I used to think it was difficult having a body like mine. Then, one day I realized, it wasn’t difficult for me to have my body – it was difficult for my body to have me as the driver.
Until recently, I never did a great job at listening to my body’s signals. As it tried more and more frantically to get me to pay attention and treat it with the respect it deserved, I gathered my will about me like a defiant six-year-old girl (with apologies to any non-defiant and well-behaved six-year-old girls), stomped my foot, and figuratively told my body I wasn’t about to let it boss me around.
That was one battle of wills I was bound to lose.
My body told me (and so did my doctor) I was allergic to dairy. I ignored it and ate dairy. I got sicker and developed chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
My body told me it wouldn’t tolerate gluten. I ignored it and continued eating gluten. I developed chronic, severe digestive orders and malnutrition.
My body told me I was pushing it too hard with long, punishing hours at the gym. I ignored it and pushed even harder. Like flipping a switch, one day my body said, “Nope, we’re done here.” I developed chronic exhaustion, pain, and exercise intolerance.
My body longed for gentle, supportive movement. I sat sedentary in my chair and moved as little as possible for more than 20 years. I grew fatter, weaker, sicker, and more exhausted.
My body told me it wanted fewer chemicals and toxins in my food and environment. I ignored it. My hormonal and autoimmune disorders worsened. My health became a gordian knot.
My body told me it wanted fresh, organic, sustainably raised unprocessed foods. I ate processed and fast foods instead. I developed regular migraine headaches and found it virtually impossible to lose weight, no matter how little I ate.
The more I ignored my body’s signals, the more my vitality and life force drained away and the more limited my physical world became.
During my years of illness, and even before I got sick, I often told people, “I don’t really feel like I inhabit my body,” and this was certainly true. Because I felt my body betrayed me, I lived in my head, inhabiting spiritual and cerebral while ignoring the physical. I reasoned that what was important was the core of who I was – my personality, my creativity, my spirituality, my kindness and compassion, my friendships and relationships, and all other aspects of the mental, emotional, and etheric realms. I figured as long as I focused on those things, what was happening in my body didn’t really matter. I wouldn’t let it define me.
Yet, regardless of how I desired to not let my body define me, my physical limitations kept me away from doing many things my soul longed to do. Like dance (“I’m dancing in my head,” I’d reason), or walk on the beach and dip my toes in the water (“I can see the ocean from here and that water is probably cold,” I’d tell myself), or spend time with loved ones doing much more than sitting and chatting (“At least we’re connecting,” I’d think).
While I thought I was content, living in this world that existed outside of my body, the universe was sending me other signals. Many mornings, I’d awaken from dreams where I’d be running again (I used to do 10-mile weekend runs for fun), lifting weights, dancing, riding bicycles, or just moving freely, joyfully, and without pain. A vacation with my extended family found me sitting on the deck of a lake cabin in Idaho with my parents instead of inner tubing and jet skiing on the lake with my siblings, husband, kids, nieces, and nephews.
I was missing out on life in very real ways because I had created the belief it was okay if I didn’t live in my body.
I wish I could tell you what changed. I can tell you the moment when the switch flipped more than 25 years ago and my health began to crumble. I was 23 years old. I was at the gym early in the morning on a leg extension machine. I started my morning feeling mostly fine, if a little tired.
I was wearing a neon pink ball cap (it was the 80s) with my hair in a ponytail out the back, size three shiny spandex tights, and a black patterned spandex tank leotard (80s, people – 80s – and thank God there were no leg warmers involved – although I was wearing white high-top Reeboks). I’d finished teaching a 6 AM step aerobics class and was getting some weight training in before my 9:30 AM class. I extended my legs, and I felt something somewhere in the core of my body snap. It was as as if my life force drained out of me into the seat of the weight machine.
Suddenly, I was exhausted and overcome with emotion. I started to shake. I got up from the leg extension machine, went into my office, and sat with my head down on the desk. I was overwhelmed and sat shaking and crying – not understanding why – for quite some time.
Nothing was ever the same with my physical health after that morning. Working out made me sick. I gained weight rapidly no matter how little I ate. I developed all kinds of health issues doctors could never quite figure out. And I slowly left my body and moved into my mind and spirit.
That moment remains so clear in my memory, but the moment I decided to move back into my body is a bit murkier. I’m not sure how I made the choice to do it, although I understand the reasons why it happened.
For years, I’d try to lose weight with various diets. Looking back, I understand the attempts to lose weight arose from a feeling of lack or of not being enough. I felt tere was something about me (my weight) that wasn’t good enough, so there was something about me that needed fixing. I’d have success for a while, until something else would happen in my life and I’d start to feel I was somehow lacking again. The weight would come back on.
This time, there was no decision to lose weight, although there was a growing sense of truly choosing to be healthy because I deserved to feel well and live a full life. That choice came not from feeling like I needed to be fixed, but from a place of self-love where I desired to be whole. It’s a subtle distinction – choosing to fix something that is wrong versus making a self-loving choice not out of a feeling of brokenness, but rather a desire to treat myself with care.
Once I made that choice, it became easier to pay attention to my body’s signals. The gluten and dairy were the first to go. As I felt a little better, I replaced processed foods with healthy whole foods. I removed chemicals from my environment and my food supply. I listened to what my body asked of me for the first time in years. I started walking a little. I started participating in my life in physical ways I had been unable to do for more than two decades.
Slowly and deliberately, I moved back into my body. I started to heed its signals. I sated its hunger with wholesome foods. I honored its desire for movement with Nia, dance, walking, yoga, and other activities. I listened to its desire for recuperation with plenty of restorative sleep.
Now here I am today. I live in my body, my heart, my mind, my emotions, and my spirit, and my life has opened up. I engage in joyful exercise, I eat delicious foods, and I participate in life. I understand now that in order to truly be whole and fulfilled, I can’t ignore any part of the triad of body-mind-spirit. I have to honor and love each exactly where and how it is in order to walk my path.