What’s a body to do?

“My body exists to carry my head around.” I used to think this. Moreover, I acted on it. I prized what I could do mentally but didn’t give much thought to my physical self. Sadly, too many people believe the same and act accordingly. I see people who prize their strategic thinking, their people skills, their caring for others, and their activism on behalf of issues big and small with little time or attention paid to the body doing all the work. Little do they know they are far less effective than they might be.

The brain is part of the body. It is fed and/or poisoned by what we put into it. Its ability to process information, whether in social situations or on paper, is supported by how well and easily we digest food. Think of trying to hold a meeting or workshop after a group has had a heavy meal. They’re not at all lively because the blood needed for brain work is busy in the digestive system. The heavier the meal, the longer the lull. Once the meal is digested, if it isn’t carrying quality nutrients it isn’t as useful as it could be and might even be harmful.

We also lose the intelligence of the rest of the body through benign neglect. For example, most people hold stress somatically as tight shoulders, low back pain, headaches, upset stomach, and frequent colds. Rather than mask the symptoms, learning to release stress through exercise, body work, or bio-feedback methods has the advantage of diminishing the stored stress, addressing current stress, and increasing the body’s ability to process stress in the future—freeing up resources for improved mental functioning.

The effects are, of course, subtle and incremental, making them maddeningly elusive. A single meal or exercise session isn’t enough. Habit creates the cumulative effect. With healthy habits, lack of sleep, healthy food, or exercise is noticed but not so much at the start of new practices. Not paying attention is often well ingrained. Options for change:

  • Begin regular exercise
    • Start modestly. Do something you can maintain. You can always increase once the routine is established.
    • Recall or find something you like to do. Dance? Biking? Swimming? Basketball? Find a class or a group. It can be easier to work on a schedule and with others.
    • Get a buddy or two. Be sure to cheer each other on. Positive reinforcement works better than berating for failure.
    • Forgive yourself the inevitable lapses and start again.
    • Make one positive dietary change, for example
      • Replace soda with water
      • Add salad to dinner
      • Substitute fruit for a sugary snack
      • Don’t fight to stay awake. Take your first yawn as a signal to get ready for bed.

Your body is the means by which you will accomplish anything. Provide it with the care your ambitions, and you, deserve.