On the first day of the year, I woke up to the abrupt realisation that I feel like I am shrinking; and not in an entirely good way. I’ve enjoyed fantastic health improvement in 2016, a year in which my body’s long-runnning process of shedding its load accelerated …not just in terms of weight but all the cellular debris that has made up a lifetime of stuck emotions that created health-havoc – good work! Yet, lately, there’s been a subtle feeling of depletion, like I’m vapourising away or becoming miniature, Alice in Wonderland style. I’ve been forced to ponder, is this normal for a woman “my age”, going through the hormone changes that are well underway – and even if it is normal – is it optimal or even necessary for women to lose physical strength and substance as they get older? I can’t help feeling that the “weakness” (there is no other word) that I’m noticing is common to a lot of women going though this life stage (regardless of their weight; my weight-loss is just helping me to notice it more) and that its a matter of self-perception, as much as anything, that underlies it.
In the back of my mind, I know I’m at the start of the ten year run-up to the stage of my mother’s life when she became extremely depleted, very dramatically, and then died of cancer. My daughter is now the age that I was exactly ten years before that happened which, over years of considering the circumstances, feels like about the time that she started to shrink and get sick. It can be a precarious stage for a woman when her children grow up and leave the nest and that final ten years necessitated a complete reinvention of “who she was” for my mother as I was the last one to fly the nest, leaving her home-alone after my father died. In my own life, I’m aware there’s a part of me that is fighting a tendency to feel obsolete, done with…an ornament and no more to a fully grown being who (gently) makes fun of me for being “cute” and “out of touch” with things that her generation find easy. Combined with my ever-shrinking form, which is taking on a smallness that I’ve never known before (not even in the slimmest, diet-oriented years of my youth) I feel like a little bird that my daughter “coos” to as she towers over me in her 3 inch boots and even a little in her bare feet. She pats me on the head and wraps her arms around me like I’m a child; all done with great love and affection, but in her insistence that I’m “tiny” and “adorable” I feel myself vaporise a little more day-on day. Words such as “dinky” and “mini” have come into popular parlance around me, to the point I have begun to feel more like a pet hamster than a formidible adult woman. When I wake up tightly curled in my bed and feel out the body that is a fraction of its former size, I have very mixed feelings of thrill combined with trepidation since I suspect this new fragility is paired with depleted strength, like my bones pack less mass. Its made me realise how much my most unshiftable body fat was used as some sort of shield against the world in days gone by since, without it, I feel suprised like a mouse whose roof of leaves has been suddenly blown away. I seldom spend time in front of a mirror so my mind’s eye does that for me, and I can’t help noticing how I already tend to regard myself as one of those very tiny little-old women; frail and shrinking…which is no place to be just before my 50th year. That’s not what I want as the outcome of all the yoga that has been steadily building on my core strength; I want to feel Amazonian and imagine myself striding out across hills in my ninetieth year!
Perhaps I would take all of this less seriously if it wasn’t for the fact that I recognise a repeat pattern from my mother in all this. A big-bonny woman, we (all four of us, as teenagers) laughed at her for her solidness for years, sending her birthday cards with comic pictures of elephants and hippos wearing aprons as nothing she did seemed to shift that weight. When she got sick (though we didn’t know it yet) she shrank so suddenly that we made gentle fun of her for that too. How much did we feed her physical state, helping to turn what might otherwise have been temporary into the sustained or the chronic? Without self-blame for what I did following the example of much older siblings, I’ll never know the answer to that but I DO know that we create our cells with what we expect, that “how we see ourselves” is potent terrain for recovery or reinvention as much as its opposite, as my health-journey has taught me many times. I know this also from an experiment I conducted a few years ago. Frustrated with my thickening waistline, I Photoshopped a composite picture of myself and a magazine model with similar skin tone and basic bone structure to me, even wearing a red bikini that looked like a favourite I used to wear, and superimposed my smiling face on the top. I stuck that image next to my bed (so it was the first and last thing I saw as I reached for the light), on my fridge and in my wallet. Within 6 months, and with no dieting to speak of, I had a very different body shape and was feeling ten times better because I genuinely saw myself as her, complete with that nipped in waist and the bikini-body. I glanced at the image so often that it was what I imagined was there under all winter’s layers; thus I found it was already waiting for me by the time summer came around.
How long does it take to reinvent our cells? Well, in my experience, the body renews itself in a way that feels noticable in around 6 months (our bone cells in around 3 months, red blood cells every 4 months, DNA in 2 months and we turn over new brain cells in up to a year) so it takes about that long to make some serious difference – something I’ve used to my advantage many times when visualising the healthier summer ahead. The area where things have become grayer, for me, are where I’ve allowed the perception of others – even when well-intended – to undermine my own inner work. Even when its considered “harmless” or for fun, even as family jest, whether delivered by our well-meaning children or our unrealising spouse, we should take note of areas where we are being painted to ourselves in terms other than those that we would choose to paint the best-possible picture of ourselves. Being habitually depicted as small or frail (or fat, stupid, forgetful, “getting old”….the list goes on) is not at all helpful in such a game plan yet its something I’ve noticed people, especially women, succumb to as they get older; especially within the so-called “benign” family setting where anything goes. Yet when we take stock of how much time we spend with our families and anyone else who might play with us in this carefree way, that’s a lot of time spent succumbing to these viewpoints.
With habitual repetition, we take on these flippant characatures of ourselves, surrendering ourselves to a comic moment even when that doesn’t serve how we feel on the inside. These comedic outlines of who we are, “drawn” in haste as an in-joke between well-meaning people, can become the very bones and organs of our future self. Women, in particular, tend to have the kind of visual-creative approach to physicality that shapes their cells according to how they see themselves in their imagination; which can be such a culturally or circumstantially dictated thing, their self-image distorted by so-called “harmless” throw away critiques dressed-up as desplays of affection. Even if this is way too abstract to explain to your family, its enough that it matters to you and is a first step in reclaiming your own body to take such a step. While other people might not “get” why its so important that you get to drive the way that you interpret what is going on with your body, in YOUR terms, all you need to do is ask that they respect that and let you lead your own way in what is, primarily, your own domain. For my own part, I intend to have that family chat to lay down some lines of my own and insist that they remain uncrossed since its up to me to take responsibility for the future version of myself that is currently in production in my mind’s eye; and the same goes for all of us – its a matter of survival. Its also made me think a lot more about how I speak to other people and is no bad thing for my daughter to learn about as she steps into young womanhood and the onslaught of so many cultural opinions about what she should and shouldn’t look like!
Its interesting that this realisation came to me after I took steps to recruit my inner male, the yang-aspect that balances out my innate female who is the more creative side; yet that male aspect takes care of so much to do with our inner strength so, if we are feeling depleted, this is where need to be looking. All too often expressed as an addictive and destructive side of the psyche, led by the opportunity to shine through the many little deaths that necessitate the kind of fight for survival that it relishes, this inner male has a whole other, more uplifting, skill-set that so often lies under the surface without being fully called upon. This aspect is what is commonly refered to as the divine masculine (as opposed to the shadow masculine); or you could say, and I prefer the term in day-to-day use, the “optimal male” that all of us (whether male or female) carry the potential to realise within our yin-yang (right and left brained, heart and intellect) wholeness. When I called mine in, it was as though a spotlight was shone on these areas of my life where I was giving away my strength in ways that were at once subtle yet quite fundamental to my longevity and wellbeing. The male aspect takes care of the blueprint of who we are as a physical body; like the draughtsman who draws out the practical-mechanical template of blood, bones and metabolism so that we can fill in between those lines with how creatively we live our lives. All of this takes places at the energetic level long before cells start to take shape and this aspect of us can only work with what he is given; and that depends on where we place our daily focus…our thoughts and our self-perception; how we SEE ourselves. By seeing ourselves at our physical best – unconditionally, in every moment, regardless of who we are with – we lay down our best possible physical blueprint in readiness for living out the next big part of our lives. Having had an incredibly transformative health-year in 2016, this inner strength is where I intend to place my focus in the year ahead as I take a step even closer to the kind of wholeness that equals fabulous health.