Friday, September 25, 2009

The Body Beloved

Move your attention to your breath. 

Now, breathe more fully, slowly and deeply.   Notice how just this small shift in focus toward the breath changes your body, your stress level, your perception of your surroundings. 

If such a simple shift in consciousness can change so much, imagine what a more sustained, in-depth focus might be capable of.  Don't just rush on to the next sentence here.  Continuing to breathe slowly and deeply, really allowing yourself to imagine what a more sustained, in-depth focus might be capable of.  Let your thoughts follow that river for a moment.   There are no right or wrong thoughts here. 

Coming back to your breath.  Did it get shallow or faster without your attention?  That's okay.  Bring your focus back to it.  Lengthen and deepen the breath.  Good.

Next, allow your focus to include both your breath and the position your body is in right now.  Notice how your seat is supporting your weight.  Where are your feet? Is your spinal column aligned and erect?   Is your chin pulled down toward your chest or thrust forward toward the screen?  Are your shoulders pulled up toward your ears or hunched around your chest?  Are the muscles at and around your perineum clenched tight?

Without causing yourself discomfort, take a moment to adjust your position so you are sitting up straighter with your head aligned at the top of your spinal column and your feet flat on the floor.  Let your shoulders drop and and your chest open.  Relax your jaw.  Unclench your buttocks and perineum.  Release the tension you have been unconsicously holding with several long breaths.  Each time you exhale, imagine the breath is taking away the tension in your body.

We have made a few very simple adjustments to the body and breath.  Notice how much has changed.  Aligning with our breath and posture help us relax and become more alert.

At best we are forgetful of our bodies.  At worst we abuse them physically and verbally. We are so accustomed to speaking negatively about and feeling negativity toward the body that we no longer pay attention to how mean our words are or how hurtful our attitudes.  If we think about the body at all, we think about what is wrong with it.  If we speak of the body, it is to complain about it.  Rarely do we notice, compliment or comment on its wonders. 

When was the last time you heard someone say, "My skin is amazing!"  How about,  "I have really strong bones," or "It's so cool that I am digesting food right now and I don't even have to think about it!" or "My stretchmarks are a beautiful reminder of my pregnancies."

Take a breath.  Think about your body.  Try not to focus on what needs strengthening, slimming, smoothing, plumping, thinning, plucking, coloring, grooming, shaping, sculpting, straightening, curling, waxing or otherwise cosmetically improving.  Try not to focus on what needs healing, cleansing, examining, testing, extracting, repairing, treating, medicating, labeling, diagnosing, numbing or otherwise medicalizing.

Are you still breathing?  Notice what happened to your breath just now as you read all those attacks on the body. When the body is threatened the heart rate increases, breath gets shallow and rapid, adrenal glands fire, muscles tense and blood vessels constrict. As a result, our thinking processes are affected. The body does not discern between physical, emotional or verbal threat.  Imagine what a constant barrage of judgement and complaint might be capable of if just reading that list caused you to unconsciously hold your breath. 
Consider your body without negative judgement if you can. Take some moments to honor this part of you that houses your Genius Self with little complaint.  Here is the skin that covers you from head to toe.  And here are the fine hairs that protect the skin and trap dust and germs trying to enter through the nostril.  Here are opposable thumbs and the fingernails which neither hurt or bleed when we cut them!  There, under the skin are hundreds of bones that keep us from pooling into a mess on the floor.  Surrounding the bones are muscles and ligaments which give us the strength to move our own weight and that of objects outside ourselves.  In the chest beats your heart without your conscious volition.  From it stretch arteries, veins and capillaries carrying blood, oxygen and nutrients to every part of your body--even the perfect curve of the ear.  Here, inside the ear, next to the beautiful spiralling cochlea is a tiny membrane which perceives sound which is carried it through the nervous system to the brain which interprets and decides how best to respond. 

Within our bodies there are literally hundreds of thousands of processes happening simultaneously at any given moment.  All of this happens without the Genius (conscious thought) having to direct it.  It is through the body that we experience the world.  Our eyes, ears, nose, nerve endings and taste buds are constantly gathering information, sensation, pleasure.  All of these systems are operating day and night, year after year, decade after decade.  What thanks does the body get for its efforts?

Give thanks to the body which is the Temple we are housed in.  It is the body that our spirit descends into in utero and the body which our spirit leaves upon death.  Imagine!  Such an elaborate and miraculous Temple constructed in honor of the magnificent spirit you are! 

When we recognize and treat the body-self as a Temple, we change our relationship to it.  By understanding the body as something sacred, we instinctively wish to keep it clean and well cared for. We intuitively want to stop poisoning, abusing it or neglecting it. Now, when we desire to change the temple, the impulse comes from care rather than disdain.  We are much more likely to make positive and lasting change based upon self care than we are to sustain any activity based upon fear, punishment or derision.
We receive so many negative messages about the body.  We cannot help but believe them after having heard them for a lifetime from everyone from parents to lovers to friend, foe, doctor, advertiser, therapist and minister.  Somewhere inside us, we knew better though.  The body knew.  The body has always known the truth.

The truth is that your body is not only a mangificent peice of machinery, it is also sacred and it is also you.  You are your body as surely as your brains and personality, your memories, emotion, hopes, dreams and spirit are housed inside of it.  May the Temple be blessed.

Take a long, slow breath.  Feel it enter the lungs and expand the diaphragm.  Give thanks to your body-self.  Really allow yourself to feel gratitude for your body.  As you breathe in, imagine your breath carrying your thanks into the lungs, the bloodstream, and throughout the body.  Imagine thanks and gratitude entering each cell, node, synapse and nerve ending.

Daily Commitments:  9-25-09. Make a commitment to catch yourself when you think, say or do something harmful toward your body. We aren't doing this to berate or punish ourselves for our thoughts so take care not to go that route. Rather, when you catch yourself just take a slow, deep breath and as you exhale release the impulse to pick on yourself. Continue to take long, extended breaths. As you do, adjust your posture and release the unconscious tension in your body. Finally, think of two compliments for your body. Really feel the truth of these two compliments. Breathe into them so their importance expands. Imagine that as you breathe, this positive message is being carried by your breath into all the cells of your body. If you really want a challenge, imagine your breath carrying the compliment directly to the parts of your body you are honoring. Take one more extended breath and say/think, "My body is the Temple and I am honored to live within it."


You may also/alternately want to make a commitment to do one nice thing for your body today. This shouldn't cost anything and should not involve food. Some suggestions are: lotion your feet while you thank them for carrying you around; soak in the tub and pay attention to your body stress melting away; go to bed early and give your mind a break; ask someone to give you a manicure; make love and give thanks for the pleasure.

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