We are four months into quarantine now with unspecified months still to go. It's nerve-racking, and, for many of us, work and school are about to become a full-blown obstacle course—again. But in the middle of this mess, I've been hearing about an unexpected bright spot from my coaching clients isolated at home. I'm getting a chorus of calls from them, saying things like: I forgot to criticize my body all day yesterday! I can't believe how much time and energy (and money!) I burned beating up on myself before all of this.
People are hesitant to speak publicly about it because, at the moment, "body image" feels self-indulgent, but I'm heartened by the idea that, alone at home, we are forgetting our bodies in the most wonderful ways. We are steadily forgetting to posture, pose, or disguise "offending" body parts. Time and space apart from others is allowing us to discover what it means to live inside of our bodies—free of judgment.
At the same time, mortality is blinking in our peripheral vision as Covid-19 marches through our communities. We are suddenly, starkly aware of the power of human bodies to heal, the fragility of those that don’t, and the inexplicable injustice that separates the two. We know better than to disparage healthy bodies under such circumstances—even our own, even if we’ve spent a lifetime putting them down.
For those of you newer to this community, I’ve been an author, health coach, and personal trainer for nearly twenty years. I specialize in helping people reconnect with their bodies under stressful circumstances: depression, anxiety, injuries, eating disorders, chronic pain, or good old-fashioned burnout. I don’t run boot camps or marathons. In fact, I don’t run anywhere at all. I walk, hike, and jump on trampolines with my son. I sit on my couch and eat cookie dough when the impulse strikes. I’ve made a career and a mission out of making peace with my body and helping others do the same, but a final, absolute ceasefire has remained elusive. Until now.
These past few months, in the eyes of others, we have existed only from the shoulders up, encased in two-dimensional, rectangular boxes. While, for those of us lucky enough to be safe in the confines of home, our bodies are doing all the things they are meant to do. They are walking, stretching, and sleeping. They're eating, digesting, and generating the energy we need to live.
Before we were confined to our homes—applying for unemployment, rationing fresh vegetables, and surfing Etsy for D.I.Y. PPE—the conversations I heard around “wellness” frequently went something like this: “I do Bikram. What about you?” “I do Soul Cycle.” “Do you use a fitness tracker?” “Yeah, and I’m on strict keto. It keeps me in line.”
But now, finally—when I least expected it—my clients are stepping out of line, one by one, and I am following behind with a brass band and a cow bell. Social isolation is coaxing us to opt out. No more comparisons. No more value judgments based on weight, age, or body type. Just us, moving through days, alive and functional. It's a spectacular kind of freedom. The energy lost on body image is being blissfully reduced to a sputtering yawn.
In his groundbreaking book, The Body Keeps the Score, internationally-renowned psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk wrote, “Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
So I’m curious:
What does it mean to feel “well” when wellness has nothing to do with the good opinion of others? What if each of us have the wisdom required to choose for ourselves what needs “fixing” in our lives and what doesn’t? And what if we’re just fine, at least sometimes, leaving well enough alone?
Our nervous systems are on fire. We are living in a barrage of financial, emotional, and physiological strain. And when humans are on fire, we get through it and grow stronger by sheltering in place as needed and then taking action.
We may not be able to move freely in the world, but we can practice the extraordinary liberty of moving freely in our bodies. We can practice stepping out of bounds within our boundaries. With a visceral understanding of what it means to be unapologetic in our skin, we are capable—in quarantine and beyond—of offering a lot more grace to the bodies that sustain us. With that, we can listen better, and respond with whatever reinforcements we need.
Wishing you an uninhibited kind of freedom this week, whatever that means to you.
I've been "leaving well enough alone" quite a bit around here. There is only so much bandwidth to go around, and these pups have me pinned half the time.
So the best I can do this week is share with you my friend Lisa's Legendary Oatmeal Cookie recipe. These are crazy good, easy to make, and you can make them gluten-free if you switch out the flour. They're vegan too! They come out wide and flat, crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle.
• 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats (I use old fashioned)
• 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
• 1/3 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup safflower oil (I use a little less)
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1/2 tsp. molasses
• 1/4 cup chopped dried plums, cherries, or other dried fruit
• 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the syrup, oil, vanilla extract, and molasses. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Fold in the dried fruit and nuts. (She uses cherries, blueberries, and pecans.)
Using your hands, roll tablespoon-size scoops of dough into balls. Place the balls onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a baking rack to cool completely.
This is how mine turned out!
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