A practical guide to having a better relationship with your body, as understood by one person with one head and one body.
The first thing to do is come to the terms with the fact that you are in the body you’re in and will be until you die.
There’s nothing to be done about this.
Think of it like an arranged marriage — no, you didn’t choose it. But as it turns out, statistically, people who stay in them often report being very happy. I find this hopeful. It suggests that the sooner you buckle in and get ready for the ride the sooner you can enjoy yourself.
If you reject this idea of an arranged relationship with your body then nothing else I’m about to say will be of much consequence. I suppose the only thing to do then is become chummy with a plastic surgeon… and maybe also a therapist in your health insurance network with a comfy couch and good supply of tissues.
Once you’ve come to terms with the arranged relationship with your body I suggest you learn how to communicate.
This is difficult because your body is from Mars and your head is from Jupiter; they don’t speak the same language.
So first you have to learn the language your body speaks. The shittiest thing about this is that no one else speaks the language your body does either, so it’s not like you can just go get a tutor to quickly onboard you to the various conjugations, make sure you’re brushed up on tenses and send you on your way.
It can also be easy to get distracted by other voices who seem to know secret body languages. These people will sometimes look like your mom, or your skinny best friend, magazines in the checkout or the countless Instagram profiles you stalk yourself to sleep with. They might claim to be able to tell you the 7 steps or top three tricks to body bliss, or maybe they just eat away at you because they seem to look perfect.
But don’t waste your time and energy following these other people’s paths. Besides the ascertained adage that hips do not lie (heeey Shakira), there aren’t really any short cuts to body-language learning. Even if someone has found their own body’s language, It’s not YOUR body’s language, and you’ll only end up in some rather hectic communication crossfire with your own hurt and misunderstood bod.
Like a linguist deep in the Amazon learning an almost disappeared dialect, you must be diligent and do the work of learning your body’s particular language yourself.
This is best done through active listening. Which can be done anywhere. But there are certain situations that are more conducive to it; I recommend vinyasa or hatha yoga. The poses (asanas as the yogis call them) found in these practices give you and your body simple situations to have quick and meaningful exchanges.
Like pointing at various everyday objects and repeating the names to each other in your respective languages, vinyasa and hatha flows let you learn the building blocks of your body’s language. You can also just start by going on daily walks. Regardless, it’s in these simple basic movements that you’ll eventually (sometimes it takes time) start recognizing your body’s particular way of speaking to you — a subtle warm tingle here, a little cracky there — and what it means.
You’ll also notice your body will stop being quite so shy once it feels listened to. It will start to speak up sometimes without you even asking it to;
Maybe when you wake up in the morning, or are hungry in the evening, suggesting some movements here or fuel it might need there, without prompting.
The worst thing you can do in this initial stage is be harsh and demanding on your body. Forcing it to do things it can’t or isn’t used to doing is dangerous and it will never open up and be on your team if you treat if like a slave. Activities like bootcamps and marathons are not inherently bad but less is more when you’re building a foundation of communication.
And then, just like in a relationship with another human, there will be a magical moment where you fall deeply and rapidly into a honeymoon stage with your own body.
One moment you’re struggling breathing thru a downward dog and the next you’ve turned into a dancer. The dialogue with your body will increase quickly and you’ll have a nice glow about you. The leaps and bounds your body will grow and shift while you’re learning to listen and respond to it will put you on cloud nine.
You’ll start to string movements together like words in a well crafted sentence and watch as your body nods and smiles in recognition. You won’t know if your body has lost five pounds or if you’ve just learned to love the extra five, but you won’t care because you’re so happy to be in it.
I’ll warn you that you also might be overpowered with the urge to do handstand workshops, teacher trainings and retreats in Bali and will quite likely annoy the hell out of your friends. Whatever… you’re in love!
But sadly, as is in all relationships, the honeymoon phase does not last.
Learning vocabulary and practicing phrases will someday cease to be riveting, and there will come a day where you’ll find yourself uninspired, heart flat on the mat, wondering where the spark has gone. The simple conversations you’ve been basking in — learning how your hips move, your spine twists and seat bones settle — though now comfortable and understandable, will stop engaging you.
Your mind will begin to drift.
You might still arrive on the mat physically every morning — the same way you want up in bed with your partner — but your head will be somewhere else. You might do stupid things like inversions without warming up. Or juice cleanses that make you feel weak and obsess over a little pocket of fat that’s suddenly reappeared (or was it always there?).
And then your body will get pissed.
Feeling unheard and betrayed it might try to get your attention by acting up and throwing fits. This is when injuries happen. It will suddenly cease communicating what it feels like eating while simultaneously becoming allergic to everything… like a passive aggressive little shit. It will become lethargic and stop showing up for you on the mat the same way you aren’t showing up for it.
Please DO NOT give up on your relationship with your body when this happens.
Remember — you’re in this for the long haul. Be gentle. It’s easy to get defensive and hurt and angry, because it seems like your body isnt on your side any more.
Now is when you need to get curious. It is time to go deeper and have more meaningful conversations in different situations.
This can be done on the mat or elsewhere but either way variety is likely to be the most effective path forward. Try running and meditation and boxing and yin and bikram and dance and biking and hiking and swimming and sitting and squats and doing any or all of these in new scenarios — outdoors, at home, alone, with lots of people, with a few people.
I can’t really tell you where or which activities you’ll reconnect with yourself in, but I encourage you to be curious and try things and be open to what you find. It’s well documented that couples that break outside of their day to day and do new things together have a higher chance of making it. Apply the same theory to your body partnership and see what happens.
And perhaps, after you reconnected with yourself out there in the great big world, you’ll find yourself back on the mat doing the most simple of vinyasa flows and that old sparkle will bubble back up without warning. You’ll fall in love with yourself on another, deeper level, and be all the better for it.
Your body will start talking to you again and the two of you will be tighter than the yoga pants you shimmy your buns into every day.
So this is what I’ve learned so far: Fall in love with your body, lose it, get curious and fall back in love. Rinse and repeat.
Keep putting in the effort and time and give your body some room to say the things it needs to say. Whether you like the way you look that much or not (what up, Beliebers!), I really hope you do go and love yourself. And if one day your body raises it’s hand and says it wants plastic surgery, no judgement here. Relationships are tricky.