I grew up the daughter of a Marine and a multi-sport athlete. If I fell and ran to my father I could expect to hear “Are you hurt or are you injured?” Hurt meant that it was time to suck it up, injured meant you were going to the doctor. In practice coaches told me that “pain is fear leaving the body”.
I was told over and over again that my body was a limitation to be overcome and that I needed to have the mental toughness to move past the pain. It didn’t come naturally at first – I seemed to have an innate sense that my body deserved better than that, but at some point I turned a corner and got really good at ignoring my body. I worked through stress fractures, an IT band so tight it felt like it was going to rip in half, pulled muscles, sprains, strains, jammed fingers, knee injuries and a host of other issues. I ignored my body when it asked for food and hydration and I scoffed at it when it asked for rest. I became a compulsive exerciser, and I started to look down on my body even more. I didn’t give it what it needed and pushed it beyond reasonable and then unreasonable limits. When my body would finally bend or break under the strain I treated it with utter contempt. I believed that my body was just a “meat sack”, a collection of muscles and bones that were trying to limit what I could do. I believed that my mind had to be stronger than my body and I felt triumphant when I ignored my body’s signals and “pushed through”.
If I ever had an acquaintance who treated me the way that I treated my body for all those years, I would never speak to them again. In fact, I would never have let it go on that long. But through all of this my body stuck with me – even though I wasn’t giving it the food, hydration, or rest it needed – my body continued to support me. It never gave up on me. If my body could talk all it would have said for years was either “get out of my way you dumb ass I’m trying to do my job here”, or “for the love of all that’s holy, can we please take a nap?!” but I wouldn’t have listened.
We live in a culture that preaches that our bodies are limitations. I preach that our bodies are our cherished friends. Think of everything your body does for you without you even asking: breathing, blinking, heart beating… every cell in your body is getting blood right now and you’re not even thinking about it. I don’t know about you but there are days when I am too distracted to focus on a game of solitaire. I’m pretty sure that if I was consciously in charge of breathing and blinking and heart beat I would have been dead in 6th grade when I got my first Walkman and regularly walked into stuff because I was so into the INXS tape that was playing.
I’m not saying that you should never push your body -I’ve danced through plenty of injuries. What I’m suggested is that you treat your body like you would treat a friend. I can’t even count the things that my best friend has done for me, even though he didn’t want to, because he’s my best friend and he loves me and I asked nicely. It’s the same with my body. We have conversations:
Me: “Hey body, those are some awesome 4 inch heels that would go great with our blue and white dress. We could totally rock those.”
Body: “Are you freaking kidding me? Do you know how hard our workout regimen is? Give me a break and go for the flats please!”
Me: “Fair point, flats it is”.
Or this one
Me: “Hey body, I know I sprained our ankle yesterday being stupid, but I have a performance tonight and I’d really like to do it, will you push through it with me if I promise to give you lots of ice, and to see David Jones – the world’s best acupuncturist- tomorrow?”
Body: “Yup, I’ll help you out but can we please take a couple of days off after the performance?”
Me: “Absolutely, thanks a bunch!”
If you asked my best friend about me, he would probably tell you “I don’t always agree with her decisions, but she tries, and I love her.” [edit: he read this post and said that he wouldn't say that but just go with it for a minute]. If you asked my body about me, it would probably say the same thing. Like any relationship, my body and I have to keep up the communication but we’ve come a long way since our days of giving each other the silent treatment, and it’s getting better all the time.