Being in your body

A series of thoughts from those random emails to which my friends are occasionally subjected.

This is something that's been on my mind, a thought that needs unfolding. This has been occupying a lot of my wandering-mind time. I've been wondering at our disconnect from our physical selves. I'm sure there are quite a few people out there who know their bodies inside out, but from what I can see, most people seem very disengaged from the fact that they have a body. I feel as if we've all become far too cerebral.

I wonder if it is a case of not knowing what you've got til it's gone. Are we really paving paradise and putting up a parking lot? It seems that people don't pick up on how their habits change their body until they hit some critical point - having to buy "plus-sized" clothing, or needing to go on a medication for their health, or having someone point out that they always look dishevelled or that they've rather quickly dropped a few kilos, or looking very pale.

I think, but couldn't say for certain, that these Western societal norms disengages us from who we are now and push us to focus on the future - the next pay check, the next consumeristic drive, the whole "keeping up with the Jones' " thing. I often get asked what I want to do, and respond with "I'd like to go for a walk," totally misinterpreting the question as a "what do you want to do right now?" rather than a "what do you want to do with your life?" And, after all, anything I decide to do with the rest of my life is only a reflection of how I feel currently about the future and is subject to immense change at any moment in said future. I like walking because I get to engage with my surrounds. And I often crave spending time in the great outdoors, in real nature, and get frustrated with this controlled version of the Earth. Sure, I love central heating, but I also have a rather odd tendency of stroking plants, playing with soil and sloshing my hands through water. It's like there's this deep drive to connect with what Earth, the world, really is like. To stop thinking about money and due dates and everything else that is so superficial, and spend time exploring nature and my emotions. And why does it matter where I want to be in five years? Anything could happen between now and then.

It's this train of thought that makes me wonder if this is why I have been so disengaged with my own body. I intellectualise food consumption and exercise, as if that will result in good decisions. When I let go of those thoughts, I tend to crave raw (or steamed) vegetables. The things I call "clean" food - stuff that hasn't been processed or had condiments added. I went for a run in the rain the other week, and it was incredible. The way the humid air seemed to steam off of me, the squelch of my sneakers on the ground. There's something sublime about re-engaging with our body's innate capacity to move.

I recently read a book called Birth Matters, something that took my interest as it was about childbirth from a midwifery rather than obstetric point of view. And understanding health from another perspective is something I feel all physicians should explore. This book reminded me just how much we don't understand our bodies. There are so many anecdotes, many of which my own friends have reiterated, about the trauma of giving birth in hospital. Seeing as hospital birth is essentially standard, it's scaring me that many of the typical measures now and in the recent past involved chaining women to the bed and worse. And that many women are left on their own, only monitored through machines, for much of the birthing process when they must be scared and vulnerable and powerless when all chained up. A lot of the positive changes in childbirth procedures have happened since partners have been allowed to attend the birth too (partners weren't too happy seeing their loved one chained up, traumatised and ill-cared for). It makes me wonder how much of our attitudes to healthcare require reform.

And I wonder, where did this disconnect come from? And how can we promote a real re-connection within ourselves and to normalise that within our society? This isn't about running a marathon or doing a 100km cycle or eating the newest fad diet. It's about balancing the needs of our body with our desire to be cerebral.


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