How did you repair your relationship with your body?
June 13, 2020 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Realizing that over time and for a variety of reasons I have become disconnected with my physical body and live mostly in my head. I'm looking for stories from others-- how did you get over it or rekindle a better relationship with your body?

I have suffered from depression, anxiety and trauma all my life and one recurring thing I have been working on in therapy over the last few years has been unpacking the disconnects I have-- for a while it's been unpacking why I can't easily tap into my emotions or name them. I'm finding improvements on that front, but recently I was reading something and realizing that I have a profound disconnect with my physical self.

I have had body image issues all my life, disordered eating patterns and never have felt particularly pleased with my body's abilities or appearance. Now in my mid-30s, I've become ok with it, but mostly I ignore it and forget to check in and that it might need things. I often think of my body as the tool I need to be a hard worker, which leads to me overworking it and getting frustrated when it burns out or feels pain/injury. (part of this also requires me to reimagine myself as something besides 'the hard worker,' which has definitely impeded a lot of my sense of self-worth.) And I live in my head a lot, so I've kind of lost any real sense of connection to what it needs-- love, joy, play, pleasure, strength, etc.

I'm trying to figure out my way back to that because I am really tired of feeling this disconnect and I think finding a way to be in my physical person more will help me find new priorities. I know there's often things that get recommended like yoga, dance, exercise, etc... but I find it hard to even get myself remembering to cultivate a practice or build a habit. Especially in 2020, I've struggled trying to juggle keeping afloat with work, being activistic, and stressing about COVID in isolation. I keep fixating on other things or stay in my head and not acknowledge or tap into the other parts of me. I know on paper implementing physical activities will help, but especially as time and space feel blurrier with the state of things I struggle to commit to the habits or even acknowledge their value. I'll start with good intentions, then get distracted with outside obligations and priorities.

So I was wondering if anyone might have experienced a similar situation with their body and mind... and how they began the process to repair the relationship with their body. What things worked? What part was most challenging? Was there something mental you had to overcome to help yourself get there? Did you find a way to love your body or are you more just accepting of it? I'd love to hear others' stories to help encourage me that this is worth pursuing and that it is possible. Bonus points if you have any strategies of how to navigate this in a socially-distant world :)

Thanks in advance!
posted by actionpact to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I adopted an older dog and promised her I would walk her every day. I would guilt trip myself if I didn't feel like doing it. Knowing how much she enjoyed it got me out the door, but once we were out there I started enjoying the walk. I met my neighbors. I watched the seasons. The dog was just the excuse. We'd go on trail walks. I learned that I can walk 5 miles without difficulty.

Just knowing someone was relying on me, and loved spending time with me, was enough to pull me back into the moment. Watching her enjoy life reminded me to do it too.
posted by irisclara at 5:42 PM on June 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

I can’t recommend The F$&@ It Diet enough. I know you aren’t asking for a diet book, but I think tackling your relationship with food and recognizing the VERY INTENSE societal pressure to participate in diet culture would be a helpful first step.
posted by itsamermaid at 7:04 PM on June 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

If learning about how trauma works and some of the evidence-based therapies that have been developed would be helpful to you, The Body Keeps The Score is excellent.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:09 PM on June 13, 2020 [6 favorites]

I started doing yoga (reluctantly at first) and ended up getting really into becoming curious about how my specific body works (and when you think about it, it's kind of weird that we can be in a body for 30 years and not understand it or accept its existence).
posted by kokaku at 7:16 PM on June 13, 2020

You already know that to have a better relationship with your body you need to move it, but if you're depressed and scattered, how do you do that?

What has worked for me has been treating movement like an appointment or a job, NOT actually something I'm doing for myself (works for my snowflake psychology); something I do every day at the same time whether I want to or not. Also not something I'm trying to get better at or see results from, just something I do. This works especially well if you have competing priorities, because anything that's just for you will be the first to go.

I got into my yoga practice that way: just show up, completely passive, and the next thing you know you're moving all around and then it's over. And I've got to say that a side effect of regular yoga practice has been actually accepting my body for what it is, since good yoga teaching is about accepting what it can do right in the moment and not forcing it to do more.

Edited to add: We can't "go" to yoga now, but there are lots of online ways to help you, and you can still tell yourself you've set up "an appointment"
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:25 PM on June 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

In Pandemic Times, since I have struggled to keep up with something "demanding" like yoga, I have taken to putting on a podcast and spending the duration sitting/lying on a yoga mat just kind of trying to figure out what stretches/gentle movements my body seems to need at the moment.
posted by space snail at 7:29 PM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Kinky sex helped me reconnect with my body when I barely realized I had a body. Perhaps courtesy of my ADHD, I have spent most of my life inside my head. Non-vanilla sex was my personal route to becoming more at home in my body and more mindful generally. I wish I had a more universal answer but this was my experience.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:46 PM on June 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have felt like this for all of my 39 years that I can remember, except for the "overworking it" part, haha. I wish I could give you advice from the point of view of someone who has fixed it.

All I can say is that the biggest breakthroughs I ever had emotionally on that front came during an intensive week at Kripalu. Interestingly, I was there for a multi-day workshop with a particular teacher, but the part that really broke me down on the mind-body front was the open-to-all free dance every day at noon. That kind of physical experience --- a hundred or more people just whirling and stomping and drumming --- it must tap into something really primal that's missing from some of our lives nowadays. I don't think there was a single session where I didn't cry at least a little bit.

In retrospect, I always loved going to raves and then nightclubs and then Jazzercise and then Zumba. I think I've always been chasing that feeling of really committing, to full-out letting your body take over, which is easier in the company of a lot of people who are doing the same thing.

I'm sorry that this answer is almost the opposite of helpful, given current circumstances. I have not tried any of the various online DJ dance parties that are available now, but writing this response helped me realize that I should, so thank you. Maybe I'll see you there :)
posted by slenderloris at 7:54 PM on June 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have the luxury of living alone, so whenever possible, I like to be naked. It's been a crucial part of me being able to see myself and my body as real and whole and okay. I also like to have dance parties whilst nude because I find it interesting and fun to see my body move in a mirror. Do I like my body in its entirety? Ummm. No, not exactly. Are there parts of it that I sigh over regardless of whether I've got clothes on or not? Yeah. I'm squishing the extra fat on my stomach as I write this. But. I feel a lot more connected to my physical self now, and that I like. I hope you find something that helps you feel the same way. :)
posted by Kitchen Witch at 9:42 PM on June 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Have you tried experiencing your body as a source of pleasure, at least a little? Treat yourself like you like yourself - wrap in a cozy blanket just because you want to, touch something soft, or sit in a sunbeam or in the breeze of a fan and notice how it feels.

Mindfulness in general is probably a helpful concept here to start with. You can try mindfulness meditation or some body scans, or just relax and listen to how your body feels when you breathe. The next thing is to value how you feel, and not just what you do. In the end maybe you'll start to believe that you have worth and value, like all people, and that your happiness and pleasure are good things. That's a longer goal but it starts with a single step.
posted by Lady Li at 11:54 PM on June 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I found that taking up the practice of tai chi helped me to reconnect my body and mind in helpful ways. I've had lifelong chronic health issues (inflammatory bowel disease) that over the years had limited my interest in and enjoyment of anything to do in the way of exercise.

What worked for me was what's called a small-form version of tai chi, wu-style, that tends to be more focused on learning to move the body from the inside, with smaller over-all movements and extensions than you generally see in typical tai chi styles.

After a few years I was able to get a job teaching beginners in the style I'd learned, which of course helped me learn it even better.

Basically the idea is to learn to move from the inside, not worrying about what it looks like from the outside. I never got any kind of certification as a teacher, but the studio I learned at seemed to like what I was doing.

What I found over time was that my body and mind started working together, and I began to feel healthier and to move more easily. One of the catch-phrases I used in classes was that I was learning to know where all the parts of my body are without having to look for them.

There's a lot of esoteric mumbo-jumbo (my opinion) attached to tai chi unfortunately. In my own study I was also able to see a fair amount of actual psycho-neurological connection. By that I mean that learning to move the body causes measurable changes is the brain and overall nervous system and its connections to the rest of the body. It's all one thing.
posted by qurlyjoe at 4:08 PM on June 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

I used to struggle with body image issues a lot, for about ten years until my mid twenties, and have not struggled with it at all for 5+ years now, it's a complete non-issue now. I hope that it's reassuring to know that this problem CAN be solved. Here's what I believe helped me, roughly in order:

1. Developing an exercise routine that changed my body composition (I had exercised before but always out of obligation / knowing it's "good for me" / some self punishing) - once I started building muscle, something I previously deemed impossible, it started developing the sense that my body is *mine*.

2. Working with a somatic therapist, who taught me how to feel my feelings and recognize the physical aspect of them. At first I thought she was insane for asking me what the shape or location of a feeling was, but also loved that we could fix old wounds without necessarily talking through them or figuring them out, just working with the body. I remember she had me read Healing Trauma while we worked together.

3. Body modifications (weird hair, piercings, getting into makeup) - I got a tattoo that really felt like it was marking the end of my personal arc concluding that "my body is mine".

4. Sex also has always been a way to enjoy my body that feels positive and fun for me, though I know that's not the case for everyone. I think the broader theme here is something embodying that you naturally like. Spas / saunas for me also, maybe this is what people get out of massage as well?

I've recently been depressed though and used to share some of your overworky tendencies & habit of living in your head so I think I can speak to that as well. One piece is you need to decouple your self worth from accomplishments / productivity, which is easier said than done after a lifetime of training / strong cultural programming in this direction. After a lot of introspection and reading I realized I had a core belief that I didn't deserve to exist, so all of my hard work up until this point was motivated by an existential need to prove myself as good enough.

Here was my reading list that got me through this and became my toolkit vs. anxiety & emotional management:
1. Radical Acceptance (recommended here a lot I think, great place to start)
2. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom - this one was huge for me, literally life changing. The how to on self talk & personal integrity.
3. Constructive Living - Japanese philosophy on how to get out of your head by focusing on what needs to be done practically. Helped reprogram myself from worrying -> taking actions, which helps build up self esteem again.
4. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself - also huge, guide on mindfulness and separating from your thoughts.
5. It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self - this gave me a process for taking the time to feel my feelings and learn what they are trying to tell me. This stops resentments from forming and prevents hanging on to pain which leads to more depression.
Some of these tend to get a little bit philosophical which helped because I feel my depression was of an existential variety this time.

I also found The Book of Life & associated videos quite helpful, I would often look up whatever was upsetting me and read the articles there. For the pandemic specifically, you may find the Spaceship You video helpful.

Finally, and this one is last as it's a polarizing perspective, but in terms of learning to take care of myself I think one thing that has helped me hugely is occasional psychedelic use. Not only do these substances broaden your overall perspective of the world (which is helpful for zooming out from anxiety / day to day), but the nature of tripping is somewhat to return to a child-like mindset where a lot of new connections are spontaneously happening, WHILE ALSO completely losing a lot of your more adult-like operational skills. After a few trips I learned that I needed to do simple things like organize my bag, fill a water bottle, bring a sweater and some snacks, before setting out on this journey, because future trippy me will forget to think about things as trivial as bringing a sweater while distracted by the nature of the universe. I also learned that if you're starting to have a bad trip, you try changing your perspective in a simple way (like literally, turning your body and looking at something else, or getting up and going for a walk) and that has a massive effect. Finally, the body disconnection on these can be really intense, so you kind of learn to run through a mental checklist of things you could shift before concluding that life / the trip is Actually Bad, e.g. you ask yourself "am I cold? am i thirsty? am I hungry? Am I lonely?" and those are questions I ask myself to take care of myself in regular life now too.
posted by internet of pillows at 4:10 PM on June 14, 2020 [17 favorites]

I could also have written this question, and one thing that I've been surprised has helped a lot In These Times has been doing online video exercise/yoga/movement classes.

I hated doing these types of classes in real life, because I find it really hard to notice what I like, don't like, find uncomfortable, etc, in my body, and so in the real life classes I'd end up either getting upset or just dissociating completely.

In the online classes where nobody else can see me, it's more possible to quit doing something that feels bad, stick with something that feel good a while longer, or if I'm feeling fucked up, to get up and get a glass of water or a snack or walk around. A lot of these things are theoretically OK to do in an in-person class, but there's a lot of social pressure not to. Having the option to do something else has been helping me notice when something feels bad and I want to stop, or feels good and I want to keep doing it rather than moving onto the next exercise, or when I need to fuck off and do something else.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:35 AM on June 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I signed up for a dance class. The monetary commitment made me go. I almost didn't want to go, but I was always super glad I went.

I can't stand "exercise" dance classes - where you're not learning a skill, you're just moving your body to music while an instructor shouts at you what to do next (raise your arms, step in place, etc).

So when I say dance class I am referring to an actual, educational class, not a glorified exercise group-- we were not moving the whole time because the instructor had to move around the room to correct us and fix mistakes, and we were also expected to work out not for the sake of working out but to improve our core control etc-- in which I was genuinely being taught how to move in ways I had never previously moved before (like doing a stagger fall, or rotating from the ground onto my shoulder into a headstand), and then practicing moving in these ways until they went from awkward to fluid.

As someone very cerebral I hadn't thought of my body as something that could learn new skills and become educated. Dance class was so cool in that regard. I went from thinking of my body as a kind of needy container I was stuck in to an interesting partner I could grow with.
posted by Cozybee at 10:29 PM on June 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh and one of the great things about learning dance is that at some point you need to stop thinking about what you're doing in order to do it properly. You must let go of thinking through your actions and trust in your body that it can follow through with what it's learned if you want to be able to go smoothly through an entire routine (after you've practiced it many times including having to think about it, of course)
posted by Cozybee at 10:31 PM on June 17, 2020

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