As a professional ballerina, I spent years in front of the mirror judging myself harshly, ignoring my body’s need for rest and food, and criticizing every one of my unwanted curves.
I loved ballet more than anything else in the world and blamed my body for holding me back from the things I truly desired for my career. As I fought harder each day to control the things about my body that I wished were different, I began to disconnect from the signals I was being given about my life, my health and my work.
In the years after I turned 29, my body began to break down. I suffered several major injuries, forcing me to take time away from the stage and completely revamp the way I interacted with myself. For the first time in my life, I began to return to the wisdom of my human form: I created a partnership with, instead of continuing my fight against, my body. I realized that my body is my home in this lifetime.
As I left the world of ballet and began working with women from all walks of life as a nutrition and lifestyle coach, I began to see common themes arise in all of us, regardless of job title, heritage or age.
Here are seven things I’ve found that women who truly love (and aspire to love) their bodies do each day:
1. They speak kindly to themselves.
Drinking green smoothies and exercising daily are great elements of any self-care routine, but what does “self-care” matter if you talk to yourself (and your body) like garbage? For many women, separating the negative stories we have about our bodies from what is actually true, can be one of the most difficult challenges we face.
In order to change this pattern, simply start by becoming aware of what your inner critic has to say about your body (or any other area of your life that you feel stuck). Instead of latching onto this idea as true, try to approach it with curiosity. What is this belief trying to tell me? Is it trying to keep me safe in some way?
By increasing awareness around the belief, you are better able to recognize the pattern and slowly re-write a new story for yourself and your body.
2. They listen when their bodies send messages.
Women, by nature and nurture, are multitaskers and nurturers. Unfortunately, these characteristics also make us more prone to over-committing, over-scheduling and putting ourselves last in line. We may find that we regularly feel drained, stressed out, or lethargic; or we may feel that we aren’t experiencing much fun, joy or happiness each day.
Well, listen up to these feelings because they are our body’s way of letting us know we need to slow down! Instead of pushing harder and muscling through as many of us do, our bodies gently guide us to know when we need to create more space, have a little fun, or lighten up. Our job is just to listen. (Not sure how to listen to your body? Start here.)
The next time you find your body resisting your daily “to do” with signs of exhaustion, illness, cravings, or moodiness, take a moment to stop and simply pay attention.
3. They respect their natural rhythm.
Many of my clients note that they feel very different from one week to the next and this difference in mood, energy and productivity is a great source of frustration. One week they feel strong, productive and outgoing and the next they are weepy, tired and don’t want to leave the couch.
The truth of the matter is that we feel different each week because we actually are.
A woman's brain chemistry changes at different points in her menstrual cycle, as her hormone levels change. Our bodies aren’t trying to cheat us out of productivity, they are actually guiding us toward success on a deeper and stronger level. That's why you can empower yourself immediately by tracking your cycle over the coming weeks, noting any patterns in mood, appetite or energy that arise. The more familiar you become with your own rhythm, the easier it will be for you to honor it from one week to the next.
4. They make time for joy and pleasure.
When we're unsatisfied with our lives, we’re much more likely to overeat, overindulge, or use food and other substances as stand-ins for happiness. This contributes to feelings of misery within our bodies and negative self-image, making it difficult for us to think about anything else.
To fully embrace anything, we must cultivate presence. When we are fully present within our bodies, we easily recognize what brings us joy, and we can readily cultivate those things. Notice what brings you joy. It doesn’t matter if it’s your morning coffee or a luxury vacation to Rome. What matters is that you plan for pleasure each day by creating space to pursue the things that make you feel most alive.
5. They choose foods wisely.
When we are disconnected from the wisdom of our physical beings, we’re much more likely to choose foods, drinks, substances and behaviors that do not serve us. We might over-stuff our poor bodies with large quantities of food, hurriedly and distractedly eating as we multitask. Or we may stay up too late, drink too much alcohol, or use caffeine, sugar, or more alcohol as substitutes for sleep and self-care.
Yet, when we are operating in partnership with our bodies, it is easier to make wise choices for ourselves. When we know, love, and trust our bodies, it is easier to nourish them with healthy food and activities.
The next time you find yourself amid poor food choices, emotional eating, or simply in self-care deficit, take a moment to note one area that you could improve immediately and do it.
6. They see themselves in other women.
While I was still dancing professionally, body-shaming was not just normal, it was a daily occurrence. Not only were my fellow dancers and I hard on ourselves, we were hard on each other.
As I began coaching women from diverse backgrounds, I recognized that this habit is not specific to the dance world. In a culture where celebrity cellulite photos are on every newsstand, it’s no wonder that self-judgment and the shaming of other women is customary. But here’s the thing: when we find compassion for ourselves, we find it for all other beings.
Beginning with our own bodies, the more we create a partnership of lovingkindness and deep respect, the less likely we are to judge and criticize others. It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so why not choose to see the grace of each individual?
7. They recognize that their bodies are the catalyst for their most deeply held aspirations.
Human beings are a complex, multifaceted species. We operate in the world by combining the forces of our mind, body and spirit. When one of these areas is burdened, it directly affects every other aspect of our life. We limit our ability to create the lives we truly desire for ourselves.
Women who love their bodies recognize that love isn’t just about looking great in skinny jeans. They recognize that deep reverence for their body is the most powerful way to connect to the creativity and power we each possess. When we love the bodies we call home, we embrace our ability to create the lives we’re born to live.
I invite you to love the body you call home.
In case you missed it, here's Kathryn Budig's powerful talk about body shaming in the yoga world and beyond.
Photo Credit: Stocksy