Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Body Consciousness

I went riding this morning, after a week of being thwarted by the weather and lack of sleep. Yesterday I decided that my body needed the extra hour and a half sleep much more than it needed to get up at 5am and drive out to the barn. I was off kilter all day. I was trapped in a staff luncheon and couldn’t go walking at noon, then over to a friend’s house that evening. This morning it felt really good to make my body move.

I’m not a morning person by any means, but I love the cool, quiet wet solitude of 6am in the country. No one’s awake, the deer are still in the fields, and Sunshine and I are the first living creatures to knock the dew off the grass along the pasture that day. Riding is hard work, if done right. For me it’s also centering and meditative. I can’t disconnect from my body when I ride. I have to be right there observing my posture and position and balance. I have to pay attention to which muscles are tight or loose, what bones I’m sitting on, and how I’m holding my arms. If I lose track of my body and drift, the horse responds with mischief.

I’m just starting to learn the difference between self-consciousness and body-consciousness. The former is tied to shame. You are hyper aware, not of your body but of how others might see or think about it (usually by assuming their reaction will be negative). While it may feel like your body is exposed, I don’t think your awareness of it is the same. There is an awkward level of double-vision, where the illusion overlays the reality of your shape and movement and your body struggles to decide which one it wants to live up to.

Body-consciousness, for me, is the act of connecting to the reality of your body without value judgement. There are thousands of automatic functions and movements ongoing in your body that you cannot possibly be aware of or control. As you type, the muscles of each individual finger contracts and releases with machine-like precision to strike each key in order to form words that express your thought, all without conscious control. How amazing is that?

I have the privilege of not living with chronic pain or disability that limits what my body can do. Unfortunately I’ve also reached a point where I have let too many things become automatic. I’ve distanced myself from my own body because I don’t have to think about it. Of course there are some hormonal complications from PCOS that interfere, but part of it is that I stopped paying as much attention to my body’s signals of pleasure, pain, wants or needs. My mind acknowledges that something feels or looks or tastes “good”, but I don’t actually stop and feel the sensation itself. Later I may have the memory of pleasure, but as if it was someone else’s memory. I am trapped in my own head and the litany of external concerns that occupy my waking hours.

Last Friday when I went out on my lunch hour to go walking on the Kal-Haven trail, my legs just took off under me and ran. I was walking where the trail bends through a woods by a little stream, and it seemed like suddenly the muscles in my body were all working together to propel me down this path faster and faster until I couldn’t help but run. I also had to laugh, because what a picture I must have made in my skirt, blouse and bright white sneakers, tearing down the trail like I was being chased and grinning like mad. It felt really good, and I actually felt it. All alone and away from anyone else’s eyes, I could pay attention to movement and balance and all the moving parts of my body involved in running. All of a sudden, with my mind connected to my body, I could feel the pleasure of the movement.

That’s what I mean by body-consciousness.

I’m still working on connecting outside of those moments of physical activity where I’m forced to be aware. I’d like to also learn to connect to thirst, hunger, rest and sensation. I’d like to be more aware of the little things I experience on automatic without awareness, like a breeze, or the texture of the carpet under bare feet, or the weight of the water when I shower or swim. All this towards the goal of getting out of the trap in my head and developing an awareness of the rest of my body, as an antidote for the half-lifetime I spent rejecting it as a place to exist.


mythreemonthokinawadiet said...
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mythreemonthokinawadiet said...
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Alix said...
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JoGeek said...

I semi-apologize to those whose comments I've had to delete, but if you read the comments policy, this is a no diet-talk blog. While I appreciate the compliments on my writing in the comments, I've found that not allowing discussion of dieting or claims of deliberate weight loss (especially if short-term, see sidebar "101" topics for information on why that's not necessarily a good thing) helps set this space up as "safe" for those looking to escape society's constant barrage of body hate. Those are the rules for my space, so please respect them.

mythreemonthokinawadiet said...

I was the person deleted and I appreciate your "semi-apology". I think it was a classy thing to do - considering I did not take the time to read the preamble. I deserved a more serious rebuke,

cheers and good luck to you

Mama said...

You've reminded me that I haven't allowed myself to experience that kind of movement in quite some time---where I'm conscious of my body, but not ashamed of it. A couple of years ago, I got the nerve to start taking a Celtic dance class. At a much younger age, I studied dance pretty seriously, but for too many reasons to go into here, I just quit. After I'd gained quite a bit of weight, I just believed that I'd never dance in public again. But this one particular teacher convinced me to take the class after I'd told her some of my background and "story." It was difficult to get started, but I eventually found myself experiencing such joy at dancing again. It's hard to explain, but it was so freeing to talk to my body in respectful ways: "Shoulders back." "Point your toes." "Stronger arms here, more graceful there." These phrases are so much better than "God I'm fat. I'm disgusting. I can't be seen like this."

I continued taking classes from her for about a year and a half. Unfortunately, I slipped and fell on the ice last winter, and tore my achilles. I was in quite a bit of pain for several months, and had trouble walking; forget dancing. I hope to be able to take classes again, as I've found myself repeating the same old tired, hateful phrases when referring to my body. Even if I'm not able to dance again, you've reminded me how important it is to be aware of and appreciate our bodies, and not hate them.

By the way, I really enjoy your writing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. It's beautifully written, and reminds me of the times long ago when I have felt the same way, the textures under bare feet, the way my legs moved, the swinging of my arms. I've been disconnected from my body for a long time now, and am not sure how to get back to that. (Sorry to be anonymous, it was my only choice)


Alix said...

JoGeek, I can't speak for everyone, but as for myself I completely respect your blog and it's rules. I applaud your blog and admire you and your platform. Absolutely no insult was intended or implied in my comment. Just telling you about my own personal struggles and how I identify with your blog so much.

I am new to your blog and don't know 100% of the rules. I didn't know I was breaking any of them by telling my own story, so I also apologize (not semi).

Suggestion? Perhaps you should moderate comments before they are posted. That way, your blog stays pure.

JoGeek said...

Alix: Thanks for understanding and I also understand that it's an uncommon rule so most people have no reason to expect it. Your's was a hard comment for me to delete because I really liked most of it. I try to not go to moderated comments unless I have an active troll I'm trying to prevent from posting because I usually work all day and comments wouldn't show up until after 5pm on days when I go straight home from work, or even the next day if I go out that evening. Posts over three days old have all comments moderated because they're more likely to attract trolls, but blogger doesn't offer much flexibility for selective moderation.

Ivy said...

I am so glad to find another woman of size who rides. At 5' and 150 pounds I am way outside the norm for riders -- but I would never stop. It's too much of a gift to myself to spend time with animal doing serious work together.