well means being present in and attentive to your body.
Some things I’ve been doing to practice embodiment:
- Listening for when to eat and when to stop. One of the best lessons I learned growing up was to stop eating when I got full. Not that I never ignored this and stuffed my face anyways, but for the most part I stop eating when I get full, even if that means leftovers (which are very common for me). The bit that, historically, I have been less great about, is eating when I’m hungry. Maybe I don’t feel like going through the effort of getting/preparing food or use the excuse that I’m busy, but I push myself to the point of hanger or an upset stomach way too often.
- Moving when I feel antsy. I am a hugely fidgety person — like I specifically buy pens that I can absentmindedly disassemble and reassemble during the workday — and letting myself fidget helps me focus and process things better. If it’s more than a fidget, I’ll sometimes get up from wherever I am inevitably sitting and walking or bouncing on my toes for a few minutes.
- Exercising semi-regularly. I do not pretend to be a fitness god here, people. I do like 1-2 yoga classes a week, maybe go for a walk, and sometimes play tennis. But even that little bit makes a huge difference.
- Asking my body what it’s feeling. This sounds ridiculous, but dude it works. Sometimes I’ll just feel… weird, or will be feeling a certain way and not know why. Taking a moment to actively listen and feel whatever you’re feeling, to notice the sensations and what emotions or needs they might be tied to.
- Rest. Like literally lay down. Now that I have surrendered to my morning person ways, my bedtime is early y’all. I sometimes lay down for 5 to 15 minutes in the afternoon to recharge before resuming my day. This can also mean letting a couple chores wait until tomorrow and relaxing with a good book or movie!
- Meditating & mindfulness. I am super novice at this, but I typically do a short meditation on weekday mornings, and find that the practice is really helpful. In terms of mindfulness, I’ve been putting extra effort toward noticing and enjoying tangible things, like fresh air on a hike or the taste of warm buttered bread.
- Adapting. Like I mentioned above, there’s stuff my body has just decided is not for me, like concerts where my twentysomething butt doesn’t have a seat. I need more sleep than my significant other, which means sometimes I miss out on stuff. I use tools and medicine like my inhaler when I need to. And sometimes those things can be frustrating, but leaning into them means that I end up feeling way better.
- On that note, being intentional in the way I think about my body. It’s not just a skin suit, it’s me. It’s not bad or weak, I’m probably just tired. Specifically, framing it as being thankful for the ways that my body takes care of me helps me be more loving and thoughtful to care for it.
In light of recent and ongoing events, I would challenge you to think about what actions you can take to join the effort of caring for and protecting Black and brown bodies. We live in a world and a society that is built upon systems designed to harm and to exploit, and our neighbor’s body and spirit are just as precious as our own. My post on anti-racism offers some starting points if you’d find them helpful.
What are your experiences with embodiment? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!
(Photo is a free stock photo because I’m running late this week, y’all.)