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Elan Vitae


  • J Bristol

THE SOUL'S SHELTER: A Simple Guide to Feeling at HOME in your Body

Listen. Your body will tell you. That nagging feeling, that tension in your gut or shoulder or jaw, that pain in your heel or twitch in your eye. It’s all information indicating a misalignment of energies. You have the opportunity to catch that misalignment now, ahead of physical symptoms, if you pay close attention to their message.

I had plenty of clues leading up to my first significant injury. I was stuck on my path, living in a place I didn’t like, working in a capacity I didn’t enjoy. Yet I couldn’t muster enough strength or information to propel me forward in one direction or another.

So, the Universe took care of it for me. Took away my work, my mobility, and left me alone with the shadows of myself to consider everything. This experience in 2010 cracked open an entry point to a new way of living and being.

I hadn’t realized it, but a fall I had experienced while crossing a creek two months prior pushed my lumbar discs out of alignment. I had gone about my daily business, taken a break from exercising to “allow it to heal” but ended up exacerbating the problem by losing strength. I was getting chiropractic adjustments sporadically but not getting to the root of the problem. I was icing, heating and stretching, but just enough to get by, not enough to heal.

One afternoon after walking a neighbor’s dog, I turned too quickly to head down a flight of stairs and felt my entire right leg go numb. I got myself to the sofa, then watched my days and weeks disappear into a whirlwind of appointments, referrals, and treatments including decompression therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, energy work. I quickly became familiar with the world of walking back braces, TENS units, and any other gadget that promised a moment of relief. During this period, my body allowed me roughly two minutes of standing before the pain would be so intense I’d start to sweat, go clammy and begin to lose consciousness.

I was also doing my best to service my clients and keep my business going. One evening I was moving slowly from my office door to the parking lot. The evening was particularly dark without the benefit of a visible moon. I was alone, the last person in the building, the last car in the parking lot. I did not have enough mobility to look behind me or move quickly, let alone run or defend myself. Suddenly I was acutely aware of my physical limitations and subsequent vulnerability.

What if someone approached me? What if someone tried to steal my purse or my car? My options were limited in that moment and for the first time I felt a new kind of fear. Fear for my physical safety. My empathy went to those with ongoing physical limitations, to the elderly who naturally move more slowly and in that moment, I decided to make it my priority to recover fully, and as quickly as possible.

Having spent a good amount of time in the holistic healing and wellness field, I had access to highly skilled practitioners of all types. I enlisted the help of these friends and put myself on a regimen. I treated myself like a client and held myself accountable. I started slowly in the water, where I couldn’t do much but float at first. I stepped up my regular body work, adding more frequent acupuncture and massage. Eventually, I segued into Pilates, but I started from scratch. On equipment where I was accustomed to performing advanced and highly skilled movements, I went all the way back to the basics. Slowly but surely, it started to pay off.

I worked my body diligently and turned to energy healing to move through the emotional trauma and fear that came with this new understanding of physical vulnerability. I made major life shifts addressing some circumstances that were no longer serving me, but not all of them. I had moved to a city I loved, but was still doing work in a capacity I didn’t enjoy.

By the following year, I realized I had been at a plateau for quite some time. Both in my body and my lifestyle, I was 90% better. I had my mobility. I could work and sleep normally. But lingering nerve root tension limited the jump I wanted my body to make into full recovery. Lingering doubt in my body kept me from making greater leaps in my work as well.

That elusive 10% came more into the spotlight by 2012 and I knew if I was going to make lasting shifts; if I was going to make friends with my body once and for all, I had to put us (me and my body) in a position to have no other choice but to work together.

Enter, the Camino.

When I set out on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2013, I knew if I wanted to sleep in a bed at night, I’d have to make my way from point A to point B. On foot, over uncertain terrain, alone. I had no choice but to tune in and work with my body. To listen and understand and make small adjustments in the moment, while averaging 16-18 miles of walking per day with a hefty pack on my back.

Gooooorgeous bum!

Was a random thought that came through my mind one of those very long days of walking. This had been the daily cry of a former client who took a gratitude approach to finding love for her least favorite asset. I remember giggling to myself at the thought of her story. She was fit, ate healthfully, worked out with me multiple times per week, had great body awareness and ability, but still felt she fell short in the derrier department.

She decided to give herself a “gooooorgeous bum” shoutout while passing a mirror at least once per day, and noticed after about 6 weeks she started to believe it. She at least felt less disdain for this particular body part than she had in the past. Then less disdain turned into mild like, then appreciation, then love. Her “gooooorgeous bum” hadn’t changed in shape or size, but her perception of it had.

I applied this wisdom to my own broken body as I walked from town to town and noticed significant shifts and longer strides. Each step on the Camino gave me more appreciation for the wisdom of my own body and it’s innate capacity to heal.

1. Listen: It doesn’t have to be a big production. A few simple questions will suffice: How is my body feeling today? What does it need from me? How you respond to what it tells you is the most important part. Do you need to move? relax? realign? hydrate? ground?

2. Appreciate: A kind word of gratitude toward your body is enough to stir it’s innate healing capacities. Put a little emotion behind it and watch the results exponentially increase.

3. Accept: In sickness and in health, at every stage of the game. You are where you are. You can waste time beating yourself up for it, or you can turn your compassion inward, expressing true appreciation, validation, and acceptance of your body and where it is at any given point in time.

4. Give Regular Attention: Build your toolbox of body rituals with a combination of movement options like yoga, fitness, stretching, qigong. Try something new, challenge your body in a different way. Create new neural pathways by asking something new of your body. Build your database of holistic practitioners - acupuncture, massage, functional medicine, trainers, healers and put yourself on a consistent routine of self care.

It only takes a bit of attention and intention to be wise in body, mind, and spirit.

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