Monthly Archives: April 2018

How to love your body

Growing up, I loved to sneak a peek at my older sisters' fashion mags, and by the time I was a teenager I was voraciously reading my own with friends at school. Every month taught me a new way to be pretty or lose weight or be more popular or stylish. 

The problem was, these instructions were built on a broken foundation. The paradigm was wrong - we were taught that our bodies were ornaments and the goal was to be "perfect", whatever that meant. 

Years later, some of the magazines caught onto a trend of teaching us to love our bodies. The way to do this was to accept that only 8 people in the world could look like supermodels, the rest of us must just "disguise our flaws" and "focus on our good points". Besides, we were told, it is okay to have curves because men like them! This created a double whammy of telling us we're only acceptable if men deem us to be, and divides us according to our build. 

Unfortunately this still works on a belief that our female bodies are wrong and broken, and we must just make the best of them that we can. Or worse, that approval of ourselves needs to be based on whether we have earned the approval of men.

But the problem is not our bodies. The problem is that we are conditioned from birth to think our bodies are ornaments to be made into an accepted standard of beauty, that other people - particularly men - have the right to judge us based on our appearance, and that we are fighting a losing battle trying to achieve a body type that we just weren't born with. It doesn't matter whether the magazines are telling us to "lose 3 dress sizes by lunchtime" or "men want you to be curvy" - we're still being dictated to for our self worth.

So how do we fix this conundrum? As Albert Einstein famously said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them".

It's clear then - we can't fix this by telling ourselves that despite being size 16 in a world that wants us to be a size 10, we at least have a pretty manicure! What we need is a whole new way of thinking about our bodies. We need a paradigm shift where this malignant messaging is shown for what it is, and where it no longer makes sense.

So work with the following paradigm shifts. They are uncomfortable. But when they really drop into place, a whole new sense of freedom exists where all this conditioning just doesn't apply. Here they are:

1. Your body is not an ornament.

When we view our body as an ornament, we believe our worth and value is tied up in how attractive we can make our body, according to cultural standards, men's judgements and other external messaging. For example, I used to have the belief that for my body to be acceptable it must be size 10, tanned, with shiny straight hair and aged from 16-25 years old. This is a broken paradigm because the vast majority of us will receive the unconscious belief that we were born into a body that isn't good enough. We may have some of the attributes we think we need, but always be aspiring for the ones we perceive as lacking, and therefore never truly satisfied. And even those who do fit the preferences of the culture they live in will probably face the same self doubts when they look in a mirror and realise their body is ageing. And so the diet industry, the anti-ageing industry, the fashion and beauty industries keep us hooked as we are told "You're not quite good enough, but don't worry, with our product you can be!". 

The new paradigm: Your body is a sacred vessel that contains YOU, your life, your spirit and your unique expression. In this paradigm EVERY body is perfect, because every body provides us a vessel within which to live. We laugh with our body. We pursue our dreams with our body. We hold our loved ones with our body. We gaze on beauty with our body. Our body is not an inanimate object to decorate into beauty, it is a vessel with life breathed into it, for our self expression in this life time whatever that may be. 

2. Your body is not the enemy.

Modern medicine has extended our life and given us new expectations of our bodies. We don't expect to be struck down "before our time", or to have our lives changed by our health in ways we didn't control. Even when we have colds, we often reach for a medicine to stop the symptoms, so we can "get on with it". But the gifts have brought a shadow with them.

We've begun to see the symptoms of illness as our body letting us down. When we have a headache, we feel attacked by our body. When we have a chesty cough and runny nose we feel frustrated by our body. We think our body is doing this to us. In truth, symptoms are mechanisms the body uses to correct an imbalance or fight an invasion. They are our body's attempt to save us.

That headache is the body trying to tell us our blood sugar isn't right, or that we need to drink some water or get some sleep. The runny nose may seem gross, but it's the mechanism our body has for removing a virus so that our body can heal. This is NOT a post about not using conventional medicines - there is a time and place for them and we must each make that decision for ourselves as adults.

However, when we operate from a paradigm of "illness is my body attacking me", we can see our body as the enemy, something we need to "control" or combat. And regardless of our state of physical health, being on a different team to our body is damaging on a deep level. I have been pretty healthy for most of my life, but I experienced this following a series of very traumatic miscarriages and infertility treatment. I was angry at my body and its shortcomings for some time.

Eventually, when I went into a deep meditation with the intention of forgiving my body for letting me down, I instead experienced this paradigm shift and realised it had never let me down at all. Sure, things had happened TO my body I didn't want, but my body had only ever done its best.

The new paradigm: Your body is always doing everything in its power to keep you alive and well. This is medical fact; the term for it is "homeostasis", a phenomenon in our body where almost every function and chemical reaction has signals that trigger our brain to let it know if that function is within a normal range or not. From there, the body will try to course correct. It may release different hormones, store excess energy out of the way as fat, make us thirsty so we drink, make us blow our nose or sneeze to remove a pathogen. Sometimes our bodies can get things back on track, sometimes they can't. But it will always, always try its best. So this means your body is on your team. It is your best friend - nothing on earth will fight for your wellness like your body. So wherever your state of health may be, approach it with your body as ally. Because you're in this together.

3. Your body is yours alone.

This last paradigm is possibly the most subtle and insidious. We are raised with mixed messages over who has rights or a say over our body. The #MeToo movement has certainly brought visibility to this issue. But confusion over who has a say can happen within longterm partnerships and marriages. Women often feel a sense of obligation to a partner, perceiving a context of what the partner "needs", which shifts the conversation to whether we are a good wife or partner by how much we look after the "needs" of our partner. If we reframe this to a more accurate word - such as "wants" or "preferences" the obligation is diffused and we can view the situation with more clarity.

Another place this happens is in the healthcare system. I have worked my whole career within this system, so I am not about to bite the hand that has fed me. I don't suggest that Dr Google knows more than an actual doctor, or that remedies with no research should be preferred over scientifically backed remedies in critical situations. However, we are taught to "obey" healthcare professionals without question. It's worth noting that as amazing as healthcare professionals can be, they are humans who sometimes make mistakes. Almost all treatments carry some risks and potential side effects. And the person who has to live with the results is you.

The paradigm shift: Your body is yours and yours alone. Reclaim your power and your body. Yes, be compassionate and allow your partner to be seen and heard and validated - but not at the expense of retaining the power of choice over your body. And accept that when you visit a doctor they bring expertise and experience to your situation and take that into consideration when you make your healthcare choices. But ask questions, and find healthcare professionals that you trust and feel respected by.

I'd like to hear from you - which of these paradigm shifts can impact the relationship you have with your body? Which do you already live by? Let me know in the comments.

Start with self compassion

Many of us as women are brought up to be compassionate towards others. By the time we are adults, this comes naturally to us.

Compassion for others is wonderful both in creating a kinder world and for our own happiness, but the cornerstone piece is missing - we need to begin with compassion towards ourselves.

Without self-compassion we can feel like we never give enough, we become vulnerable to the judgements of others and it is all too easy to crumble if we feel not good enough in our efforts. We dim our lights out of fear of our imperfections shining through.

When we stumble and fall, if we don't meet the expectations of others, if we realise we are flawed and human, it is our self-compassion that allows us to nurse our wounded parts, dust ourselves off and continue shining our light in this world.

So practice kindness towards yourself. When you have one of those moments - I am having one even as I write this - don't berate yourself. Consider how you'd respond to your dearest friend.

"Don't worry, you're human like everyone else. Learn and keep going. The world needs your light".

If you struggle with this, then begin here.

When we are all kind to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds and hearts, it becomes natural to be kind to others. It's not by "being better" we develop self worth, it's by being gentler in the midst of our own frailties and strengths.

Shine on, sister.

I'd like to hear from you - how will you be gentle with yourself today?

How to begin a mindfulness practice

It can be daunting to consider beginning a mindfulness practice. We are struck with images of people sitting diligently in lotus position, presumably completely at peace in themselves. It feels unreachable and perhaps even a tad boring.

This image is misleading though. Mindfulness is less about a specific activity and more about the state of mind we rest in as we go about our days. You see, if we sit for an hour in meditation and then return to a life where we work ourselves into a tizz, have a short fuse or dwell on the past then our mindfulness is not yet filtering into our lives. Meditation is still fantastic, but is a means to an end and not the end itself.

Rather, begin a mindfulness practice which flows throughout all the aspects of your life. This is where transformation happens. Here are my top ways to start:

  • 1
    Become more mindful of your thoughts. When you find yourself stressed or upset, check in with what you are thinking. Are you adding a layer of interpretation to the events? Are you being objective? Are you telling yourself a story that's upsetting you? Becoming more aware of our own mind and the stories it tells us is one of the most empowering things any of us can do. The other place to put your attention is whether your thoughts are focused on the past, present or future. When you notice your mind dreaming of the past or future, bring your attention gently back to the resent and what's in front of you now. If this is new, don't force yourself to change too fast, just allow awareness to be your first step. Learn to experience peaceful thinking here.
  • 2
    Practice mindfulness of your emotions. Just about every addictive or compulsive behaviour can be attributed to our cultural discomfort with allowing our more challenging emotions to pass through us. The clue is in the word "e-motion". When we allow the energy of the emotion to pass through us, teach us what we need to be aware of, and dissipate again, we are living according to our nature. When we don't allow the emotion it's energy, it won't have it's motion either and we become stuck, stagnant and numb as we refuse to feel something uncomfortable. To begin, simply take a few minutes alone. Place one hand over your heart and one on your belly and focus on steady breathing as you observe the emotion rising and eventually falling within you.
  • 3
    Be mindful in your body. As you lie in bed at night, when you are in the shower, during exercise or when doing a physical task, take your attention to what your body is doing, the physical sensations it has both on the skin and in the muscles and organs, its temperature and the energy it generates as it moves. Experience your body as it truly is - the vessel you experience life with. This is mindfulness of the body that isn't possible from the misguided viewpoint that the body is an ornament. Here's an extra resource for this.
  • 4
    Step back from your life and observe your environment and what it draws from you. Who are you when in the workplace? How do you feel and behave different around the different people in your life? How are you in your home? Note which of these feels like you and where you find your behaviour meeting the pull of the people and the environment and not your true self.
  • 5
    Lastly, become mindful of your habits. How do your daily routines marry up with the vision you have for your life? Do you dream of running a marathon as you sit on the couch crunching crisps? Or are you pounding the pavement in line with that dream? No judgement, just noticing. If you see this is an area of struggle, here's some free support.

I'd like to hear from you - which of these ways of practicing mindfulness calls to you? How will you implement a mindful moment into your day?

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I think I had a minimalist in me from the beginning. I remember even as a kid, wanting to stay home to sort my messy bedroom into order when my friends would be knocking on the door to play. I have a natural tendency towards disorganisation, and an equally natural one towards wanting to find simplicity, ease and essentialism amongst the chaos.

 In exploring ways to create meaning in my everyday life and live below my burnout threshold, I discovered that keeping life in all its aspects - possessions, time, relationships, pursuits, socialising, career etc - simple was pivotal. I stumbled across blogs through downloading Flipboard onto my iPad back when that was a cool and innovative concept, and one of the first topics to leap out at me was that of mimimalism. Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker and Courtney Carver were early inspiration, later The Minimalists joined the ranks as did Marie Kondo.

Language becomes important and powerful when we discuss embracing changes of lifestyle. At first the term minimalism was the only one I had for these ideas. And it's true that not all the minimalist blogs have the same benchmark exactly - some bloggers reduce their possessions to 100, their items of clothing to 33, their home to a tiny house etc. These stories captured my imagination. However, apart from the occasional fantasy of owning a tiny home (as my husband said, "Where will we put the wedding presents?"), what it boiled down to for me was keeping life simple, being minimalist in possessions while giving myself the freedom to go at my own pace, and creating space for what was essential for thriving in a meaningful life of my own creation.  I hold all these terms loosely, and allow the interpretation of what that means for my life to flow with the changes. I have no real desire to be minimalist in enjoying my baby for example -I rejoice in the adorable outfits, the snuggly blankets, the cute toys all as expressions of love and support and joy from others in welcoming our little girl. Gradually we will find our balance.

One thing is for sure - this journey needs inspiration and support. Enter The Minimalists' recent speaking tour and their book (affiliated)  Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life.

Their tour came at the perfect point in time, my sisters and I needed a night out together and what better way then to eat tapas and discuss what gives life meaning and creates ease? A favourite reminder from the evening was to focus on the why of what we do - if we are truly inspired by what something will do for our lives, the what and how will take care of themselves. This was balancing to my sometimes action-focused approach to simplicity. Questions and answers were poignant, baffling, funny (Australians laugh at everything) and reaffirming. Their classic quote reignited something within me, "Love people and use things, because the opposite never works".

Reading their work provided something more solid and tangible to accompany me along the actual journey. We are reminded to pursue meaning in our lives, and that aligning our short-term actions with our long-term values leads us to living purposefully.

My practical steps that I took from the book are:

1. Look within to discover what the "anchors" are in your life - the things keeping you stuck

2. After this honest audit, take action to remove these. Start with the easiest if you need to, but start.

3. Avoid "shoulds" which keep us powerless. The Minimalists recommend determining our "musts" for a meaningful life in the areas of health, relationships, passions, growth and contribution

4. Take small actions each day for these areas of life, to radically improve your life over time

The book then explores each of these in turn and a 21 day journey into beginning with minimalism in a style that is both simple and compelling. Occasionally I find their habit of referring to themselves in the third person and the presentation of themselves almost as a single entity as a bit grating, but really this is their creative choice and fades into insignificance compared with their grounded wisdom.

If the idea of living a more minimalist way of life instinctively calls to you as one of the paths out of stress and discontent then I highly recommend that you catch these guys on their next speaking event or have a read of their book.

And I'd love to discuss with you these juicy topics - what anchors do you need to let go of? What are your musts for a meaningful life? And what are you going to do about it?