We are given one body to carry us from birth to death during our lifetime and it is up to us to determine how we will care for that one precious vessel. With the demands of work, raising children, family life, and a whole host of other commitments, it is so easy to lose sight of the importance of taking care of our bodies and ourselves.
There was a period of time in my life when I didn’t pay any attention to my body at all. In fact, I was unsuspectingly abusing it. I worked long hours, exercised vigorously (thinking that I was actually taking care of myself), and I ate what seemed like a healthy diet. But I really wasn’t listening to my body nor was taking time to appreciate it. And when it started to complain loudly to me, I responded with irritation or anger: “why are you (my body) causing me pain”, or “why are you putting on weight”, or “why aren’t you strong and sexy anymore”? I felt that my body was betraying me. After all, I thought I was doing all the right things to care for it.It took me a number of years to turn that belief around and it’s still an on-going learning process. I realize now that our bodies are sacred beautiful vehicles and homes to our souls. It is because we have a body, that we are able to experience pleasure and pain, to see, hear, smell, touch, feel and sense or intuit our internal and external worlds. It is because we have a body that we can make love, laugh, cry, sing and speak. But do we really appreciate our bodies? Do we ignore our body’s wisdom when it says it is time to eat, time for sleep, time to slow down, time to move? So often, our mind overrides our body’s messages and denies the needs that it is trying to communicate.
Some people are challenged with serious physical or emotional/mental conditions that can make it even more difficult to love and appreciate their bodies. I’m sure you have noticed how some individuals accept their challenges, and even consistently feel gratitude, while others find themselves feeling frustrated and victimized by the circumstances in their lives. There comes a point where we must choose how we are going to respond to the challenges this life presents.
Having worked through major challenges around loving and accepting my body as well as other conditions, I understand that rising to meet the obstacles in life with love and appreciation is not an easy road to take. What I learned for myself is that the journey of coming to terms with my body and all the stories I had going about it is the real gift. Once I really got that, I developed appreciation for and a loving relationship with my body that I didn’t know was possible.
Now I see my body as a gift and that it is an honor and a privilege to care for it as exquisitely and attentively as possible. Am I perfect? Of course not! And when I don’t get the rest I need, or enough exercise or the right kind of nutrition my body lets me know. Sometimes it complains loudly, sometimes it gives me a gentle nudge.
And you know what is beautiful? When I bring things back into balance and care for my body the way it deserves to be cared for, it responds accordingly. You see the body is always paying attention to what we say and think and do. The body is a living, breathing creation that never lies. I may not always know why I am not always feeling on top of my game but those are moments when I need to stop and listen closely or seek out professional help if I can’t figure it out myself.
Following are a number of suggestions that you can do to practice loving-kindness and develop a deep appreciation for your body. Start with one or two that speak to you and gradually integrate more into your practice. You might even come up with some of your own that work better for you. I’d love to hear from you and find out what worked for you and what sort of results you had.
1) Be nurtured by nature.
Time spent in nature can be profoundly healing and revitalizing. Actually placing your bare feet on the earth for 15 minutes everyday can balance emotional and spiritual energies and increase a sense of connection to the web of life.
Try taking a break outside everyday, no matter the weather. Observe the ebb and flow of the seasons and remind yourself that just as you are, you are a perfect manifestation of mother nature.
2) Greet the day with intention.
Each morning take a moment to say something nice to and about your body. If you notice that your first thoughts upon waking tend toward the negative, you might try doing this as soon as you wake up, before you even open your eyes or get out of bed.
3) Bathe yourself with loving-kindness.
Once a week – or whenever you feel the need – take a ritual bath. Fill the tub and consider adding rose oil, which is associated with balancing the heart and often used to soothe anxiety and depression. Light candles and play soft music if you desire.
As you bathe each part of your body, reflect on how strong and wondrous it is. If it is injured or damaged send love to it. Think of everything each part of your body does to keep you alive, to give birth, to carry you from place to place. Honor your body as a divine vessel and appreciate all that it is capable of.