Is Body Image More Important Than Body Awareness?

Body-image is our western culture's mantra.  More often than not the desire to lose weight is the primary catalyst that motivates us to clean up our diet and exercise somewhat more consistently.  However, peer pressure, the onslaught of commercial media advertising, and our societies standard of what an acceptable body should look like from a visual perspective, all play a critical role in our culture's obsession to look good.  

While there is nothing particularly wrong with wanting to look our best, in my experience, how we feel in the body we wear everyday is more important.  Why?  Because we take our body with us everywhere we go whether we like it or not.  

The body, mind, spirit system are not distinct, separate entities.  They are in fact the sum of a completely balanced system.  When the body/ mind system is out of alignment we are out of balance, and when we are out of balance we feel uncomfortable, scattered, discontent, frustrated, angry, or just plain lost.  Additionally, this is when the insecure need to control our external environment begins to rear its ugly head.

Our psychological history is alive and present in everything we do and in the way we do it.  This history is visible in the way we use our body, in the way we move, where we hold our tension, how we breathe, in our posture and in our physical structure.  Our body provides all the psychological information we need through "subtle body" cues to help us better understand the motivations behind our own behavior.  This is why body-awareness, connecting with the "wisdom of the body", allowing the body to have a voice and actually addressing the bodies' needs are so important.  

How our body feels is a much more accurate barometer of wholeness and health than what the scale reads or even how our body looks.

Yet, most of us go about our daily life without really paying attention to how intricately our body and mind are interconnected, unless of course there is pain in the body.  It is not until our body is in a certain degree of pain that we feel a sudden need to pay attention to our body's internal voice.  However, often we do so with the sole intention of relieving the pain as quickly as possible so we can once again go about our daily life.

The problem with this one-sided relationship regarding one's body is that we demand so much from our bodies, but rarely stop to listen or hear what the body needs.  We expect our body to perform to our exact specifications without flaw.  If our body doesn't meet these expectations, or lets us down in some way, we do whatever it takes to fix "it", so "it" can once again perform up to our standards. We literally objectify our body as an unconnected and an unwelcome intrusion in our life when it does not adhere to our selfish desires.  Our body is not an "it"'.  Our body is very much alive and has a very long, long-term memory.

Think about this for a minute.  If you acted-out this selfishly in an intimate relationship how long does you think the relationship would last?  Probably, and much warranted, not very long.

We have a psychological term for this behavior.  We call it "narcissism".  The irony is that today in our culture narcissistic personality disorder, self-absorption and entitlement issues are rampant.  In fact we often unconsciously admire these self-involved qualities in others because it has become such a consistent "fixed way of being" in our culture.

The allure of celebrities, professional athletes and boisterous politicians are a prime example.  Ever heard of the Kardashians?  Their appeal is so enthralling that we spend countless hours following their crazy lives. We buy their clothes, shoes and perfume.  What about the name Trump?  In fact narcissism and ego-based behavior are so pervasive sometimes we even vote for them without even a second thought.

As a Whole Body/ Soul Health Coach I have trained many of Hollywood's most recognizable faces over the last two decades.  As a Celebrity Trainer I am probably the last person you would expect to criticize body image.  As a Somatic "body/ mind" Depth Psychologist I have an obligation in my profession to acknowledge the elephant in the room.  

If body image is the primary reason we think we should eat healthy and exercise consistently why then is our society the sickest it's ever been?   Why are chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity at an all time high?  Why are our children contracting these same chronic diseases, which used to be found only in adults?  Why are anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, statins and pain medication sales at an all time high?  Why are adverse lifestyle behaviors and chronic stress the western medical communities primary health concern? Because approximately 90% of all doctor visits are lifestyle behavioral related.  These medical issues could have been prevented had we as individuals, and as a society, made better lifestyle choices.

Maybe if we switched our priorities 180 degrees from looking good "body image", to feeling good "body awareness" in the body we wear everyday we would be healthier and happier!

Don't get me wrong.  I am not saying body image is not important.  It is, because our society says it is.  Often our self-esteem, identity, and in some cases even our vocation, are all wrapped up in how our body looks.  I am no exception.  As an athlete and fitness professional I have spent much of my life training for various sports, in several martial art disciplines and training for general fitness.  

Make no mistake about it; I am proud of the way I developed my own body, my training expertise, and my track record of success in training clients.  However, several years ago there was a huge shift in my own mentality.  I ceased focusing on body image, shifted my attention to how I felt in my body, and began coaching my clients to develop a more conscious relationship with their own bodies.   

Something very strange happened within this process.  I found this shift in perspective to accelerate the speed by which I, and my clients, attained all of our body-image goals.  When we focus on how we feel in our body, work with the body, the entire system becomes aligned and supports all of our heath and fitness goals.  The bi-product is that our body transforms all on its own.   We do not need to obsess, battle, or force our body to change.  All systems want to be aligned and in balance.  Our body wants to be our best friend, not our worst enemy.  Our bodies just ask to be heard, to be given a voice. Remember our body, which is our unconscious, has a very long-term memory.

In my experience development of greater conscious body-awareness “how one feels in their body” is the most efficacious pathway for expedient body transformation.

Learning how to become more body aware is simple.  All good health practices require a little effort.  Learn how to stop, pause and literally ask your body how it feels today. Then take the time to listen instead of taking your body for granted.  Include your body in your daily internal conversations.  If you listen consciously, and with the intent of receiving a response I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised when, and how, your body responds!