Self-Care is vital to the personal healing work I’m doing. Part of my self-care regimen has included yoga among other things. Now I’m no yogi, so I visit a local yoga studio in Indy a couple times a week. I’m just kidding. I go on YouTube and look up Yoga w/Adrienne. (C’mon I’m a millennial afterall).
Near the end of one Adrienne’s practices, she instructs her viewers to cross their legs, sit with their feet in front of their body and massage their arches with their thumbs. I promptly oblige and awkwardly fold my legs. The moment my hands make contact with my feet, I immediately become uncomfortable.
As I massage my arches, I become aware of two simultaneous impulses. Impulses that speak to the internal conflict that has been swirling within me since January: disgust and compassion. Disgust registers first because it is most familiar to me. It is the first emotion that I’m aware of when I think of my feet.
I often look at them with derision because they can become smelly, sweaty and dirty. They are also beset by dry skin, callouses and a persistent lack of melanin. I honestly don’t like my feet. I hide them whenever possible, so the notion of even touching my own feet made me feel dirty.
Then, as swiftly as I noticed my disgust, I began to experience the sensation created as my thumbs made contact with the soft flesh of my arches. First clockwise then counterclockwise, I worked my thumbs and fingers over each toe, ball joint and heel. I applied more pressure and soon found tender spots begging for relief. There were places that hadn’t felt the compassion of touch in a long while.
As I began to feel the release of tension, my perception changed. I sensed a deep appreciation for these appendages that do the thankless work of carrying my body everywhere it wants and needs to be. They bear all of my weight and endure whatever terrain I subject them to without fanfare. I run, jump, swim and do so many other things because of my feet. As the waves of appreciation continued to wash over me with each touchpoint, I became more deeply connected to my body.
I now realize how much I genuinely take for granted, and how easily I allow shame, cultural judgments and negative perceptions to influence the way I experience myself. My feet aren’t the only body parts that have been the subject of my withering criticism. I could make a solid list of body parts that I’ve wanted to curse or change during my 30 years of life. The trouble is, in cursing my body, I’m also cursing myself. The curse is that of disconnection. To be disconnected from my body is to be disconnected from the primary medium through which I experience the world and the world experiences me. It also means that I’m not experiencing parts of my own being.
My sense of sexual desire, emotional intimacy and vocational purpose all suffer because I am disconnected from myself. The most direct example of this involves coitus. (I could have just said sex, or sexual intimacy, but I love Big Bang Theory). If I judge my own body, I’m bringing my embedded disgust, shame or displeasure into every sexual experience. That trinity of disconnection either remains internal and cripples my ability to be present to the power of the intimate connection I’m experiencing, or is projected externally onto someone else thereby damaging their self-image or identity.
While I’m less accepting of other’s bodies when I can’t accept my own, the converse is also true. The more I’m able to accept myself, whether I’m freshly showered or drenched in sweat, the more easily I can cast off the false definitions of what is or isn’t desirable and find beauty in the unique manifestation of someone else’s embodiment.
Embodiment is a gift that I pray we don’t take for granted. It is such a gift that Jesus did it twice! (Didn’t think I’d go a whole post without mentioning something Easter-related.) I dare not take such a gift lightly for fear that I’ll not only devalue myself but creation as well. Even when my body feels as though it is betraying me, I strive to accept it and all that it is communicating. Accepting my body isn’t about it being perfect, it is about me recognizing it for what it is and choosing to be present to all it has to tell me.
Take a moment this week to rub your feet, shoulders or whatever body part needs the most love. (Go crazy, but please lock your doors first.) If you feel you’ve got that down, find ways to appreciate and show love for someone else’s body. (With consent of course). This may mean giving a hug, a compliment, a massage or tantric sex. The possibilities are endless.
P.S. I want to acknowledge that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who is able-bodied and cisgender. Appreciating embodiment may be different for those who identify as transgender or those who are differently abled. I don’t pretend to fully understand their experience, so I recognize that as a blind spot for me as I write about appreciating my body.