When your body does not behave, look, or feel the way you want it to, you may feel that wish to pull away, blame, and shame it. It is exactly in these challenging moments that self-compassion is there to remind you that your precious body never meant to cause you any harm or distress. Rather, it is, and always has been, just trying to guide you along this journey of life.
A client of mine recently shared these beautiful words about the impact self-compassion had on her ability to relate with her body in a new, more friendly way.
“I went for a run. When I was done, for some reason, I stopped and I placed a hand on my heart. I just stood there and stayed for a while feeling my heart beating. I know it sounds odd but I actually started to cry and I found myself thanking my heart and body for giving me the gift and ability to run.”
This client and I have worked together for a few years now. She initially came to therapy aware there was something missing within. She felt disconnected from her body and often critical of it. She found herself wishing and wanting it to be a different shape and size, and she often manipulated her body through diets and excessive exercise in attempts to have it fit in with the socio-cultural messages around her.
But within the last year, she noticed something shifting. She was no longer withholding food. She was allowing her body to rest or move when it wanted to. And there was a softening of the critical thoughts she once held toward her body. All of these shifts culminated in that very special, intimate moment at the end of her run. I actually started to cry and I found myself thanking my heart and body for giving me the gift and ability to run.
When she stopped fighting against her body as it was, she noticed that she was present to the moment and felt with her body, rather than separate from it. She noticed that she was sensing from within her body rather than focusing on how it looked from the outside. She noticed she was gentle and kind towards her body. She truly noticed her body for the first time! She asked me, “What do you think that was all about?”
As a Somatic Psychotherapist, moments like this bring me joy and excitement, as it is in these moments of embodied awareness that the felt sense of being in one’s body comes alive. There is a shift from the usual focus on the external, or objective view of one’s body, to the internal, or subjective experience of what it feels like to live in and with this body. When my client was able to regard her body with open, compassionate curiosity, new questions arose for her: “What is my body experiencing and sensing in this moment?” And, “How does my body receive this moment?” Instead of her former, more objective view, which asks, “How does my body look in this moment?” and “What do I think about it in this moment?”
Sensing and feeling your body in this new way invites you to form a deeper, and richer relationship with your body. However, we all know it is not always easy to come close to our bodies in this way.
For years, my client lived feeling separate and apart from her body as many of us do. Self-compassion is what allowed her to come closer toward it, be curious about it in a different way, and eventually to embrace, care, and be grateful for it. Self-compassion allowed her to stop pushing and forcing her body to do and become what she wanted it to be and instead to begin to live in it just as it is. Self-compassion allowed her to gently release long-held patterns of perfectionism and striving. It was through this gentle acceptance that she found a deeper relationship. She was now able to see her body as her companion and friend, rather than enemy.
I wish you all the best on your journey toward inner and outer acceptance.
If you see yourself in this story and you long to restore your relationship with your body, I encourage you to join me, Fresh “Lev” White, Richa Gawande, and Marissa C. Knox, PhD, for Embodying Self-Compassion on May 1, 2021 at 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Pacific. There, we’ll explore what it means to have compassion in and for the body. Through this spacious and nurturing 6-hour retreat, we will experience somatic practices, guided meditations, and reflective writing to reveal deeper layers of self-compassion within us. Come home to the sacred ground of your being and embody the truth of all that you are.