(Modified from Sunya Kjolhede's article at Windhorse Zen Center.)
The Winter Solstice is one of the biggest events in the great cycling dance of sun and earth, marking the time when the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun, and the sun makes its lowest and shortest arc across the sky. And it is a potent time to look at how we treat our bodies and learning to love them.
Most of us think of this day, our Midnight of the year, as the longest night and shortest day. It is the time of darkness, but it is also a time of hushed pause -- almost as though all of Nature is holding its breath.
For ancient peoples, the solstices were times to honor and bring into harmony the polarities of yin and yang, male and female energies–-for world rebalance and renewal. These times of ceremony and celebration were also occasion for the community to renew itself and its bonds with nature, themselves and each other. And so it can be for us as we are learning to love our bodies.
Today, under the powerful global influence of our indoor culture, the Solstice is barely a blip on the screen of awareness for most people. So many people are staring at screens as never before, and those screens don’t blip much for the solstices and equinoxes, instead they are feeding us unrealistic stories of perfection. They are selling us diets, exercise programs, and programs to somehow change or be better.
Perhaps one of the greatest losses we’ve incurred along the way of becoming more ‘civilized’ is the loss of any real connection with these cycles of the moon and sun and stars. Instead, of getting still and reconnected during this time of year, we rush around in a holiday frenzy, disconnecting us from our bodies, from Nature, from each other and from ourselves. Perhaps this disconnection is closely related to the mess we find ourselves in now, with all the violence and abuse and planetary destruction.
Every day we have a choice to choose between violence and friendliness, both towards others and towards ourselves. When looking at our bodies, many of us unconsciously and habitually choose violence. We focus on the flaws, punish our form for not being perfect, and feel shame when we don’t meet some unattainable standard of beauty.
A friend recently shared that she is feeling disgusting in her body, as she has been super busy so hasn’t had the time for self care. She has put on some weight, isn’t exercising and has been eating things she judges as bad. So, believing that her body is disgusting, she has hatched a total life overhaul where she promises to eats better, exercises more and gets back into her bodily perfection. Yet, even with this perfect plan, she feels so bad about herself, that she has yet to implement the program.
How many of us have been there? We make the New Year’s plan, but only follow through in fits and starts, or never really begin. And then we call ourselves failures or shame ourselves for not living up to our ideals. We stay stuck in a cycle of disconnected shame and violence towards our bodies.
Perhaps a life overhaul is the wrong approach. Perhaps instead of creating change from the outside in, we start from the inside out and extending what the Buddhists call “unconditional friendliness” to our bodies.
Instead of falling into the violence of our mind that tells us we are only worthy if we are a certain shape, size or fitness level, that we are only “good” if we eat clean and healthy, perhaps we can focus on holding our form in gentleness and compassion? To sit with the feeling of being in this body AS IT IS RIGHT NOW, and knowing that it is worthy of love, affection and appreciation in this very state.
What would that be like? Could we actually do it? Could we let our bodies be like the moon and reflect the brilliance of the sun no matter what it’s shape?
I’m telling you, whenever someone starts to love their body from the inside out, miraculous things happen. Sometimes their shape changes. Sometimes their experience of living in their body becomes more and embodied even without any external changes. Sometimes a simple change in attitude can start a cycle of self-care and nurturing that is more effortless and joyful, than any restrictive program.
I’m reminded of the native American story of the grandfather with his grandson. He tells the boy that there are two wolves fighting inside of him. One that connects to the brilliance and magic in the world, and one that creates division through cruelty and pain. The boy asks, “which wolf wins?” The grandfather responds, “the one you feed.”
So despite all the lies you may be hearing about your body as the holidays roll around and the new year’s resolution marketing begins, I encourage you to feed the wolf of friendliness and compassion toward your body. I promise you, it will bring more to your 2019 than any diet or exercise plan.
May the solstice serve you well as we move from the cycle of darkness to light.
Intro written by Sunya
What is your body image self-talk when you are at the gym? Standing in front of those long line of mirrors, we often check ourselves out under the auspices of making sure we are in good alignment. But what else are we checking out? And how does it affect our self-image and self-esteem?
If you are anything like me, the body image self-talk at the gym is not always a pretty picture. I wish I could say that my first thought was from my inner cheerleader, “Damn those are some strong, beautiful arms!” or “You are looking good girl!” But unfortunately, my inner critic is usually the first to appear, “How in the hell are those hips so wide? Is that real? Compare yours to the women around you. Yep, these are a freak of nature?!?“
That’s the thing about learning to love our bodies. We often don’t have control of the first thoughts. So, part of the practice is learning how to hear the inner critic when it perks its well-meaning but nasty little head, and then take steps to change the next thoughts.
If you are lucky, you might have someone on the outside, like a good trainer, being an outer cheerleader. Several of the teachers at Scorch in Asheville are brilliant at this. They say things like “You are so strong!” and “Yay baby…you got this.” My old spin teacher at the Asheville YMCA use to say, “Dig deeper!” and “Just about the time you are ready to give up, that’s when you get stronger.” I’ve internalized these cheers and try to use them as that “next thought” for almost everything now, including when I want to succumb to those first voices of despair and disgust around my body.
I used to avoid gyms when I was first learning to love my body. I needed to stay away from mirrors. I also needed to stay away from the collective unconscious of women getting fit. I swear I could hear their inner dialogues -- The fear in the footsteps on the treadmill, “don’t get fat, don’t get fat, don’t get fat” or the shame at the swimming pool, “I hate my body, I hate doing this.”
Learning to love my body meant learning to love moving it just for the sake of moving it, not for the number of calories it would burn or how it would help me look better in some way. So, I took up dance…and hiking…and anything that was fun and got my heart moving but wasn’t tied to losing weight. And nothing that had mirrors.
Today, I’m back at the gym because I sprained my pelvis and I need to strengthen my core to heal. I also wanted to get fitter. So, I’m revisiting the mirrors, and those negative voices, and the body image stuff at another layer. Oh the fun!
But I have more resources now. Instead of focusing on what I hate for the whole class or comparing my body to others, I replace it with things like “I have kick ass arms” or "I'm so thankful I'm healthy". I feel so excited when I hear my girlfriend in class says something like, “I love how I’m feeling stronger in my body,” instead something about her weight. It all feels like powerful steps in the right direction.
No matter what reason any of us have for going to the gym, our biggest goal as we learn to love our bodies and stay away from shame as we do it. If you are working out because you fear fat, or because you want to burn calories to try to attain the unattainable standard of beauty, or because you want to make your heart stronger, or simply because you want to feel your body move, the biggest goal is to love yourself the whole way through. The last thing we want to do is heap additional shame for our motivations in addition to any shame we might feel for the not already meeting the standard of beauty, weight and healthism.
So, move for whatever reason you want. And do whatever exercise you want – whether it is 5 minutes of walking or 60 minutes of CrossFit. Just getting into your body and moving it is so incredibly awesome and does so much for us outside of fitness.
There is nothing more you need to do to be amazing just you are. And if you want some assistance to become your own body image cheerleader, here are a few suggestions for reclaiming positive body image as you stand in front of all those mirrors:
So, take that mirrors! Take that inner critic! And keep taking those small acts of power to love this body every single day, just as it is, because it is amazing...and you are worth it.
Out of a great need we are all holding hands and climbing. A not loving is a letting go. Listen the terrain around here is too difficult for that. ~ Hafiz
Women are fighting. If you look around any room in the US, you will see women of every age, shape, size and color engaged in an inner battle – one they are waging on themselves. Statistics show that 89-95% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. Whether she is tall, thin, leggy, hippy, busty, round, stout, wrinkled, flawless, flabby, furred or finned – whether she is the woman you are comparing yourself to and failing or comparing yourself to and winning – she is fighting the same battle you are. She is at war with the form that allows her to be here nd enjoy this temple of life.
What happens when we are engaged in a war? We either fight or surrender. Either way, we throw all of our resources at it. And for a woman fighting her body, those resources include her time, thoughts, energy, money, self-esteem and power.
How many of us spend our precious time and focus counting calories, carbs or fat? How many of us run on treadmills, not to express our power, but because we fear fat? How many of us take stimulants instead of nourishment when we are hungry? Spend our money on products, pills and programs that promise lasting results but rarely deliver? Or feel ashamed because we still struggle in some way, never quite winning the war completely?
What would it take stop the war?
Some focus on prevention. Many programs exist helping young girls address body image issues and media culture. While I’m grateful that our daughters may grow up with a healthier foundation, it still doesn’t address the issue for those of us over the age of 25. We didn’t get a body positive education, and the messages telling us our worth is connected to our looks and no matter what we do our looks are not quite ever good enough have worn grooves deep in our brains that have only deepened over the years.
And media culture is only growing. Women are inundated by 1000s of images a day telling us to get fitter, thinner and younger. And social media only makes matters worse. Hundreds of youtube videos coach women of all ages how to trick to camera or alter images that are posted on Facebook, Google and Instagram. We think these images are real when they are not.
Ignoring the war won’t make it go away. Despite the cultural myth, women don’t “grow out” of body shame. In fact, for many women, the fight against our body actually gets worse as we age. I’ve talked to countless women in their 40s who say, “I was finally getting a handle on accepting my body, when all this stuff about age came up.”
Another diet or self-help program won’t stop the war either. To tell you the truth, I’m sick of people trying to sell me. “Try my four-step process for the best life you can dream.” It’s just another marketing trick that got us here in the first place. Life is dynamic sweetheart. So is our mind and body. There is no silver bullet. So stop trying to sell me another product couched in the framework that even here I still need to improve. That’s the whole issue to begin with. The belief that we are flawed and need to be fixed.
So how do we find peace? Not the peace we think will come when we are 10 pounds lighter or my arms/thighs/belly/skin is somehow different. But the peace we can find right now.
While I certainly don’t have any silver bullets, I think there is a spiral path that can lead us there. One filled with acceptance, allowing, appreciation and affection. One where we count our small acts of power every day. The acts that nourish and support our bodies, minds and lives as well as other women.
The Chinese have a saying, “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.” And there is no time like the present. The world is a mess. Imagine if every woman everywhere stopped the war with her body; reclaimed her time, attention, power, focus and money; and redirected it to her passions, joys and heart’s desires. Imagine if we held hands and did it together? I think those mountains might start to move, and probably without a bunch of heavy lifting.