Contrary to popular opinion, a woman’s body can be her best ally, even in midlife and beyond.
Rather than tuning in to messages of anti-aging mania, how about making friends with your body? It could lead you not only to like yourself better but to dance through the rest of life, manage pain and learn to relax.
So says Pat Samples, a Twin Cities writer, speaker and teacher in her new book, “The Secret Wisdom of a Woman’s Body: Freeing Yourself to Live Passionately and Age Fearlessly” (Llewellyn Publications). Start tuning in to your body, she writes, and your body will take care of you.
For Samples, the lesson came the hard way, triggered by a dark, cold night 10 years ago when she was kidnapped and held hostage in her car by a man with a gun. Her body held on to the trauma, nagging her for years with back and shoulder pain and a tight jaw. A skilled body workshop leader later helped her to let go of pent-up pain by allowing her body to release the fear. It wasn’t her first body lesson, but its power left an indelible mark.
What else, she began asking, do our bodies have to teach us?
New way of thinking
The body connection is foreign for most women, many of whom grew up out of sync with the body they live in. We were prodded as schoolchildren to quiet our bodies in order to use our minds. Then came the messages for girls that their adolescent bodies weren’t OK. “We were the wrong size, we had the wrong look, and our hair was the wrong color,” she says. Such messages fuel low self-image and high rates of anorexia. “Girls are so busy trying to have a body they don’t have,” Samples says.
At midlife, our culture’s messages deliver another round. “Again, society is saying to us we’re not the right size,” she says. “And we’ve got wrinkles.” She often hears women talk about how their bodies have let them down. “If they talk long enough, they’ll say, ‘I just hate my body.’ ” The words make her wince. “Hating your body is a heck of a way of relating to your body,” she says. “It’s just not very useful.”
Her new book details the dramatic about-face: appreciating and honoring one’s body in a much healthier way. Part of a growing study on the body and body awareness, the book advocates learning to listen to what the body has to tell us — about pain, anxiety, effects of experiences and feelings, even smart decision-making. Many of its suggestions apply to men as well as women.
Many also take a creative approach: breaking into a dramatic scene or a dance to bodily act out a celebration, a discovery, even feelings of stress or anger. (Some can become a group exercise.) When trying to make a hard decision between two or three options, appealing to the body to “feel” each of the choices as a helpful guide to the right one. And journaling about a migraine or shoulder tension — possibly as a dialogue — to let the body speak on paper. To deal with pain, Samples suggests focusing on it rather than trying to deny it’s there. “If we listen to it,” she says, “we can stay with it, and it will begin to shift and move.”
Her new release comes on the heels of her earlier book, “Body Odyssey: Lessons from the Bones and Belly” (Syren Books, 2005). The new book integrates mind, body and spirit, she says, and brings a how-to approach.
“People were fascinated by being introduced to their bodies as a resource they could tap for wisdom,” she says. “So many were asking, ‘How do I do this for myself?’ ” Samples will talk about her book on KARE-TV’s (Channel 11) “Showcase Minnesota” at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 10.