This month’s topic (July 2020) is self-love and the body. When I talk about this topic, I often get questioned if I mean loving the body in the sense of narcissism. Let me assure you that’s not what I mean. Considering our modern society’s obsession with social media and selfies, it’s understandable that this type of narcissism comes into people’s mind. However, I think that posting selfies and ‘only presenting the best foot forward’ on social media is essentially creating a fake identity AND just an expression of self-loathing and self-hate rather than self-love.
Just today, I saw a post on Instagram that explains this modern phenomenon. A beautiful young woman with everything going for her explained why she wasn’t posting regularly on Instagram anymore. She described how she would be reducing beautiful experiences of sightseeing, travel and yoga to finding the best photo opportunity, optimal lighting, as well as having the right clothes and perfect make-up on her all the time. She admitted that she wasn’t really living anymore but becoming a victim of the Instagram culture.
Modern society’s pressure on body perception
Obviously, it’s not a new phenomenon wanting to look your best on photographs. However, now that cameras are everywhere and photo taking has become so easy and digital, we don’t even have the time to get ready for a great photoshoot (unless it’s a professional occasion). Compare this with our ancestors who – if they were rich enough, would order a portrait to be painted which could take months to complete, or not so long ago, would get photographed by a professional photographer and that would take hours. These occasions were rare, and our ancestors could certainly relax in between these rare occasions.
Nowadays, we not only snap pics at almost every moment, we also broadcast them, potentially to thousands of people, and because the internet platforms keep our pictures, they also stay in this public space forever. That alone can explain the obsession that people now have with having their bodies look good at all cost. Add to this mix, the media that is not only available via newspaper and grainy black and white photographs, but is omnipresent on big screen TVs, tablet and computer screens in bright colours and high resolution 24/7. It’s exposing every single imperfection. However, through clever editing the stars and social media influencers pretend that they look like this in real life.
Depending on how sensitive you are when looking at such unrealistic photographs, it may be necessary to take some breaks from TV and social media from time to time to detox your mind. I personally find it best to go for a walk in nature. When I look at the ocean, trees or mountains, I usually feel that my issues with falsely thinking that my body is less than perfect will fall away very quickly.
Perfect body – listen to its messages
Yes, our bodies are perfect, even though they may not fit into the current beauty ideal. It’s not about that when we truly learn to love our bodies. Every single one of us is a masterpiece of nature and evolution. Think about it, we are a bundle of atoms, which amazingly formed cells and not only any old cells, no, they formed into very specific ones, into bones, muscles, organs, the nervous system and the brain. We get reminded from time to time on how amazing this life is, when we get to see a newborn baby and especially when we are directly involved as new mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents. But even when we get older and we allow ourselves to STOP, breathe and reflect on what our bodies have been accomplished for us without us being very much involved at all, we can truly appreciate the perfection of our bodies.
It is a good thing that we are not involved in the functioning of our bodies, because we would mess it up. We are only required to listen carefully to the messages of our bodies so that we can support it in its amazing work in keeping us alive and healthy. This is a language that most of us don’t fully understand. It can be subtle, and its messages are easily overheard. As any mother can confirm, although at first, everything sounds the same, babies have different cries for hunger, wet nappies and tiredness. We can accept that’s their way of communicating with us adults. However, we have even more difficulties to communicate with our bodies than new parents with their babies.
It requires to practice mindfulness and truly listen to the messages of our bodies in order to get to understand them better. These messages come as sensations, feelings and pain. If we get very attuned, we may have an inner knowing, also called intuition on what’s going on with us. Unfortunately, our overly active thinking mind likes to talk us in or out whatever the messages are from our bodies. For example, imagine yourself at a family dinner, a special occasion, and your body signals you that you are full and tired. What does the thinking mind do? It comes up with all sorts of reasons why you can’t refuse that second (or third) helping, that extra glass of wine, staying up even longer.
Okay, it’s not a big deal to occasionally override the messages from our bodies. However, we tend to do this on a very regular basis. And the special dinner is just an example. It doesn’t have to be about food. It can be anything that would keep our bodies happy if we complied with its messages.
One last argument, why loving our bodies is essential: It’s the only one we have. Without it, we would not be on this wonderful earth. So, why wouldn’t we love it? It has been named the temple of our existence, implying that it should be worshipped (because God lives in each of us according to the bible). Even if you are not following the teachings of the bible, to treat your body because it is an incredibly valuable host of your own lifeforce, wherever you believe this lifeforce came from, is a sensible idea.
How to look after your body with love
Let’s investigate this.
First up is breathing:
Luckily, our bodies do not entirely rely on us to breathe. However, instead of not paying any attention to our breathing, we can support – aka love – our bodies by breathing deeply and being in fresh air daily. During stressful times, we tend to breathe flatly and into the upper part of our lungs. This is natural and was initially designed to get us out of danger. Today’s stress is unfortunately almost permanent. It’s not the lion anymore, but many other things trick our bodies in being stressed. Just getting to work on time in the morning rush hour is enough to trigger a massive stress response, which includes flat breathing. Counteract this tendency by paying attention to your breathing.
Place one hand on your chest (high up, where the collar bones are) and the other hand on your belly just below the ribs. Breathe and notice if there’s more movement where the top hand is or the bottom hand. If you feel that the top hand moves more, you may also notice that your shoulders and neck tend to be tight. This happens because by breathing in this stress patterns habitually, we use muscles that are not designed to be used for breathing all the time.
Relax the shoulders away from the ears and concentrate to breathe deeper. You can also put your hands on your side on your ribs to feel them expanding as you breathe in. If you find it difficult to breathe deeply, try to count the length of your breath. Start with counting to 4 as you breathe in and to 4 as you breathe out. Once that feels comfortable, increase the count to 5 and 6 etc.
It’s also possible to calm your nervous system by breathing. So, even if your nervous system is in high alert stress mode, you can breathe consciously at a slower pace and eventually calm down. This is a technique that is commonly used in yoga and meditation and I can report back with confidence that it works. Remember, you can always book an online consultation with me, if you need support with better breathing techniques.
Next up is water:
You’ve heard it before, drink enough clean water. We are 70% water. It’s obviously not slushing around in our bodies, it is rather part of our cells whether these are blood cells, brain cells, muscles, skin or bone cells. Each cell has a certain amount of fluid in it, which is essential for the cell’s survival. There’s also some extra-cellular fluid in the brain and other places in the body. Our bodies are amazing in making sure we have just the right water content in our cells. However, if we don’t drink enough water, the body has a level of importance system as to where to direct fluid to prevent de-hydration. This means, that your skin and muscles are likely the first areas where the body will take water from, leading to dry skin and tight muscles. Yep, if you suffer from tight muscles all over, try increasing your water intake.
My favourite type of water is Kangen water. This is water from the tap that goes through a sophisticated machine and gets alkalised through electrolysis. This is different from alkaline water that uses a chemical process to achieve alkalinity. Over time the minerals used in the chemical process can accumulate in the body causing damage. Check out Kangen water a little more here (it’s only a short video and explains it very well).
A mind-blowing revelation about common beverages!
Then, of course, there’s food:
Surely, you’ve been overloaded with information about food… “Eat this, don’t eat that!” “The worst seven foods that make you fat!” “The five foods never to eat again!” “Cereals are good for you.” “Cereals are bad for you.” “Eat more fruit!” “Don’t eat fruit because of fructose”… I get it, it’s tiring and confusing.
Try this out for yourself. Listen to your body. Huh, how can I do this? Well, as I explained earlier, the body’s signals are rather subtle and can often be confused with the thinking mind or inner critic. So, let’s say, just as an example, you wake up in the morning and are not hungry. But your inner critic or thinking mind, gets up in arms and tells you how important it is to have breakfast and how studies have shown that you’ll eat less later in the day when you had a good breakfast. If you listen to your louder thinking mind, you’ll try to eat something, maybe even your usual breakfast. If you listen to your body sensations, you’ll wait until you feel like eating.
Otherwise, my advice would be practical, eat as many whole foods and prepare your meals from scratch as much as possible. What are whole foods? These are foods that are natural and as minimally processed as possible. Raw fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, eggs and meat. Some whole grains that still have the endosperm, germ, and bran can also be beneficial. Some foods that have been processed using traditional methods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha etc. are the exception to the no-process rule.
Of course, we are bombarded constantly with enticing food ads, making us want these highly processed foods. If you deny yourself eating your favourite highly processed foods, you may develop a craving that gets so strong that you’ll find yourself eating it and more than you would normally eat if you didn’t deny yourself this food. To navigate this issue, some people find it easiest to have a dedicated day of the week to consume their favourite processed food, others allow themselves a little bit of it almost every day. The key is to find a schedule that works for you and prevents you from binging it.
Think about it like our ancestors naturally did it (they didn’t have a choice though, which makes it a lot more difficult for us). Just as an example, let’s say our ancestors ate whatever they could, probably hadn’t have food every single day, but sometimes they were in luck and found a wild bees’ hive and would eat as munch honey as they could. It could have been months until they found another source of sweetness. They probably didn’t care that they didn’t feel great after that and they didn’t know that their blood sugar spiked so high that they were a lot hungrier after eating the honey. Since there was no supermarket next door they just had to wait until they found the next food source.
Unfortunately, our bodies haven’t adapted to our modern lifestyle where food and non-food aka highly processed food is so readily available, and we now need to make the right choices to feed our bodies in a healthy way. Preparing a food plan for the week including a detailed shopping list can help to deal with the temptations of the constant advertisements and food availability. Once you know what you are going to eat and you’ve got the ingredients at home, maybe even partly prepared, it’s much easier to cook a healthy dinner after a stressful day at work. Love your body by giving it the best food possible, so that you nourish it for optimal performance. It will love you back.
Photo by Marc Noorman | Unsplash
Now, what about clothes?
You can also show your body some love by making it feel comfortable in the clothes you put on. Stuff fashion! If it’s not comfortable, don’t wear it. Let your skin breathe in your clothes and your limbs move freely. Don’t suck your belly in to fit into the skinny jeans, let it relax. Make sure you wear clothes that make you feel warm enough and allow air flow when it’s hot. I know I sound like my own grandmother now, but I think she was right.
And should I even mention shoes?
Let me just say this: Humans were not designed to walk on tippy toes in the form of high heels. It alters the way the skeleton is stacked, by pushing the hips forward and causing the back to lean backwards which can lead to alterations on the wear of the vertebrae aka potential backpain. Usually, people who wear high heels bring their head forward which can cause pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck. Headaches are also not uncommon. The increased pressure on the toes can produce hammertoes and bunions, whereas the increased pressure on the knees can lead to pain there as well. In summary, wear flat shoes as much as possible or go barefoot to love your body a little more.
Move your body, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I’m not even talking about exercise. Of course, exercise can be good, if you like it. However, for the purpose of loving your body, re-think what you are doing in this department. If you hate the gym and only go there because you know you should be exercising then, you are not loving your body. I’m all for moving your body frequently. I don’t mean, sit on the couch all day. No, find something you really like doing that involves moving your body. This could be dancing or horse riding or playing frisbee. Make sure you have fun.
Finally, some rest and sleep
After you’ve moved your body, you may feel tired. This is your body talking to you. Listen to the message and rest or even sleep. This is probably the topic that many people have the most trouble with. Resting and sleeping is good. Our bodies need rest and enough sleep. We can easily override the messages of our bodies by pushing through, soldering on or simply not allowing ourselves to go the bed when we are tired. We rather stay up for whatever reason, and still get up early to go to work. If you have small children, you may feel that you need your own adult time after they’ve finally gone to bed. However, if the kids have been waking up a lot through the night, disturbing your sleep, apart from naturally waking up at the crack of dawn, you may be better off to also go to sleep.
Sleeping has been a hot topic in recent years, and you can probably find all sorts of tips on the internet. The main message to keep in mind is to prepare your body and mind for sleeping by refraining from using blue light emitting electronic devices. Blue light tricks the body in thinking that it is day. You can wear special glasses or simply not use mobiles, tablets, laptops and TV for a couple of hours before bedtime. Watch the stars or the wood fire instead, talk to someone or read a book. You won’t be deprived if you don’t check social media or your emails just before falling asleep (if you can sleep at all after that).
Resting is not a new concept either but seems to be especially alien to modern people. We must have been so influenced by puritan work ethics to never be idle. In fact, being idle is reserved to the elderly who are doomed to be idle and lose all their gist for a meaningful life by being isolated in nursing homes. Maybe this sounds harsh, and there might be any number of elderly people who aren’t idle, I give you that. However, our Western societal perception goes into this direction. We work and rush until retirement age to then go into this undefined era of well-deserved resting. Hmm, wouldn’t it be better, if we balance rest and work in a way that it prevents us from being stressed out to the max during our so-called productive years? We may even be able to extend those years well beyond the typical retirement age and still be sharp as a tack.
Surely, there are countless more ways to love and look after your body as it was indeed a temple, designed to house our precious lifeforce. Let me know any ideas that you have. I’m curious to learn more. Some of my suggestions require a degree of self-discipline, which may sound cumbersome and hard to maintain. Think about how much it would affect your body in a positive way, if you used self-discipline. Besides, the more self-discipline you muster, the easier it gets and the more freedom you’ll have in your life. Yes, if you free yourself from the shackles of what others think of you and use your self-discipline to stick to your own path, you’ll be freer than you can imagine.
To your freedom,