The past few years have given me a bit of a wake-up call. My body, which has always been very low maintenance, has been sending me a big message: “Stop taking me for granted!” Almost two years ago, my left hip was replaced because of hip displaysia. At the end of December I had my right one replaced. I’m now bilaterally bionic.
On the first day of an 18-day meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center last summer, I received a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer. I was fortunate in two ways: It was detected very, very early and didn’t require a lot of radical treatment. And I was in the perfect setting to receive the news. While I experienced the appropriate anxiety and unhappiness, my mind didn’t add any drama. In fact, I experienced a whole lot of equanimity around my diagnosis. It seems that 30 years of meditation have paid off.
For many years I took this body for granted. I didn’t visit a doctor for 25 years. Nothing happened to my body that I couldn’t take care of through natural means.
But bodies change. As we age, they require more TLC. No matter how well you eat, or how much yoga you practice, bodies wear out. We all carry different genetic seeds, and are subject to different environmental factors, so the process looks different for each person. But even as our bodies change and become higher maintenance, we can still appreciate the many joys we experience through these bodies every day.
Importance of gratitude
Studies have found that cultivating gratitude actually confers health benefits. A 2015 article in Newsweek cited five proven benefits:
1. More hope and health
2. Improved sleep quality
3. Increased self-esteem
4. Increased helpfulness and empathy
5. Increased resilience
Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that appreciation of our bodies—not only when we are experiencing pleasant sensations, but at the times when things are just going along as usual—can be a source of happiness. He says, “If we are not aware that we are happy, we are not really happy. When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant.” We can practice gratitude for those times when we don’t have a toothache—or any other maladies.
Ways to love the
body you live in:
• According to the Mayo Clinic our hearts beat an average of 60 to 100 times per minute, which translates to 86,400 to 144,000 beats per day. If you’re reading this, your heart is doing just that. It, along with the estimated 23,000 breaths you take each day, are keeping you alive. Give your heart some gratitude.
• Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin allow you to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of our world. Of course, one or more of these senses may lose acuity over time. But you can appreciate them for the window they give you into the rest of the world all day long.
• Your nervous, digestive, circulatory, respiratory and reproductive systems all contribute to your body’s normal, healthy function. Often we don’t pay much attention to the body until something goes wrong. Take time to acknowledge your body when it’s working right, not just when it’s giving you trouble.
• If you practice yoga, be grateful that you have the means to travel to a class, get onto the floor and get back up. Be grateful that you get to experience the practice we all love through the body that gets you there.
• Give your body a nice, long Savasana after you practice yoga. It takes 10-15 minutes for your body to achieve physiological relaxation after physical activity. Savasana allows you to integrate the energies you cultivate in your asana practice. Give your body the time it needs to recover and replenish itself.
Each day I walk at least a mile, to break in my new hip. A car on my street displays a bumper sticker that reads, “Eat well, exercise and die anyway.” While I appreciate the irony, the fact that we will someday die is a given. Treating your body with kindness and appreciation will not make you immortal. But maybe it will allow you to live the balance of your life with ease.
Charlotte Bell has been practicing yoga since 1982. She is the author of several yoga-related books and founder of Mindful Yoga Collective in Salt Lake City.