Many of us have been through a traumatic experience in life, be that a sudden bereavement, a difficult fertility journey or horrific birth story. It’s part and parcel of a life well lived, the darkness that allows us to see the stars shining all the brighter. We tend to plough through these challenging life experiences often without pausing to unpack how it’s affected the way we view ourselves or the world.
We can hold onto intense feelings such as anger and bitterness, like carrying a rucksack full of rocks, without actually realising it’s there weighing us down. These feelings can often be directed at those around us, holding onto small resentments like stockpiling shards of glass. Forgiveness is the art of letting these go, accepting that everyone is imperfect, and that we’re all muddling along trying to do our best. The freedom of imperfection. Often, the person we most need to forgive is ourselves. Once we’ve done that, only then can we extend this newfound benevolence to others around us.
There are many experiences which lend themselves to us holding onto unhelpful emotions. Take as an example the wonderful business of becoming a mum. If you’ve suffered from infertility, miscarriages or a difficult or unexpected birth experience, you may have been left with a latent sense of failure, that your body let you down. You walk around every day in your body, softly but continually berating it for being a failure, for being too pudgy, not strong enough, too stretchy, without allowing yourself any counterbalancing compassion, without noticing and celebrating that your heart is continuing to beat its big red love for you each day, every day.
What if you actually despise your shape since having children – maybe you’ve never quite loved it? Or you just feel helpless and like you don’t “know” your body any more? Noticing is the first step. And realising that it doesn’t have to be this way. You can turn around feelings of anger and resentment towards yourself, and soften them into appreciation. Forgive yourself your perceived failures, and honour the warrior strength that you’ve shown in bringing new small people into the world.
I’m biased as a Pilates teacher, but Pilates can really be a game changer postnatally: offering you strength, tension release and inner calm. But any physical activity will help: swimming, yoga, tae kwondo – any space you give yourself is time to breathe, to mindfully connect to your body and appreciate its strengths.
Physically strengthening and connecting to your breath consciously can soften your relationship with your body and begin to release your negative feelings about it. Relaxing your muscles, stretching out toxins brings more gentle thoughts to the surface. And doing something which tones your body and allows you to find flow will also make you feel good, get those endorphins and blood circulating and give you a rosy glow.
Notice and retune your internal dialogue, your automatic thoughts, and try to find ways of being kinder to yourself. Your body might not be perfect in your eyes. But no one has a perfect body. Accept yourself now, as you are, otherwise however much weight you lose you may find you’re never completely happy with yourself. You are allowed to love your body.
You may feel like you’re being modest or humbly self-deprecating by constantly berating yourself for your wobbly belly/thunder thighs/childbearing hips, but it’s actually weakening your spirit and allowing negative cloud to linger above your head. Why not try out being completely positive about your body and what it’s done for you every single day of your life? Overthink the good. Dwell on the wonderful. Create a positive habit of looking in the mirror, smiling and thinking, yes, love it.
Concentrate on visualising a safe place, where you feel calm, comforted and protected.
Observe what is happening in your mind throughout this activity, without judging or trying to change it.
Stop when you feel in your body that it has been enough, and lower your hands down.
Cross your arms over your chest, so that the tip of the middle finger from each hand is placed below the collarbone, and the other fingers and hands cover the area under the connection between the collarbone and the shoulder and the collarbone and breastbone. Hands and fingers must be as vertical as possible so that the fingers point towards the neck and not towards the arms.
You can interlock your thumbs to form the butterfly’s body and the extension of your other fingers outward will form the butterfly’s wings.
Your eyes can be closed, or partially closed, looking toward the tip of your nose. Next, you alternate the movement of your hands, like the flapping wings of a butterfly. Let your hands move freely.
You can breathe slowly and deeply (abdominal breathing), while you observe what is going through your mind and body such as thoughts, images, sounds, smells, feelings and physical sensations.
Imagine any images are playing like a film in the cinema.
This exercise aims to help you relax deeply and fully, and allow you to foster a sense of calm appreciation of your body and emotions.
Make a commitment to yourself that every day you will love and appreciate one thing about yourself. However tiny. Cultivating self-love and self-care will increase your self esteem, confidence and contentment, and benefit not just you but your relationships with those around you. As L’Oreal ads continually remind us: you are worth it.