The Illusion of Control

In this day and age, our experience of our body is very much influenced by the idea of control. Whether we embrace the idea of willpower and believe our bodies can be molded into pre-determined sizes through our actions or, if we embrace the philosophy of the mind/body connection which, for some suggests an ability to control the health, wellbeing and even appearance of our bodies through tools such as inner healing, visualization or positive thinking.
Whether we feel willpower or the mind/body connection (or a combination of both) is the road to control over our wayward bodies, what this idea of control means for many of us is that we’ve been convinced to relate to our bodies as projects, as canvasses that display to the world how well we are taking care of ourselves physically and even emotionally.
I work with women who believe that their unwanted bellies or ‘thunder thighs’ are the result of either a failure to find and stick to the right plan, to find the right magical balance of food restriction and exercise to shape and sculpt their body into our current ideal. And it’s not just the mechanics of our body (fat production or loss, building muscle mass) that we feel we should be able to control. The idea of the mind/body connection for many of us suggests we should have control of all our mental and emotional processes as well. We become convinced our fatness, our unhappiness with our bodies is the result of some unresolved issue, some un-actualized aspect of our personality.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women tell me that they want to heal their emotional wounds so that they can ‘release’ the weight they are carrying. It makes me sad that many women believe the amazing and miraculous bodies they live in are outward manifestations of inward demons or unresolved issues.
Now I’m not saying that there isn’t some room for willpower when it comes to taking on goals for our wellbeing. To applying a little tough (but compassionate!) love to ourselves to break out of unhelpful habits. And, I’m not saying that our state of mind doesn’t have an impact on our physical wellbeing. Inner work, healing, positive thinking all can and do have positive impacts on our health and support our efforts to reduce stress which has huge health implications. I am saying that many of us believe that through willpower and the mind/body connection we can and should have a control of our body that is simply not possible. And this is a problem because when we cling to the idea that we should be able to control our bodies, we are put at risk for falling into the blaming trap. Not only are we at fault if our bodies don’t look like we think they should, we also  may blame ourselves for any and all illness or disease. Too fat? Not disciplined enough. Got cancer? Not self actualized enough.

Finally, we set ourselves up to determine our self worth by how well we can control our bodies. How we feel about ourselves is determined by how close we can get to the societal ideal. And this is dangerous because the ideal is a mirage. A bill of good we’ve been sold so that we will continue to hand over our money to anyone who promises us weight loss. As a result, we are all trying to slam and sculpt our bodies into a shape only achievable long term by 5% of the population.

We cannot control our bodies….but we can take care of them.  Our quality of life can often be improved through considering our nutrition choices, engaging in joyful movement and caring for our mental health. We can work to improve fitness, strength, or perhaps aim to improve other indicators of health like blood pressure or cholesterol. For some of us, these health supporting actions may mean significant changes in our body size and shape. Or, for others it may be just a slight change in appearance. For many of us, positive lifestyles changes may mean no change at all in how we look.  There are no guarantees…and certainly no magic formula. But whether our body changes or not, if we let go of the idea of control, we can still have a positive impact on our health.
I have a vision that we can live free to care for our bodies as we wish, without judgment. I look forward to a time when we can know we are living our version of a healthy lifestyle, not by how our bodies look, but rather by how we feel in our bodies. Bodies that come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and abilities.
So here is my wish. May the actions we take for our bodies and wellbeing be motivated by care and compassion rather than control and punishment. May we all revel in the connection and gratitude we feel for the body we live in.

Thank you for reading!

The Role of Community in Reclaiming Body Sovereignty

Often the journey to reclaim Body Sovereignty, the healing of body shame and claiming our space in the word, is a solitary one. We do important inner work by learning to practice self compassion, mindfulness, and discernment. We become more aware of and appreciate the functional aspects of our body, how it contributes to our life through movement, both with day to day practical tasks and also with more recreational or artistic expressions of the body. Our eyes see, our hands touch, our body gets us through the day and we are thankful for the miracle. We begin to appreciate body diversity and see beauty in all shapes and sizes. As we begin to understand we do not have the control over our bodies we’ve been told we should have, our motivations for self care shift from changing the way we look to changing the way we feel.

However, no woman is an island. No matter what amount of work we do by healing our relationship with our body, no matter how much of a body-positive safe sanctuary we create in our inner world, we need more that just our inner work. We need positive connection with others. To help us keep going, we need spaces to be with people who are approaching wellness in similar ways. Community and connection helps us to stay inspired and motivated and to let go of tying our self worth to an unattainable body shape. Body positive community is also vital in providing us opportunity to shift our cultural narrative of body competition and comparison. When we can be in body positive spaces with others, we are invited to let go the fears that keep us convinced we must tear others down to build ourselves up.

In my life, I look for opportunities to be in body positive community wherever I can. When I meet new people I purposely bring up my body-positive ways to invite further conversation. One time, after doing so, I had a co-worker set me up on a coffee with a friend of hers because she new we both had a passion about body positivity and fat activism. I was delighted! When I lived in Saskatoon and found the Saskatoon Weight Attitudes and Disordered Eating Committee, I was so happy to find more of my tribe. My positive experiences both with SWADE and the Nourish Committee emboldened me to be proactive in creating body positive community in my new community of Kitchener and I’ve facilitated space for local practitioners who follow a Health at Every Size® (HAES) approach to come together.

That is why I’m so excited for a local screening of the Embrace documentary here in Kitchener on April 25th. What a wonderful opportunity to come together with others who also believe there is another, more affirming way to be in relationship with our body! If you live in the Kitchener Waterloo area, I hope you will join us. If you live elsewhere,  check out this site for more information on communities that are hosting a screening.

I put together this short video to share some of my thoughts about this screening:


I invite you to consider what spaces have you found for body positive community? Online? Face to face? If you haven’t found any that suit you, are there perhaps ways you can create the community you need? Perhaps arrange a regular coffee date with a friend or two who are also embracing body positivity? Or organize an informal Health at Every Size lunch and learn at work? Maybe you can attend a conference or workshop about body image? No doubt, there can be pitfalls. You may find the ‘positive body image’ workshop ended being about a weight loss program, or maybe the friend you are having coffee with is having a hard time giving up playing the body comparison game. But, with some clear boundaries and patience your efforts will pay off and you will find it was all worth it.

 

Thank you for reading!

If you would like to stay in touch, feel free to sign up for my e-newsletter, Living Body Sovereign, which you can find here: http://eepurl.com/bBGfpz

Check out the Sovereignty Shop, where you will find my Reclaiming Body Sovereignty Workbook, Gifts of Body Sovereignty online class and more.

Also, one to one sessions are available either via webcam, or face to face if you live in or around Kitchener, Ontario. Find more information here: http://www.sydneybell.ca/work-with-me/book-a-session-with-me/

 

Honouring Your Belly – A Path to the Sacred Centre

Let’s consider the belly. You know, that space in your body between your rib cage and pelvic area? Everyone has one. Look around, you will see belly’s abound! They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They contain the power to turn food into the energy we need to live. In women, the belly also contains the sacred womb-space that holds the potential to create new human life. Not to mention many other important bits and bobs that contribute to our health and wellbeing that reside in the general belly area. The more that I think about it, I’ve come to see the belly is a place of power in our body.

Sadly it is rarely recognized as such. The belly is much maligned these days and many people’s interest in the belly has nothing to do with ‘honouring’ or ‘loving’ or even ‘connecting’ to it. No…most of us have a relationship with the belly that is defined by dislike and shame. We have goals of reducing, of shaping, of banishing. For many of the people I work with, their negative feelings about their body are intrinsically tied to their feelings about their belly.

And that is such a shame. Because the belly can be an amazing ally in our quest for body sovereignty, if we are willing to do work to once again connect to this sacred centre of power.

Lately I’ve been re-reading The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence and Pleasure  by Lisa Sarasohn  and I’ve begun to understand more clearly the power of the belly and why it is important to reclaim a positive relationship with this sacred centre of our body. Sarasohn believes that the belly not only contains our centre of gravity, which provides the basis for interacting with the world on a physical level, but that the belly also the centre of our electromagnetic field, the space where we process information gathered from all our senses. This electromagnetic field residing in the belly provides access to our inner knowledge, our intuition. The belly is, after all, where our ‘gut feelings’ lie. It houses the inner knowledge that provides us guidance from deep within. If we can once again connect to this sacred centre and honour our belly, Sarasohn suggests that we can bring more vitality, pleasure, creativity, confidence into our life. Our relationships will be enhanced, we will develop inner guidance and experience a clarifying sense of purpose.

Certainly, our journey to body sovereignty can only be enhanced by tapping into this inner wisdom and power. For instance, reconnecting with the physical sensations in the belly support our efforts at mindfulness- becoming aware of and responding to our body’s signals. Self Compassion is also enhance when we learn to recognize and respond without judgement to emotions that can make themselves at home in the belly. Finally, our ability to think critically and make decisions is greatly improved when we have access to the intuitive knowledge held in our belly.

I invite you to consider how you relate to your belly. Do you have a positive connection? Adversarial? Indifferent? What impact does your relationship with your belly have on how you feel about your body in general? Do you think your well being would benefit from healing your relationship with your belly? If you are looking for opportunities to heal your relationship with your belly, establishing a deep and relaxed breathing pattern is a good place to start. Take the time to physically locate your body’s centre and bring your awareness to it regularly, with a sense of curiously and compassion. Make a practice of checking in with your centre and find out what’s going on. I highly recommend the Woman’s Belly book, which offers many wonderful exercises and an in-depth exploration of how our health and wellbeing is tied to our relationship with our belly and helps us unpack the societal influences that have shaped our relationship with the belly and why reclaiming it is vital to our health and wellbeing.

Thank you for reading!