By Zeina Habib ICF ACC Coach
Do you feel on some days you’ve been holding your breath and you didn’t even realize it? Or you’re tensing all your muscles or clenching your teeth and are not even aware of it?
There are also days when you look in the mirror and you don’t like what you see; too many cellulitis, or your skin color is not perfect, or you’ve gained a pound and hate how you look. The list goes one and you can find many things you either hate or haven’t even noticed about your body.
Many of us have learned to be this disconnected, as if our body has no role in our daily life unless we’re sick. We may have also been brought up loathing how our body looks or fearing the sin and shame it may represent.
However, recent studies have confirmed that self love, self expression and self care are not possible if we don’t love and care for every part of our being, including our body.
We cannot be creative and curious if we don’t feel safe and connected to our own skin.
Communication is more than 50% body language, our self worth is linked to how we view our body and our first impressions of people are based on their bodies. Our brains make assumptions about gender, age, culture and race, the moment we see someone; and the more we know about our body and that of others, the more likely we are to be curious and compassionate instead of judgemental.
This brings us to me writing this article for all the women and mothers who want to embark on that self discovery and make sure they teach their kids connection instead of disconnection.
The first step in loving our bodies is getting to know it. What is our body like when I am stressed, hurt, happy, angry or relaxed? How does my body help me express my emotions?
Just like emotional awareness, body awareness is all about asking ourselves these questions and using tools that will help us figure out.
So in the next part of this article, I will go over a few tools I have learned from being a coach and from several books and conferences I have attended.
1- Body awareness and grounding
Body awareness and grounding are very important and simple strategies to connect to our bodies.
Body awareness is the simple act of feeling every part of your body in space and time. How does your butt feel on the chair? How does your core feel? Is there any tension in any of your muscles? How about your fingers and your toes?
You’d be surprised how many times we realize we have been holding tension in our core or shoulders without being aware of it.
You can do this exercise any time during the day while you’re seated or stretching out or walking. I suggest taking a slow inhale from your nose using your abdomen and then exhaling through your mouth slowly (i.e longer exhales than inhales) while focusing on how each area of your body feels.
If you feel any tension anywhere in your body, make sure you relax it or stretch it out for a few minutes.
Grounding on the other hand, is a simple technique that allows you to bring your mind to the present. It is mostly used when feeling anxious, stressed or fearful. When you are having feelings that make you feel lost inside your head, grounding helps you reconnect to your senses and to the present moment.
The best way to do this is to put your feet on the ground and focus on feeling connected to earth by using the breathing technique described above. Sometimes, looking around the room for items of a certain color or shape helps calm you down and bring you to the present. The basic idea of this is to reconnect to your senses so you are back in reality in the present moment. Needless to say, if you are experiencing chronic anxiety or panic attacks, you should consult a therapist or coach.
2- Stress release
In their book “ Burnout, the secret to unlocking the stress cycle” Emily and Amelia Nagoski talk about the stress cycle and the role our body plays in releasing stress. In summary, they say that even when you’re no longer in contact with the stressor (i.e whatever is stressing you out), it is not enough to relax, you need to finish what they call the stress cycle.
Your body does not feel safe until it has released all the stress it has built up.
So, leaving work may remove the stressor of that day but your body will stay in stress mode until it has released the stress. They talk about multiple techniques to do so, the most important one being physical activity. It can be any type of movement from running to walking to dancing etc. Just don’t lift heavy weights since this adds more stress instead.
In the end releasing stress comes back to us being connected to our body. There are many other useful techniques besides movement you can resort to such as a 20 second hug and creative art and you can find all these details by reading the book.
3- Demystifying body standards
In her book “ The body is not an apology”, Sonya Renee Taylor talks about the importance of the body in our life. In her opinion, the one thing we all agree on is that we all have a body that we exist through and no one can deny that, no matter what God you believe in or what country you live in, this truth applies.
However, over the years, beauty standards put in place for marketing purposes have been used to make us feel our body is not enough.
White skinny barbies or models on TV and magazines are used to make us all believe this is what we could look like if we try hard enough. They removed all signs of cellulitis or wrinkles using photoshop so the women would look flawless. The problem with that is that it’s impossible. Needless to say, it still drove many women to try and achieve the perfect body, hating their present one in the process.
This is why we need to change our perspective.
We need to learn to love our bodies and teach our kids that there are many types of beauty out there. I am not just speaking about body shape but also about race, gender identity and disability. If our kids grow up hearing stories about people from different races with different body shapes or having disabilities, their normal will be different than ours.
This point in my opinion is the most crucial, it either sets kids for the development of shame, fear and eating disorders or for the development of curiosity, acceptance and self love.
So what should we do to change our perspective and then that of our kids?
- Take care of your body in the way you see fit.
- Do gratitude exercises everyday including gratitude for body features.
- Follow and buy from brands who support body diversity and have all types of beauty standards.
- Join support groups that empower all body shapes and types.
- Read, and watch movies especially with your kids that support body diversity. This is very important for kids to grow up seeing this diversity and creating a new normal for themselves.
- Watch out for the quality of self talk or the way you talk with your kids. Try to exclude body shaming language (i.e instead of I look fat, say I’m beautiful I may have gained a pound and I can do something about that if I want to)
4- Respecting your body limits
This one is very important especially when raising kids.
Growing up in the Middle East, there was always a neighbor or a family member who wanted a hug or a kiss from me from me as a little girl . You’d hear my mom say, “ Go ahead honey, give teta (grandma in Lebanon) a hug” and so on. As a kid, I felt forced sometimes if I was not in the mood or simply uncomfortable around that person. Now when I look back on it, it felt as if I had no control over my body.
Forward a few years later I hated affection. I didn’t want anyone hugging me or kissing me and felt suffocated by it.
Affection is only stress relieving when it’s safe and wanted. It is important as parents to give our kids the choice of where they want to be friendly and affectionate and with whom.
We need to also model that for them, as an adult woman, you have the right for your own limits, your own decisions when it comes to your space, contraception, your health and your body safety.
The same should be passed on to our kids whether it’s affection or later on decisions about their sexual life or their health.
5- Expressing feelings
For me, being a dancer, my body is how I express my feelings and communicate them to the world. I speak through every movement. The same goes for people who paint, write, act or do any form of art. You don’t have to be a professional to express yourself through your body, it can be any hobby you pickup. It is important to feel safe moving and to notice if any shameful self talk comes up. Art is only liberating when we let go of shameful talk that could be limiting us from accessing our full potential.
So monitor that self talk and connect with your amazing body. Let it all out.
In the end, there are many books and studies that link trauma healing, self image and a healthy life with how connected we are to our bodies. So, we have a responsibility as women to face the discomfort and shame that we may feel when moving from being disconnected from our bodies to finding that connection again. We owe it to ourselves to live and love fully and we owe it to future generations to plant seeds of love, connection and care.