Self-Aware Bodies

systems of the body

How well do you know how your body works?

  • better than you know your car?
  • better than you know your career field?
  • better than you know your way through your house in the dark?

Have you ever wondered why this playground that you were born with came to be shrouded in secrecy, only to be revealed to doctors with pedigrees and trusted lovers?

Let’s try some questions:

  1. Can you point to your sacrum?
  2. Do you know a stretch for your hamstring?
  3. How do you avoid a muscle popping around your knee?

If you can answer these, I bet it’s despite your schooling, not because of it. At least that is the case with me. I had a terrible biology class in my Catholic high school, and never took Anatomy/Physiology. Elsewhere, at non-Catholic institutions, I’ve heard tales about Health class also being a joke, a ‘bird course.’ Our equivalent was, I suppose, Family Life.


So, along with many others, I was launched into public society (university) to fend for myself ignorant about:

  • how birth control worked
  • how sex affected the body/i.e. how the genitals actually worked, other than excretory functions
  • how the digestive system could be upset
  • how blood pressure, pulse, breath, and weight relate

Such lack of information led to some awkward/tearful/confused/expensive forays into the health care system. And almost always, there was shame.

Why isn’t my body working normally, like everyone else’s seems to be?

Why don’t I know how to fix this?

IS there something wrong with my body?

From here at age 34, I look back and know this was wrong.

Why were we left in such ignorance, powerlessness, and shame as teenagers?

The first glimmer I had that something was wrong, that it wasn’t just me, was in reading a book called Margaret and I, by Kate Wilhelm. In it, a loveless marriage fails in the face of the protagonist discovering someone who actually accepts her wholly, communing with her through a different dimension… (it’s pretty awesome psychological sci-fi!)

There is a specific scene where, in this loveless marriage, the man comes home to find the wife conked out, but proceeds to satisfy his urges (e.g. date rape her). The wife’s subconscious, the main character/POV in the novel, witnesses this. Margaret’s subconscious already had a resentment of the husband’s ordinary mechanical lovemaking, which then blossoms into a fierce protective shield after this incident. There are other types of betrayals to follow, but this physical one is what made me stop and take notice.

That was NOT OKAY. So what IS OKAY? And how do I share my body with another person in an OKAY way?

The second barrier I crossed in changing my thinking on this issue was a few years later, when I decided to start running for fitness and–haha–fun. I’d NEVER been a runner; in fact I’d nourished nightmares from running since 2nd-grade soccer practice: SO not my forte.

But at that point in my life, I was feeling stuck, unattractive, sedentary. I needed something that would give me confidence, change the routine, and reconnect my ever-churning mind with my body. I eventually ran a couple 5ks and a 10-mile race. After a couple years, the need to run became less than the need to do other things, but while I was in it, I wrote an article titled, The Point of Running My Race.

In writing that essay, I made the discovery that I was running to control one small portion of my life, a segment of my day, because I was not yet feeling up to changing the big things wrong with my life. What was making me feel stuck was a relationship gone awry, a lack of purpose and learning in my job, and a mismatch between my lifestyle and my personality.

In 2011 all I could think about was putting one foot in front of the other, quite literally. I didn’t get crazy, but I ran regularly, with increasing distances, and increasing knowledge of my REAL limits, not the stories I’d always told myself about my limits.

Those stories, including the ones about powerlessness and shame, are still being overwritten today.

This practice of running and its meditative element eventually allowed me to cut ties and move on–away from the toxic relationship that had me ignoring my own body’s responses, to a more flexible part-time work arrangement and writing career, and across the country to a place that aligned better with my own personality.

Fast-forward another few years and I’m here in Portland, juggling a burgeoning writing life and a social day job as a barista. I’m dancing, walking, and yogi-ing my way through some awesome studios and trails, and while there is still no one partner to share life with, I feel much stronger, braver, and truer to myself in my relationships.

So, back to the body:

As I outgrow my teenage and twenty-something ideas about the body, trusting what my body tells me and overwriting those toxic messages, I’ve actually become more fit. My running phase has been succeeded by a yoga phase which shows no signs of losing its appeal.

Meditative and gentle, yet challenging in both mental and physical ways, YOGA has been the third nudge in the direction of listening to and getting to know my body better. I’m even branching out into the amazing barre and strength offerings at Muv Training. Commitment to exercise that fits my goals has helped me figure out those questions from the top: learning to stretch the right way, for me, learning to eat the right way, for me. I’m discovering what works for my body:

NOT because I feel like it’s betraying me (‘why can’t I be more normal?’)

NOT because I want it to conform to others’ ideas of beauty (‘why can’t i look more like that?‘)

but BECAUSE I realize that being grounded in my body is the one and only thing that will keep me alive in this crazy world for as long as I am.

Writing this post has helped me forgive past attitudes, accept present consequences, and commit to radical self-care. It is a hard-won victory, and a long time coming.

I know there are others that have struggled, are struggling. Won’t you share your stories?

Image via Shutterstock and LiveScience

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