It’s natural to hide our true selves to protect against potential rejection, but in doing so we also build barriers to connection. Last week at The Mudroom I wrote about my journey of slowly coming out of hiding. Today I’d like to share a few practices that are helping me learn to inhabit my body more fully as I bridge the divide between who I am and who I think I’m supposed to be.
This one may seem obvious—isn’t exercise all about moving in our bodies? But I’ve been exercising in one way or another for much of my life and it hasn’t always deepened my connection with my body.
When I couldn’t measure up to who I thought I was supposed to be, I used exercise and food to prove to myself again and again that I had the self-discipline I needed to become that perfect person. Pushing myself to run farther, lift more weight, and never skip a day wasn’t about feeling good, living a healthier life, or really even about how I looked. It was about control. Only recently has exercise been something I do for myself instead of to myself.
In the past, I needed an addictive TV show or loud music to distract myself from the misery of working out. While I did benefit physically from those workouts, I was still retreating inside myself mentally while my body went through the actions.
Lately I’ve looking for ways to eliminate distractions and refocus my attention on what’s happening in my body. (Workout videos are my go to at the moment). As I focus on the role each individual muscle plays in a specific exercise, my obliques contract a little stronger. I feel my tight hamstrings release as I exhale, allowing me to stretch a little further.
When I connect my movements with my thoughts, I notice the incremental changes brought about by my continued efforts. At the end of a workout, not only is my body active and energized, but my mind is clear and engaged. The different parts of me have cooperated to build a stronger, healthier, more whole self.
Walking in Nature
I enjoy walking, especially in nature, and do my best thinking while moving. When I’m surrounded by living things, I feel more alive and connected. As much as I love exploring new places, this year I’ve been walking through the same nature conservation park as often as I can, nearly daily.
As I walk down the same paths, moving past the same rocks, ponds, and trees, I start to see more deeply. Instead of just naming what I expect to find—tree, duck, flower—I start to see the details of what is really there. I notice each distinct variety of wildflower and the deepening colors of the berries. I don’t miss the new mushroom peeking out from under a rotting log.
I’m learning where I’m most likely to see the sandhill cranes or the family of geese or the doe and her fawn. I’m gaining familiarity, but never stop encountering new surprises. As I learn to see the beauty and complexity of nature, I’m more attuned to notice what’s going on within myself—body, mind, and soul. When I look deeper into who I really am instead of assuming what I expect to see, I’m more able to engage with the world and people around me instead of hiding away in the past or the future.
I feel silly talking about this practice, but I want to share it. I took dance classes as a child—ballet and jazz were my favorites. I loved taking classes and learning the choreography for our annual recital. In contrast, as an adult I feel awkward and uncomfortable at wedding receptions and avoid dancing.
Recently, I was remembering activities I enjoyed as a child, looking for the creativity that got buried as I grew up. I started thinking about what a more grown up version of some of those activities might look like. Instead of dressing dolls, I sew my own clothes. Taping together paper jewelry could become beading. Acting out my favorite books with my sisters was practice for supporting others in the struggles of real life.
But what about dancing? Taking classes again doesn’t excite me. Performing in front of an audience in shiny, sequined costumes holds no thrill. What I really miss is the lack of self-consciousness and freedom of expression, connecting my movements to the music I was hearing.
I’ve started making space in my life for dancing again, particularly as part of my writing practice. Before I sit down to write I pick a song and move however it leads without any planned choreography. I don’t have a lot of space and my dancing isn’t impressive or pretty—no one can see me anyway. Dancing gets my blood flowing, clears my head, and allows me to respond to the music around me.
Most of what I’ve shared today involves movement, but inhabiting my body more fully is about more than just moving around. In order to show up in the world as my whole self, I need to know who I am. Journaling is one of the key ways I get to know myself better.
In my journal I can process the past and dream about the future, but if I’m not careful I can end up living in my worries and regrets. My journal also gives me space to dig into to what’s going on with me right now. I won’t go into detail about journaling techniques today, but even a simple free write can provide a lot of clarity around who I am and what matters to me in the time and place my body is occupying. When I know myself, I can connect with others as a more complete version of me.
You certainly don’t need to choose the same activities as me—there are so many possibilities. But if you ever feel like you’re not showing up as your whole self, I’d invite you to explore what activities help you connect with yourself more fully.