About 3 1/2 years ago when my son went off to college (I was 48), I was at the peak of my partnership with my autoimmune disease. I noticed constant pain, and even the smallest amount of movement seemed like a huge struggle. I lived a rich life in my mind, spirit, and relationships, but I left my body behind. I knew it wasn’t how I wanted to live, but I accepted it was how things were going to be because I’d been so ill for so long.
With the kiddo away at college, it was much easier to get gluten out of my kitchen and eat in a way that was supportive of my body, and my health slowly began to change. For the first time In my life, I made food and movement choices that were about my health and feeling as well as I could instead of being about a) what I craved; b) how much I weighed; c) what was convenient; d) how I looked; e) what I thought my family would enjoy. For the first time ever, I made myself and my health a priority.
I started to incorporate gentle movement practices, as well (I started with seated Tai Chi and I gently and slowly went for walks that were as far as I could go). After being a personal trainer, competitive body builder, and aerobics instructor before I got sick, I stepped out of the mindset of “No pain, no gain” for fitness and into the idea of moving what I could in ways that felt good. Some days, what felt good was just rolling my shoulders, so that’s what I moved. Before, fitness for me was all or nothing – I could either take my body to the limit in exercise or not participate at all.
I also began to notice how I thought about, talked about, and spoke to my body. The messages I sent weren’t supportive. I thought of my body as broken. I thought it was a prison. I was angry, bewildered, betrayed, heartbroken. My thoughts were, “I’m fat.” “I’m out of shape.” “My body hurts all the time.” “I hate how I look.” “I hate how I feel.” “I don’t trust my body.” “I’m always sick.” These were just a few of the messages with which I bombarded my body. How could it have any choice but to comply with the thoughts and words I directed at it? I started to notice these thoughts and reframe them into communication that was more positive, grateful, and loving.
Yet, here I am now. I’m 51 years old and I move with ease. This past weekend, I spent my entire weekend in movement practice (Thursday through Sunday). My body moved at will throughout four days of Nia classes, free dance, learning specific movements, and more. Less than four years ago, even sitting in a class for more than an hour or so was a test in endurance of pain and discomfort. A three-hour car ride to drop the kid off at school was excruciating. Sitting through movies or concerts were tests of endurance. Walking up a flight of stairs had me in pain for days (not to mention gasping for air just a few steps up).
I tell you this not to show you how wonderful I am, but to offer you hope if you are struggling. If you had told me four years ago I would be here, I would have thought it was a fairy tale. But then I started to choose me and to make lifestyle choices to support my body and health. I changed the messages I sent to my body. What I thought was a broken body – a prison – just needed something different. My body needed me to notice it, think about it, talk to it, nourish it, and nurture it in a different way.
No matter where you are, there is hope. Your body is not your prison, but it is communicating with you. While the changes may not be as extreme as mine were (or they could be – if you release expectation, you stop limiting the universe), there are small (or large) changes you can make to nurture yourself. Ask yourself, what would feel good right now? And then tune in and listen. Your body will tell you. Honor its wishes. Start small. Every body is on a journey, and you are in control of yours.