It’s like a riddle every semester. How do you care for your body each day, I ask my students in their very first assignment of the semester, a body image autobiography. How do you show your body a lack of concern?
What, they ask.
And I completely understand. At twenty, I didn’t realize that caring for my body, my self, was a choice I could make either. I thought the body I had, its capabilities (strong muscles) and challenges (crazy, tight muscles) was what it was. I couldn’t care for it and make it more comfortable moving through the world. It just did its thing. I just did mine.
And, then, as I mentioned before, my body fell apart in a most dramatic fashion when I was a high school teacher. With a doctor, nutritionist, some books, a journal, and creative problem solving on my team, I put together my very first wellness plan (that even included things like not dating so that I could learn how to take care of me for a while instead of being so over engrossed in caring for another, my default behavior if given the option).
Suddenly, I understood a whole new truth: choice- choosing your behaviors to best respond to what your body needs and most responds to- is medicine. Food can be medicine. Movement can be medicine. Taking on challenges in moderation can be medicine. Living a deliberate life is, in fact, medicine.
And so when my students come to me and say, still perplexed, “what do you mean by this question?” after we review their autobiography assignment, I understand. Because it is a question that I would have asked at their age. My health, my wellness, my sense of wellbeing, it just happens to me, I thought then. Except then I learned that it doesn’t. As it turns out, I happen to it.
I happen to it by understanding that I can choose to infuse my life with a deliberate embrace of intentional health, of making my body as whole as it can be, of giving my body and mind and soul what it needs so it can move me through life in harmony with the way that I most want. I do this not by coincidence or happenstance or luck. I do this by listening to my body, observing what it loves and doesn’t, respecting what it can and cannot do, and then working deliberately to provide it with the good stuff and ridding it of the bad stuff. I do this by following a personal wellness or intentional health plan.
Over the years, I’ve had different wellness plans. I’ve needed different plans. Life changes (you find a partner, you move across the country or world, a baby or child comes home, you replace your bike with a car or your car with a bike, you lose a partner, a parent, your way). Your body changes (you have a short term illness, a long term illness, you break an arm, you gain muscle). Your needs change (you require more sleep, less sleep, greater energy, less stress). The wellness plan I had in my mid-20s isn’t practical for me now in my later 30s. Sometimes, your wellness plan needs to even change by the seasons. Moreover, my wellness plan won’t work for my sister or my best friend, because it is not personalized for them, their experiences and needs, their bodies’ little quirks. When we want intentional health we have to do the work of defining it and deciding to embrace it for ourselves (although, yes, there are some general touchstones that we all might want to factor into our plans).
And so at the beginning of each year, as part of my effort to be intentional,I revisit my wellness plan. Today, I want to encourage you to do the same.
Step #1 Name your core beliefs in terms of wellness.
For me, loving myself is about taking good care of my whole self- my body, mind, and soul- so that all of me might enjoy the work that I choose to do and that I am capable of doing it with less strain, stress, anxiety and more enjoyment, awareness, passion.
Caring for my body isn’t about punishing it. It is not about beating it into submission so that it might obtain a particular shape. It’s about listening to my body, giving it what it says it needs and maybe a little dash of what I know might be good for it even if it doesn’t particularly want it (my body does not want bananas, I tell you, and, yet, sometimes a banana’s potassium is really what it most needs. I had a craving for bananas this week so even though I loathe the texture, I had one every day.). With my wellness plan, I am not trying to achieve a certain weight or look. I’m trying to achieve a feeling of optimism and optimal wellness for who I am and where I am now.
Sometimes, when I speak around the country, I am asked if I’m not really (by encouraging people to get off the beauty standards bus once and for all) just promoting poor health. Let me say this emphatically. Loving your body is not the same thing as letting your body go. Loving your body is not giving yourself a free pass to live without care or awareness. Loving your body means you actually listen to your body, respond to your body’s needs, caring about it enough to make choices that support it. It takes practice and paying attention to learn what your body needs but it is practice and attention that is well worth the effort.
Step # 2 Name what you need.
Think about what you need to be physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and relationally (is that a word? I am referring to having healthy relationships with my not quite right word here).
Make a list of everything you need.
Step # 3 Craft that into a wellness prescription.
If you could prescribe behaviors and actions to yourself based on what you most need, what would they be. Make that list.
Here is a peek at mine:
- Eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily and supporting that decision by harvesting a home garden.
- Minimizing processed foods in my diet.
- Cooking thoughtful meals at home for me and my family because it is nurturing, contemplative, pleasurable, creative, and delicious!
- Practicing a good stretchy yoga that focuses on suppleness over strength (I have found that my optimal yoga practice needs to be the opposite of how I move through life).
- Moving my body daily- sometimes for heart pumping goodness and sometimes for contemplative, joint loosening movement.
- More specifically, using my muscles more often.
- Seeing my physician for an annual visit that includes labwork so I know how I am doing in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc. Based on what I learn after talking to my doc (and getting any lab results), I adjust my behaviors to support obtaining my optimal health.
- Pleasure reading every day, if even for just ten minutes.
- Taking the opportunity to reflect through time with myself, journaling, and conversations with friends and family.
- Drinking copious amounts of water.
- Scheduling self-care like an appointment and not an afterthought.
- Watching my blood sugar, which tends to go low, by having an awareness of when and what I last ate and when and what I next need to eat (and carrying a snack with me, just in case I get tied up somewhere).
- Getting massage a couple times a month to work through hip and shoulder tightness and to encourage stress reduction.
- Doing Pilates weekly as often as possible.
- Being with friends. My friendships are dear, and spending time with my friends leaves me with such a sense of wellbeing—an essential in any wellness plan. A bonus is that my conversations with friends often yield some of my finest aha moments.
- Sleeping at least 7 hours per night, and ideally more.
- Further developing an “if I am here, be here” mindset. I can be queen of going somewhere else in my head while doing something (or especially while sitting in a meeting!). Instead, I try to remind myself to really be where I am and tune out the distraction in my head.
- Loving on- and connecting to- my family.
- Choosing my life. While I can’t control every situation, there are things I do get to choose. There is a life I do get to call dibs on. I am working very deliberately as I embrace more “work” to design the life of my imagining and not an accidental life.
Step #4 Work your wellness prescription into your life.
Each week, review your wellness prescription and make sure that enough aspects of it are showing up in how you live your daily life so that you can benefit from what you most need!
Can you see this tool working for you? What is on your wellness prescription? What does loving you look like?