Have you ever had that experience where you start getting ready in the morning and nothing works? Your clothes either don’t fit or look terrible, skin is sallow, hair is flat, you hate everything, and you think, “I need to call in ugly to work today. This is not gonna go.”
It happens to the best of us.
This time it wasn’t quite as bad as needing to call in ugly, but a few days ago I noticed some changes in my body. My waist was bigger and I had a little pouch in my lower abdomen, which is not generally where I put on weight; my skin was breaking out with superficial whiteheads, like when I have a mild allergy to a skin product; my hair, well, I had just had my hair done, so it looked amazing, honestly, way out of my league.
But in spite of my great hair I felt… slow, sluggish, tired, unmotivated.
I usually feel beautiful, and I wasn’t feeling that way.
I didn’t feel or look like myself.
Now, if you think I am in the habit of looking in the mirror and searching for imperfections, that does not happen in Chez Kathryn. I am clear that my body pretty much gets to show up how she wants to, and she’ll receive no judgment, shame, or negative self-talk from me. But I know what I look like, and I looked different.
Me from five years ago might have looked at my diet and said, “Here are all the times you ate sugar. Here are all the times you ate bread. Here are all the times you ate salt, or didn’t exercise.” I might have wanted all this extra weight off of me, out of my system.
Heck, I did that two years ago, even though I caught myself midway through.
But this time I knew. My body was trying to talk to me the only way she knows how.
Let’s talk through my behavior and the underlying needs:
I spent a lot of time on the computer, and would neglect to eat, or maybe eat once or twice a day. I didn’t feel hungry, I didn’t want to go grocery shopping. I wanted to work more, or watch more youtube videos, or read the news, or read other blogs, or see what people were up to on social media.
Then I’d take my laptop with me to bed and keep watching TV until I fell asleep.
I did not want to be in my body, feeling my emotions. So I checked out.
My body wanted pleasure. After all this time, that’s still why we crave sugar. She wanted me to slow down, to enjoy, to be present. I was in my head, worrying about things, about people, about the future.
She wanted me embodied.
It’s a big job to process a foreign object that comes into the digestive system. She knew that my energy (and maybe my attention) might leave “out there” and come back here.
She also knows that pleasure can catalyze a relaxation response. When I’m stressed out, in stress chemistry, stress biology, moving too fast, not paying attention, in survival mode, pleasure can slow me down, stop me in my tracks.
She was trying to get my attention, honestly. I pay attention to the skin on my face. I pay attention to the curves of my waist. I’m accustomed to looking a certain way. She knew that if I looked… unlike myself, I’d do something. (She probably doesn’t like it when I go on a restrictive diet, but at least I’m paying attention.)
It’s also true that fat in your midsection tends to have a higher concentration of cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s very common to put weight on in the midsection as a result of stress. I think unconsciously it’s all to get our attention and alert us to an issue, because our bellies stare us in the face. You may not notice changes in your thighs, but you probably will notice changes in your belly.
For me, I think the energetics of putting weight on my belly has two more facets, which may or may not resonate with you.
I notice that it happens when I need a little mothering, usually if I’m scared, stressed, overwhelmed, or not taking care of myself. My belly simulates a pregnant belly, holding space for the me that needs to be held.
It also changes my silhouette, which gives me some protection from unwanted sexual attention. I have an hourglass figure and am the recipient of a lot of attention from men. It’s the subject of another post, perhaps, but I think often my weight gain is protection from that chronic onslaught of objectification, leers, looks, catcalls, and other stuff that makes me defensive.
Do you see?
At every turn my body was trying to call me back, get me to drop in to embodiment and to my life.
And for the days it took me to pay attention, it’s ok. I wasn’t ready until I was ready. There is always a good reason. I am always worthy of legitimacy.
Above all, what my body craved was connection and presence. It was time to be Radically Pro-Kathryn.
Every living being on the face of planet Earth evolved around light, not food.
When I spend too much time in artificial light and in front of computers, it messes up my circadian rhythm. Getting outside and getting sunlight directly on my eyes and skin helps with this.
So, first thing when I wake up is to take my oil pulling on the road for a 20 minute walk.
There are a few other aspects to this as well:
I don’t wear any glasses or contacts for this walk.
What happens for me when I skip vision correction is twofold: 1) I get sunlight directly in my retinas, which is important for circadian rhythm regulation, and 2) I am absorbed in my own experience.
If I can’t see other people, I don’t worry about what they’re thinking of me. I don’t think of them at all, in fact. It’s just me and my body on this walk together.
Another facet of this morning walk is that I wear as few clothes as possible. Usually I don’t even wear a bra.
Again, I want direct sunlight on my skin, but I also want to just be in the world without needing to censor my body.
When I want to go out and realize that I can’t just go, that I need to shower, do my hair, wear makeup, put in contacts, wear a bra and clothes, put on shoes, I get mad.
I don’t want to have to prepare myself for the world. I don’t want my looks to be a price of entry into the world.
So these little early morning walks are my way of showing up in the world as myself.
It’s my way of standing by my body and saying, “You are welcome here, just as you are.”
I know a lot of times it’s customary to “get back on the horse” when it comes to food, and change the behaviors you didn’t like.
But I know there was a really good reason I was reaching for sugar, or not eating at all, or eating at weird times. If I don’t have other ways to get what I need, my body will keep reaching for food.
Once my life is infused with nourishment and pleasure, I won’t need food to provide the substitute.
There are no real rules except that everything I’m doing is an exercise in embodiment. My guidelines are:
I exercise every day at my gym, which I love. Weightlifting is my favorite. But for the rest of the day, it is easy for me to sit and write or read for 12 hours at a time without breaks. It’s easy. I don’t even think about it.
And as much as I love weightlifting, I go into it with a goal, and I perform the workouts the gym has programmed.
What I needed was time with my body, and for me the only solution is yoga.
I’ve been doing yoga for about 13 years, and teaching for at least 2, so I have a bunch of sequences memorized. These I do based entirely on what appeals to me in the moment… and I do it naked.
(Listen, I’m never going to not advocate for more naked time for everyone. It’s helpful to just let your body be, without needing to cover it up. If you have issues with your body, these normal, everyday movements are so neutral that your body can just do them without needing to be self-critical. It’s one of the most helpful body-neutrality practices I can recommend.)
I kiss whatever I can get at. Beautiful shoulders, dimply thighs, swole biceps, sweet feet, lovely hands, creaky knees. All mine.
I also take a favorite moisturizer or body oil and give my skin some love. I like focusing on parts of myself and giving them some deliberate, intentional love and attention. And it’s helpful to receive the positive touch without flinching, or shying away.
My body is worthy of love and affection, and it starts with me.
I had a really profound experience once where I went to bed at 7pm (accidentally) and woke up the following day at 7am and I felt like the most beautiful woman to ever grace the face of the earth.
I’ve never forgotten how truly lovely and refreshed I felt, how easy and effortless it was for me to be in the world and complete the tasks I set out to do that day.
Furthermore, one facet of my general life philosophy is that Everything Is Better After a Nap.
So, I make sure all my screens are OFF at 8pm. Off. And unplugged, and out of my room.
If I need my phone for an alarm, I make sure it’s on airplane mode. I read by candlelight, or by salt lamp, or with the orange light bulbs I have in my lamps. I read, or write, or just go directly to bed.
If my body is needing to process stuff, I want to give it time. And nighttime is when my body is trying to detox, repair, and rebuild, so I’m going to optimize this time.
What do you think of this protocol? How do you show up for yourself when your body is trying to talk to you?