Blame it on the fast approaching Winter (natural hibernation time for us warm-blooded mammals) where many men as well as women have a natural tendency to store fat and reduce exercise. Or blame it on the stars - whatever the reason, this seems to be a time where our poor, hard-working bodies are copping a lot of flack as we don't meet our own expectations of what we should look like, feel like, and how we should be performing.
For the last few weeks I've personally felt more and more overwhelmed by life in general. Work, health, relationships and friendships, family - it all started feeling thicker, heavier and less manageable. For weeks I've tried to figure out why. And I think I've got it.
It has to do with cycles.
How natural body cycles affect us
Only the other night as I walked and chatted along the streets with a dear friend did I realise that I've been pushing my body and mind to the perform the same way I would in my most peak cycle and season - Summer!
Taking on more clients, teaching more yoga classes, juggling personal commitments all from an endless Summer / peak energy cycle mindset. My body has been begging me to slow down and all I was interested in was speeding it up! I don't drink coffee so I didn't have that common stimulant to turn to and mask this natural turning of the tide.
The disappointment of not "performing" the way I was in the warmer seasons lead to feelings of guilt, failure, and unworthiness. Feelings that I ought to be fitter, stronger, faster and leaner than I am right now. Non-acceptance of my body and mind, and so on. Not a great place to be!
I don't know about you, but my body just doesn't work the same way in cold months that it does in the most active, "yang" cycle of the year. I was out of touch with the natural rhythms of the earth, and to an extent with my own body. Winter is traditionally and physiologically a time of introspection, reflection, quiet and stillness. Any ancient medical philosophy (or out-in-the-field wildlife researcher) will tell you that.
It astounds me how often what I'm experiencing in my personal life is reflected in the clients who are attracted to my practice! Noticing this non-acceptance in myself allowed me to see it in other women.
For any woman who has demanded too much of herself lately - whether it's in terms of work, unsatisfactory relationships, body image, or some other area - our focus right now is to move our mindset towards the self-loving end of the spectrum, rather than the opposite - the self-loathing end that is strengthened each time it hears a derogatory comment from a "friend", family member, or from that notorious voice in our heads. Here's a few things we can do to start moving in a positive direction:
- AFFIRMATIONS Using affirmations such as the ones in Louise Hay's books and cards are incredibly powerful for re-programming the subconscious mind. Because body image has come up so much in consults lately, I'll use that as an example. Some really good body image affirmations I've found personally useful and also helpful for other women, are:
"My body is acceptable just as it is"
" I love and accept myself, exactly as I am."
Even the lyrics of Christina Aguilera's song "Beautiful" are affirmations in themselves.
I know it may feel uncomfortable to say affirmations to yourself at times, but your mind will begin to get used to them and with practice and repetition, start to build them into your conscious mind. Sticking post-its with these affirmations up on mirrors, saying them daily, and writing them in your journal are all ways of using affirmations.
Placing a hand on the body part/s you are feeling dissatisfied with at any given moment and telling it "Belly/thighs/etc... I love and accept you just as you are. Thank you for supporting me so far, for enabling me to walk, to think, to digest, etc." Yes I have tried this! And it works by rebuilding confidence and self-acceptance.
Becoming aware of the strong emotions that are triggering any old destructive behaviours is very helpful. Know that any feeling/emotion/thought, no matter how frightening, all-consuming and endless it may seem, is temporary.
Even though at any given time you may be feeling the strong gravitational pull of those feelings and the cycle of old conditioning and harmful behaviours they initiate, it will not last forever. Nothing does.
Rather than trying to get rid of the unwanted emotions, which hardly ever works, see if you can get to know it, see it, feel it, face it. It's like facing an enemy and seeing it for what it really is - this doesn't get rid of the enemy, but it brings it out of the shadows and into the light where you can see it better, and it becomes just a bit less scary.
I invite you to "bring the unwanted emotions out of the shadow" as often as you can, rather than numbing yourself or pushing them away with addictions (work can be an addiction!)
Name the unwanted emotion that has you in its grip - anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, guilt. Close your eyes (if you can) and notice where you feel the emotion in your body.
See if you can describe the emotion in more and more detail - what it feels, tastes, smells, sounds, looks like, what colour it is, how heavy it is, how big or small it is.
Then see if you can deep breathe some space around it. Take a few deep breaths and give the emotion the space it wants.
Keep taking deep breaths, imagining you are making extra space around the emotion - give it as much space as it needs. Observe the emotion as closely as possible - this is a way to step back from it and not let the emotion inundate you.
Notice how this "disarms" the unpleasant emotion. It may not get rid of it, but it makes it less intense and may allow you to get on with doing things that are important to you, rather than paralysing you or sending you into a downward spiral of even more difficult emotions and behaviours.
3. OUTING THE VOICE The voice in your head, that is. Of all the sources of criticism we may experience, that voice in your head - your own thoughts - is usually the most judgemental of all the voices we encounter in our lives. The thoughts in your head are not always absolute truth - very often they are just another unhelpful "friend". The difficult thing is, we usually don't even notice this voice - we take for granted it's part of us, and like any good victim, we just get used to the abuse.
See if you can start to pick out some of the messages this voice is saying to you. Write them down on one side of a sheet of paper. Keep writing until you get all the different messages down, in all their different variations. Then write down their equal and opposite versions.
So if you've written down "I'm fat and ugly, I'm not worthy of love", the opposite could be "I'm a healthy weight and beautiful in every way, I am worthy of love. I receive all the love I need in my life now."
Self-love and acceptance is an ongoing process, so be patient with yourself, and do just what you can do. Know that that is enough. As we begin to learn to love ourselves, we can begin to pull our energy away from unhelpful thoughts and unhealthy behaviours towards self-care behaviours that honour who we really are.
To your whole health, mind body and spirit!