Listen to your body … when it whispers

Why does it all feel so HARD right now?  

I texted that to my business partner earlier this week, and from what I can see of the world around me right now, I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Last month I wrote about yin yoga, and how when I laid down in silence, I suddenly felt my body ache and tug at me. How had I not noticed that I was powering through my workouts and workdays so hard that I was actually physically hurting? At the end of that post, I wrote something about needing to slow down and listen to my body. A friend read the post and texted me “I think it’s unfinished — I think you are saying listen to your body when it whispers.”

She was right, and for the past month, I’ve been trying to really listen.  The yin class reminded me of how important it is to do the basic guided meditation thing of body scanning — what does your big toe feel like?  the front of your shin? — and even more, to scan what’s happening all over for me.

Physically, the scan turns up a lot of reasons for my bone weariness. I had a flu-cold thing, and am traveling for work a lot, and had a stretch of time where I didn’t have a day off from work for 22 days. And like Susan and Sam and pretty much everyone else in the known universe (except Tracy,!) I find the darkening days mean I just want to hole up in the blankies. In fact, I did just that last Sunday — tucked the kitten under my knees, made a bowl of popcorn and binged several episodes of Outlander without moving.

As I keep scanning, there’s another layer.  The work stuff that feels hard feels like one of those watershed moments — where I’ve reached a threshold of what I can do, and there are opportunities for deep learning. If I fight it, everything gets scratchy — and if I listen hard to what it’s teaching me, my work moves to the next level.

When I scan again, I also realize the obvious:  I’m having what is something like my 490th period of all time.  I started in October when I was 12. I’m 52 and have never had a baby.  At roughly 12+ periods a year for more than 40 years I have menstruated… well, probably more than 99.9% of the women in all of history.

I keep trying to act like this cycle of night sweats and frequent periods and surging PMS doesn’t phase me.  But it does.  I’m almost 53.  I’m tired.  It’s wearing.  And when I listen, I know that’s it’s part of why I feel so slow, so heavy, so constrained.  (And cranky.  Don’t forget cranky).

Right now, my body is just not supplying the boundless energy that makes my neighbour — a yoga teacher — shake her head and say “you work out more than anyone else I know.” I really don’t — but I’m usually pretty consistent. But in the past few weeks, I haven’t had a single vigour-ish workout that felt good — the few short runs I’ve managed to force myself into are plods, and I find myself slowing down in the middle of the weekly spin classes I’ve made it to. I renewed my membership at the Y in September and I’ve been exactly twice. Last week, I signed up — and paid for — two classes that I didn’t even go to. My body is telling me SOMETHING.

What am I hearing when I listen to the whispers? Slow down, move differently, listen to the invitation to learn something, make something new.

Slowly, I’ve started to accept that there is something about the current hormonal and cyclic flux of my body that craves vitamin B and sleep and rest and fresh air more than sweat and deep exertion. I heard a CBC podcast a couple of weeks ago about a Chinese tradition of “sitting the month” after giving birth — basically, giving yourself the space for your body to truly recover from birth, to transition to the next phase of your life.  I took that as another invitation to recognize that there is some kind of transition happening that I need to listen to.

Right now, I’m giving myself permission to do things that aren’t running and pushing myself hard, finding different ways to move, being open to things that feel like mystery. A few weeks ago, I spent 2 hours “ecstatic dancing,” moving my body in yoga clothes and my bare feet to an eclectic blend of music, ranging from bhangra to thrash to classical orchestral to tinkly sitar music. A week later, I went to a yin workshop for a friend’s birthday that included live music whose vibrations were intended to attune us to the vibrations in our bodies as we held deep connective poses.  Both of these things sound “flaky,” but they connected me to my body again.

Ten days ago, I embarked on a 21 day challenge with another friend, to each change one habit.  He’s limiting his sugar intake to one thing a day, and I am trying to shift my habit of mindlessly snacking after 8 pm.   Unless I’m eating out with people and we’re eating late, I ingest nothing but water or mint tea after 8 pm.  It seems simple, but the number of times I’ve almost put leftover dinner in my mouth when I’m cleaning up the kitchen, or felt the impulse to make popcorn or eat crackers and butter after 930 is… well, every day.  But I have adhered to it, and I feel better every morning.

Scanning and listening.

Last Saturday, I went to an all day meditation workshop with my cousin.  She lost her young son a year and a half ago and has been on her own transition journey of living with grief, creating her next self.  We spent a long time talking about what happens when you start to listen to what’s aching under the surface — in your soul and in your body. Most meditation practice teaches you how to be both present to and not pushed around by pain — sitting with it, it flows through you. When you don’t acknowledge pain — physical, fatigue, emotional — it persists until it breaks you.

I’m letting myself acknowledge fatigue, and the effects of darkness and hormones, and letting myself dwell in it.  Not to hide under the blankies, but to listen for what it’s offering, what the transitions are leading to.  And it feels right to nest in it.

IMG_2449

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.  Cate blogs here the second Friday of every month.  And other times when she has something to say. 

 

Midlife, body image, and eating disorders: A better way

Fit Villians

First, the bad news. Eating disorders in midlife are on the rise.

“In her new book, Midlife Eating Disorders, Bulik reveals a hidden problem: the most common profile of someone suffering from an eating disorder is a woman or man in their 30s or 40s. Bulik believes that in the medical field, typecasting eating disorders as a teen issue poses a risk for adults seeking care. Due to this typecasting, primary care physicians, obstetricians and gynaecologists and other health care providers can overlook these disorders in adults. Countless people in mid-life from all ethnic backgrounds struggle with eating disorders, Bulik says. Some have suffered with a chronic eating disorder for their whole lives, others relapse mid-life. Some are experiencing an eating disorder for the first time.Common to all these groups are particular stressors often associated with events that occur mid-life: infidelity, divorce, parenting or the death of a loved-one are key triggers.

Bulik says a common scenario is when someone gets divorced and they view themselves as being ‘back on the market’.‘They go to extreme measures to change their physical appearance—usually an extreme diet. And that might be their first step down that slippery slope to an eating disorder’.Financial hardship can also trigger an eating disorder, as can the stress that often comes with retirement, illness, surgery or unemployment.Bulik also believes a ‘culture of discontent’ is a major cause of adult eating disorders—reinforced by the fashion, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and diet industries.‘What they do is plant worms of discontent in your mind—that you should be unhappy with your physical appearance, you should be unhappy with the process of ageing … then they sell you this product or present you with this surgery that somehow is going to miraculously remove that discontent. They make you feel badly about yourself and then they sell you something to make you feel better. And the problem is that engaging in some of those extreme behaviours can be the first step toward an eating disorder.'”

See Mid-life eating disorders: the divorcees and exercise junkies flying under the radar

Second, some slightly better news. Active women are more likely than inactive women to be happy with their bodies, even at the same size. See Few Middle-Aged Women Are Happy With Their Body Size: The ones most likely to be are highly active.

“A study of 1,789 women, age 50 and older, found that only 12.2% of the women said they were satisfied with their body size. Body satisfaction was defined as having a body size equal to their preferred body size.

Body satisfaction reflected considerable effort by the women to achieve and maintain rather than passive contentment, according to study authors. Satisfied women had lower BMI and exercised more than dissatisfied women, while weight monitoring and appearance-altering behaviors, such as cosmetic surgery, did not differ between the two groups.

Satisfaction with body size, however, did not mean that these women were totally satisfied with their appearance. Many reported that they were dissatisfied with other aspects of how they look, including their stomach (56.2%), face (53.8%), and skin (78.8%).”

See our other thoughts on menopause and bodies:

Accept your changing body

Understand that menopause affects metabolism

And it starts with perimenopause