Some Tips to Stop Punishing the Body

In the last post I made a case for not punishing the body. In a saner world, the case wouldn’t need to be made, but our society obscures what other cultures would consider common sense.

Because we are conditioned to compete in everything we do—whether seeking romance, raising a family, working a job, pursuing a hobby, or even just talking to others—we judge the body as helping or hindering our success. We treat it harshly, hammering it to serve our desires, because we think that’ll help us thrive in a competitive world.

We don’t see our bodies as sensitive beings that deserve love, but that’s exactly what they are. (And, by the way, we don’t believe we could be happy without competing, but we could.)

Once we see the body in a realistic light—as our living partner—we realize that treating it harshly is not just unhealthy; it’s unfriendly and unfair. So we feel motivated to treat it better. But that’s not always easy, because we have accumulated so many unskillful habits. How to break them?

As hinted in the last essay, the first step is to operate from love rather than guilt, fear, or narcissistic desire. It doesn’t work to feel badly about past harm done to the body, or to cringe in shame when—once again—we make an unhealthy choice. And fear tactics only work in the short run; sooner or later they fail because they increase anxiety, and most of our bad habits are attempts to alleviate exactly that symptom. Remember that treating the body well simply to gain attention, romantic partners, or better jobs is business-as-usual. Operating with competitive motives is a major reason we punish the body in the first place.

The easiest way to make healthy choices is to do so out of genuine, affectionate concern about our human organism. In a later essay I’ll explore ways of deepening body-love, but to feel enough of it to treat the soma kindly isn’t hard. Just remember that your body is the basis for your entire life. The better you treat it, the longer it will last and the more it will support you. Feel the gratitude and concern that flows naturally from these truths. Then, when making a decision about what to eat or how to exercise, remember how much you care about your body’s wellbeing. At the same time, mentally ask your body what it wants. Feel deep in the soma. Sometimes strong craving will be detectable in the head or on the surface; but in the depths of your being, you will likely find the opposite: the body recoiling from a sugar load, another cup of coffee, or the next cigarette.

For very strong addictions, it is not likely that love—by itself—will be enough. External support should be sought. But combined with peer or professional support, body-love remains useful; it will help you avoid the mistake of a stern approach.  Remember, you don’t want to be punitive, which in this case is counterproductive. An overbearing, controlling stance invites rebellion and relapse. Better to approach behavior change in a friendly, compassionate way. Extend the love you’re fostering for your body to the mind that’s trying to do better. Gently encourage healthier choices.

That’s really all there is to it:

  1. Amplify your feelings of love and concern for your body.
  2. Feel deep within prior to making choices, asking the body what it wants.
  3. Seek peer or professional support for strong addictions.
  4. Be gentle rather than stern.