Back in April I wrote a blog about how we are all of two minds, because in addition to our brain, it has been discovered that our digestive systems are sentient, too — making decisions and responding to our environment in radically different and measurable ways. If you want to read that post here’s a link.
Jonathon Haidt uses a wonderful analogy called the elephant and the rider in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. He likens our ‘gut’ to an elephant and our brain to the rider. The rider, our conscious mind, is rational and analytical and knows better than to binge eat five cupcakes. The rider also knows it’s a wonderful idea to get exercise every day.
Our elephant represents our body consciousness; it’s emotional, intuitive, and seemingly irrational. The elephant, who not coincidentally is much stronger than the rider, generally does what the rider requests. Right up until he sees those cupcakes. And if the rider and the elephant aren’t in sync, the rider can just forget about exercising any control over that situation. To keep the rider and the elephant in harmony the rider has to listen to the elephant.
You have to listen to your body.
One of my friends told me that she’s mystified by how I understand cues from my body that she struggles to hear. While I am usually very in tune with my body, I am not always so stellar at hearing my body’s needs. As I often say about relationships, there is no such thing as a stable relationship; it is either growing and strengthening, or experiencing entropy and falling backwards. Your relationship with your body is no different. It takes consistent effort and consciousness to keep a proper balance between your mind and body / the rider and the elephant.
I’ve been a long distance runner since I was a teenager. When I was younger, and in the midst of my struggle with anorexia, I took to running. I would run, and run, and run, and run. I would run to the point where I was too exhausted to think, and too exhausted to feel. I was always running something off. I was always running away from something, running in an attempt to find something, lose something. Then, when I became healthy, running the distance made me feel a sense of strength and gave me a push to pursue the things I wanted most.
Whether it was running, dancing or some other extreme sport I tried, exercise has always been a way for me to release stress. However, there came a point when running no longer felt like it was building me up, but in fact, was wearing me down. Under those circumstances, running was no longer beneficial, it was actually detrimental because I was inducing a flight response every time I went out for a run. Perhaps, my conscious mind didn’t realize what I was doing, but my elephant identified it and reacted in the only way it knew how. The flight response constricts blood vessels to raise your blood pressure and releases adrenaline and cortisol, which increase heart rate, release fats into the bloodstream, and increase your blood’s clotting ability. This has a devastating effect on emotions and the adrenal system if it’s occurring daily!
I do still enjoy going for runs, especially when I travel. I love to discover new places that I’ve never seen before and it’s a different experience than the way I used to run – which was until I had absolutely nothing left in me. Now, my consciousness is of running toward something, not away from anything. With this consciousness, the rider and the elephant are in perfect harmony.
Think about what you struggle with, we all have weaknesses. For some people it isn’t cupcakes, it is overspending, or sitting on the couch instead of going to the gym. These failings are not because you are lazy or lack willpower, but probably occur because you don’t have a good rider/elephant relationship. For instance, imagine that your child was throwing a tantrum in a super-market. We’ve all seen an exasperated parent ‘lose it’ with a child in public. Scold them, speak harshly, perhaps even spank them. (Gasp!) Without going into parenting psychology, it’s fairly safe to say that will NOT be the last tantrum that child throws. However, if a parent takes a moment to comfort the child, listen to their needs and just take a few calm moments with them, that behavior will probably not escalate into a pattern.
Now, keeping those two scenarios in mind, how do you talk to yourself when you overspend/overeat/underexercise? Think of these behaviors as your elephant throwing a tantrum. For most people, their self-talk is incredibly harsh and cruel. Like the parent who lost it in the supermarket, except 10 times worse, because we would never say or judge another as harshly as we judge ourselves.
Why are you so fat?
Why are so weak?
Why are you such a loser?
Here’s a better question, why on earth would you speak this way to yourself when you would never speak that way to another person? That harsh self-talk is your rider berating your elephant. The elephant is a lot bigger and a lot stronger, and as you are probably catching on, doesn’t have to listen to you. However, if you were to treat your elephant like the parent in the second scenario and treat yourself with understanding and love, the relationship between body and mind/ rider and elephant begins to be one of harmony.
Body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and low self-esteem are epidemic issues in our society, and not just for girls and women. The number of men who identify with these conditions has been skyrocketing. The only way to stop this madness is to listen to your body, be kind to yourself, think well of your body, and treat it with appreciation and gratitude for all the amazing things that it allows you to do every single day.
Your body is part of your expression and the state of health it is in allows you to do all that you desire to manifest. Remember: You are physically strong. Use your body, your strong legs, your powerful voice, your uplifting smile. Remain fearless in your body and don’t ever allow yourself to hate any part of you. Your body is perfect and strong.
By changing the relationship you have with your body you will absolutely change your behavior, because as Rav Berg said, “Behavior is born of consciousness.”
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Tell your body how much you love and appreciate it at least three times a day for a week. I guarantee it will be a paradigm shifting exercise.