There are two common unconscious ways that people approach their bodies:
1. Reward & Punishment: this could also be called submission and release. People in this category work hard at their desk for nine hours (punishment/submission) then go out and drink a lot of alcohol (reward/release) or go home and eat a lot of chocolate (reward/release). After a big week of work, these people go out for a big night (reward/release) and then wake up the next day and go to the gym or run 10kms (punishment/submission). This pattern can also extend to our emotions, for example if someone holds their tongue and does not say what they are feeling (punishment/submission) they might then go and have a cigarette to relax (reward/release).
Another unconscious way to treat our bodies is the quick-fix approach.
2. My body is a machine: this approach tries to escape and numb pain or discomfort, rather than seeing it as a nudge or invitation. Can’t sleep? Take a sleeping tablet. Feeling anxious? Take a pill. Obsessive or sad thoughts? Take an anti-depressant. If our symptoms are sending us messages from our body, we shoot the messenger. Anytime we feel distracted, overwhelmed, stressed or overshadowed, there’s a tendency to escape rather than going in to the source of the pain and discovering its message. The state of denial is an escape. Distraction through work is an escape. Altering the mind through drugs and alcohol is an escape. A habit of numbing and escape leads to addictions like alcoholism, obsessive thoughts, drugs, food, pills etc.
We numb ourselves believing that escaping from the problem will help us overcome it. We believe that if we focus on the problem it will inflate it. In fact, it’s the other way around. If you go into the pain, the problem or the discomfort, it transforms it. Awareness transforms everything.
Here are some tips to shift these approaches and develop a conscious relationship with our bodies.
1. DESIRE: YOU NEED TO DESIRE A CHANGE.
2. INSIGHT INTO YOUR EXISTING PATTERNS
Work them out – Do you use food to numb your emotions? This will lead to an out-of-balance metabolism. Do you run on nervous energy & adrenaline? This pattern will lead to a hormonal fluctuations and autoimmune problems. Is there a time of day, person or emotion that triggers you? Are you a grazer or do you like set meals?
Because food is so closely linked to our emotions and our comfort, many of us reach for food when we really need to reach for a deep connection with ourselves. Next time you feel triggered and you reach for food, get out some paper and journal instead. Start by writing, ‘Right now, I feel… I am using food to make me feel…’ Many of us use food for quick comfort and we tell ourselves, “I deserve this.” Some studies show that the soothing effect of chocolate lasts for around 3 minutes, but 5 minutes of quiet time spent focusing on yourself will make you feel better for a lot longer than that!
3. FOCUS & LISTEN: SEE YOUR BODY AS A DYNAMIC, RESPONSIVE & LIVING ORGANISM
DEVELOP A PATTERN OF LISTENING TO YOUR BODY
Lie down and breathe deeply, then ask your body to show you what it needs.
4. MAKE CHOICES TO MAXIMISE ENERGY FLOW IN YOUR BODY, NOT TO NUMB
People often say ‘listen to your body and what it wants.’ This is actually difficult advice to follow because sometimes our bodies want red wine, chocolate and to sit on the couch for 2 hours. So the advice should actually be, ‘listen to your body and whatever will maximise your energy flow.’ Listen to the voice underneath.
5. FOCUS ON PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION: OUR BODIES ARE NOT AN ACHIEVEMENT.
Progress should feel like lightness of being. Don’t worry about scales or calories! You will know you have reached a conscious relationship with your body when you feel lighter (in body, brain and consciousness), and you actually want to honour your body, rather than punish it or numb it. You will recognise progress in your feeling of vitality instead of dullness.
6. IF IN DOUBT, OUR BODIES GENERALLY NEED:
– rest & relaxation
These are the time-honoured activities that will restore energy flow and lightness to our bodies.