Shared Wisdom Guest Post
Featuring Shakti Gawain
Having a beautiful body starts with following the natural flow of your energy. Trust yourself. Express yourself physically in ways that feel good. Sleep as much as you need to. Stay in bed if you feel you need more rest. Eat what your body truly desires and follow your heart. If you’re willing to trust your body, you’ll learn what’s best for you.
It sounds simple enough. The problem is that we’ve been taught to distrust our bodies and see them as needing to be controlled. Some religions even suggest that the spirit is good and the body is a weak, sinful tool of the devil. Although we have evolved to the point where these beliefs are not generally expressed openly, we still respond to our bodies with mistrust. As a culture, we’re accustomed to ignoring our bodies and their needs. Our minds tell our bodies what to do. We decide that a nine-to-five workday, with three meals a day, is a “reasonable” way to live; then we expect our bodies to cooperate, even if this doesn’t feel good. We’ve also developed, intellectually, theories for what’s good for us and what isn’t, what foods we should and shouldn’t eat.
As children, we usually adopt parental and societal rules and habits regarding food. Even if you want to eat something else for dinner or want to eat at a different time, you’re most likely expected to conform to the norms of the system. The body can tell you one thing and society another. Many of us learn to distrust ourselves at an early age. This distrust causes internal conflict and an imbalance in our system. It can set up a lifelong battle between the authoritarian and rebel voices within us. When we rebel, we may find ourselves craving all kinds of things we would not normally desire if left to our natural flow. We may develop the habit of going for the quickest available high. Our bodies may react to this imbalance by gaining weight, becoming hyperkinetic, losing weight, or developing food addictions and allergies. Then, to solve these problems, we may try even harder to control ourselves by following a rigid, restrictive diet. This causes us to feel deprived, so eventually the rebel takes over again and brings on the very foods we were trying to avoid.
We may play out this same conflict in regard to physical exercise. Many people believe the only way they can keep their bodies in shape is to push themselves to exercise in a very driven way. We may resist this by becoming lethargic and never exercising at all.
Our society fosters this struggle and profits from it. We are constantly shown what a beautiful body should look like, and are sold ways of getting there. We are sold diets, miracle weight-loss plans, low-calorie or fat-free foods, and health club memberships. We are constantly beating our bodies into some new idea of health and beauty. The problem with the external pictures and “shoulds” we adapt from outside of ourselves is that we are constantly dissatisfied with the way we look or the way we feel.
The way to a healthy, strong, and beautiful body is to learn to trust and love yourself. You can begin this process by becoming aware of all the rules and ideas you have about how you should look and feel, what you should eat, how you should exercise, and so on. It can help to write these down, adding more to the list whenever you become aware of another belief or rule. The process of writing down these ideas can help you become less identified with them, so that you can begin to have more choice about which ones, if any, you want to follow. In the process of doing this, you may discover more of your inner primary selves, such as the perfectionist (who has very high ideals it wants you to live up to), the pusher (who drives you to accomplish the perfectionist’s goals), and the critic (who constantly reminds you of how you are failing).
Once you gain some awareness of these ideas and energies, and are not so unconsciously controlled by them, you can begin to ask yourself what you truly want and tune into your own intuitive feelings about what is really right for you.
Your own body and your intuition are, ultimately, the best guides about what is good for you and how to take care of yourself. You may find that once you are paying attention, your body will spontaneously let you know what it needs to eat and how it wants to move and exercise. Some people find that just by following their energy, they develop their own personal diet and exercise program that is exactly what their body needs, and this may change from time to time. For example, at certain times, their body may want to exercise vigorously, in which case it feels wonderfully exhilarating and satisfying. At other times, it may want to rest or exercise very gently.
Many people find that they need additional information and structure, in which case their inner guidance leads them to the appropriate books, nutritionist, exercise coach, doctor, or teacher. It is perfectly fine and can be very helpful to follow someone else’s diet or exercise program as long as it feels right for you.
The process of healing your relationship to your body may take some time and require some help and support. Our feelings about our bodies are usually connected to very deep issues related to our self-esteem, our identities, our families, our sexuality, and so on. It can be helpful to have the support of a therapist while exploring these core issues.
If you have chronic weight problems, food addictions, or an eating disorder and are not currently in therapy, I strongly recommend seeking help from a therapist, support group, or treatment program that specializes in these issues. Fortunately these days, there are many excellent programs and counselors in this field. Many people also find help in this area through Overeaters Anonymous, one of the 12-step programs, which are free and available in most cities.
Excerpted from the book Living in the Light – 25th Anniversary Edition ©2011 by Shakti Gawain. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
Shakti Gawain is a pioneer in the field of personal growth and consciousness. Her bestselling title Living in the Light was just published in an updated and revised 25th Anniversary edition. Along with Marc Allen, Gawain co-founded New World Library in 1977. She lives in Marin County, California. Visit her online at http://www.shaktigawain.com.
Thank you, Shakti, for sharing your wise words with all of us. It’s truly an honor to have them appear on Soul Speak! Learning to trust our bodies is an essential part of living consciously and happily. It’s so easy to take them for granted, rather than treat them kindly and with love.