I’m going to ask you a question.
Don’t think about it. Don’t research it. Simply notice the first answer that flashes through your mind.
What animal are you?
Tune into your body, your animal self. Feel into your toes and see if you can sense the beating of your heart.
Now ask your body, your physical self, which animal it’s most like.
No changing the answer! This is your body’s truth.
And this is mine.
Hold on! Before you scamper to the comments to write how I should love my body, before you diagnose me as having a self-esteem issue, let me tell you a story.
I’m lucky to be friends with my acupuncturist. I don’t know which came first, the friendship or the acupuncture, but at this point they’re completely entwined.
So I’m lying on the table, there’s a lavender pillow on my eyes, and the needles are doing their thing. We’re talking quietly and I’m bemoaning my constant need for tune-ups. I mutter my old riff: I wanted to be a sturdy Volvo, but instead I’m a Fiat. Constantly in the shop. Fix it again, Tony!
My friend replies, I’ve been thinking about my body lately. My animal-self. I’ve spent a lot of time working on loving my self, on self-image. But it’s all in my mind, it’s mental exercises. So I’ve been working on feeling my body, my animal self, and asking it what it needs.
We continue talking. Exploring being grateful to our kidneys, our liver. Acknowledging how much energy our bodies use in our work, holding space for people to heal.
And every time she says “my body, my animal self,” I think elephant.
Here’s the thing: it’s hard to hate an elephant.
It’s hard to be angry at an elephant for being, well, an elephant.
My choice of elephant was not my brain insulting my body, it was my body speaking its truth. And in researching it a bit it’s spot-on right down to the powerful sense of small to compensate for poor eyesight and bad peripheral vision (I have a partially paralyzed eye that doesn’t move outward so, like the elephant, I have to turn my whole head to see to the side).
Acknowledging my elephant self is actually comforting; it makes it easier for me to love me. Because an elephant simply is an elephant. It doesn’t need to be anything else.
And I love elephants for what they are. It never occurs to me to think of what they aren’t.
So what are you?
Not what animal do you like or what’s your totem. I want to know, when you reach down into your skin, what animal resonates there.
Share with me. And tell me how it feels to acknowledge your inner elephant… or jaguar… or mouse… or cricket. Tell me how it feels to live in your skin and love it for what it is.
Life is a journey.
As a metaphor, it’s a bit worn-at-the-seams and softened by time. It reminds me a bit of a stuffed dog I’ve had since childhood: I return to it when the going gets rough.
Today I pulled out the trusty journey metaphor (and the blue dog with the squeaker in his nose).
But let me back up a few nights…
The dreams started as simple murders. One person, one killer. I never saw them – just knew a death had happened.
When I awoke, I thought: change is afoot, I am killing my old life (selling my house, moving from my neighborhood). All makes sense; no worries.
I didn’t pay enough attention to when the dreams changed.
As the nights went on, the murders became serial. The killer wore a pale blue necktie and had a bit of a dark pink glow about him, like the lighting in a noir movie (no, I haven’t a clue what the pink and blue is about. Seemed like interesting details to my subconscious).
I suddenly felt the need to protect myself in a way that I hadn’t during the earlier dreams. As I would surface from dreaming – and feel the pull, the tug, that would yank me back under – I would grab onto an image of protection. My mind went to Bear and I held on tight to that image as I was yanked back into sleep.
Perhaps you figured out where this was going before I did, but needless to say, there have been a few more metaphoric deaths in the past few days than the ones that I had personally put into play.
Which leaves me dusting off both my hiking boots and my life’s a journey metaphor.
Here’s what I have been reminding myself:
If your boots are clean, then you’re an armchair hiker without a dirt path or deer track to your name. Until you’ve done a face plant in the mud, you haven’t actually walked the trail.
Sometimes I think the entirety of a “good life” comes down to the willingness to break in your boots and wear your mud with pride.
Just like you, I have trouble believing this when I am on the ground with my face full of mud.
But time goes by, the path unfolds, and new vistas open up. And if they don’t, then I know I am not done journeying.
In the meantime, the mud is pretty good for my complexion… and yours, too! Try a green clay mud mask with a drop of helichrysum essential oil. After it dries, steam it off. I like a drop of neroli in the water I use for steaming.
Does this solve life’s problems? Hell no. But sometimes a little bit of nurturance goes along way when the road has been long and the mud has been deep.
What do you do to nurture yourself when the going gets rough? Share with us below!
Our dog Nyssa has become a Frisbee aficionado.
It used to be that she would race into the park, excited to visit with her canine pals. When we get to the park now, she jumps out of the car and barks at us until her Frisbee comes out as well.
When we first introduced the disc, she would just chase it down like a tennis ball, often scooping it up after it had already hit the ground. But as she has gotten older and a little more coordinated, she is jumping, twisting, and catching it on the fly. It is spectacular and so much fun to watch…
…which is why it’s really hard to remember that we should be throwing her grounders.
Nyssa’s breeding makes her prone to hip issues later in life. Apparently these issues can take root when a pup is young, if their activity exceeds the stability of their developing hipbones.
You’d think it would be easy to wait ’til she’s a year old to begin Frisbee tricks. But one accidentally high toss, one bounding, twisting, glorious leap, and we were all hooked.
And this is the problem with prevention.
Prevention means that we will eat healthfully, get enough sleep, not drink too much or smoke too much, and forgo the sugary snacks… starting when we are (or were) perfectly healthy.
It means that we will somehow remember to drink our teas rich in flavones and forgo the moccachino, supplement with turmeric and medicinal mushrooms and seaweeds, eat our probiotic foods, take a walk, and not leap after Frisbees until we’re one year old.
And that’s hard! Most of us, like Nyssa, can’t comprehend that something that is so very easy to do today may actually be setting us up for a problem down the road.
What should you give up in order to preserve your health for a future that isn’t guaranteed?
Life could become quite dull and contracted if we are always looking out only for our physical wellbeing. Forget skiing or horseback riding, don’t go anywhere near hang gliding, and, heck, even crossing the street becomes questionable.
The path to pure prevention is difficult at best, soul-smothering at worst, and perhaps, in reality, just plain silly.
But we don’t come from a society that teaches us much about knowing our selves while finding the middle way. So we bumble along, doing whatever we please, until our body says NO.
At first it says no quietly — we may feel bloated after dinner or have a slight ache in our knee after a run. If, at this point, we tune in and listen, the correction is usually manageable: some herbal bitters before a meal, running on a dirt track instead of the pavement.
But most of us don’t listen; we don’t know how. We have been told to power-through, have a stiff upper-lip, get a backbone.
So the problems begin to multiply exponentially until suddenly we no longer know where they began or how to ease them. For as long as we can, we hold onto the belief that whatever is happening will pass because we are “too young”, or there’s “no family history,” or “not eating gluten is just a fad.”
We play this game until the pendulum swings hard the other way and we become sure our troubles won’t pass, and out beyond our control, so we commit to a lifetime of medication because, we believe, there is nothing else we can do.
Like most things in life, I think the answer lies in the middle ground, that area of turf that the pendulum swings through quickly as it takes us from Superman to Super-Sick with no self-conception in between.
What if we could learn to listen to our body’s first grumblings, the little squeaks and groans that are too quiet for our doctor to hear but are completely audible to an ear listening within? What if we tended our flus from the first muscle ache or scratchy throat, our GERD from the first bloat, our fatigue from the first day that it was just so hard to get out of bed?
This is one of the things I work on with my clients: knowing how they feel in their skin so they know if they feel off. And it’s pretty easy:
- When you wake up in the morning, lay in bed and take a few deep breaths, then take inventory. How do you feel (remember that feeling happens in your body, so check in with your physical self, not just with your brain).
- Before each meal, do the same thing – take a few deep breaths and ask yourself how you feel. Then check in again after you eat and notice if anything has changed (and if it has, look at what you ate!).
- And finally, as you lie in bed in the evening, check-in once more. Maybe say a “thank you” to all your hard-working parts.
I can’t buy one hundred percent into prevention. Nyssa will get an occasional high toss in remaining months before her first birthday, and I will gleefully join my Dad in taking my niece and nephews for Friday night ice cream all summer long.
The middle road lies in a slightly different place for each of us, depending on our needs, aches, and constitution. The trick is finding yours and walking it.
Let me know how you find a healthy balance in the comments below!
While cooking Thanksgiving dinner, my thigh spasmed.
Then my lower back spasmed.
In some bizarre muscular cascade, everything below the neck got involved in the action. Including my digestion (’cause my stomach, and your stomach too, is a muscle).
I gave it a few days to right itself, but when I woke up Tuesday morning feeling like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I realized it was time for a visit to my favorite physical therapist, Erica Fletcher.
Erica’s gotten pretty used to my body’s antics. As I went through the whole run-down of spasm and pain, she nodded sagely.
And asked one question.
The question was not, “did you twist in some odd direction while hefting the turkey into the oven?” Or, “did you try to carry too many grocery bags at once?”
Erica’s one question was, “Were you stressed about having Thanksgiving at your place?”
Well, of course I was. It was my first time hosting Thanksgiving.
She nodded sagely again and traced a line around my hip and down my thigh. “This,” she declared, “is a very emotional muscle.”
I already knew I had an emotional heart… and an emotional head… and an emotional stomach. Now, it seems, I have emotional muscles.
So what exactly can one use for emotional muscle spasms?
Here’s my list of herbs to try:
Wood Betony: there are two plants called Wood Betony and both are muscle relaxants and anti-spasmodics, and are otherwise useful in different ways.
Pedicularis groenlandica is particular to the muscles that we can move consciously. It is great for relieving tightness.
The other Wood Betony, Stachy officinalis, is useful for tension held in the gut. Catnip is good for this too, which puts both on my list for working with “emotional muscles’ (remember the gut is smooth muscle).
Kava makes the list because it works both muscle and mood. Careful with this one if you have liver issues. It was traditionally taken in coconut milk which leads me to believe that it has fat soluble components. If you don’t feel like making coconut-kava tea, take your tincture with a meal that includes fats. Kava gives my body the same warm, loose feeling that alcohol can without the mental stutter and the hangover.
Black Cohosh is an herb that I work with when the pain is upper back and neck but I am interested in its energy for moving an “emotional muscle.” Black Cohosh is a mover of stuckness, a graceful lifter of the dark mood, and may be useful when your muscles get emotional.
In addition, I’m going to be sure to get enough B vitamins and magnesium in the next few weeks. Both can be depleted by stress. And magnesium deficiency and muscle spasms often go hand in hand.
How ‘bout you? Do you have emotional muscles? What do you use to calm them down? Comment below!