There's a lot that can be shared about physical health in the context of mental well-being, both objectively and in my personal experience. Objectively, we all know: basic physical maintenance like proper exercise, nutrition, hydration and sleep are unavoidable components of a healthy body. These are the first areas I attune to if I'm feeling out of whack; the baseline checklist to get on track if I'm off and also an entire dimension of goals worth focusing on if you know your body is asking you to do better.
Understanding these concepts is years apart from practicing them, though and often bridging that gap means looking past the physical maintenance check-list to a trauma informed approach on how our nervous systems function: trauma gets stored in the body.
This is where embodiment comes in. Embodiment is the practice of attuning to physical sensations simultaneously with thoughts and emotions. It's noticing your physical presence in the moment and it was never a strength for me.
I have weighed 150lbs and I have weighed 250lbs and I share this not to say one is bad or better than the other, but because it is a unit of measurement we can all understand when I say: I was not mentally healthy at either weight.
Mental health for me when it comes to my body looks like: making the above mentioned physical rhythms a set of habits to the best of my ability, understanding that bodies fluctuate naturally and having grace as mine does, monitoring my thoughts about my body and it's changes, and using my knowledge of holistic health as a guide for self-care and compassion-- not self-chastising or comparison.
This is week 3 of Mental Health Awareness month and a focus on physical well-being is integral to mental health because its all connected. Healthy brain functioning starts with the basics of physical maintenance, but our fuel to attend to the physical maintenance is based in emotional intelligence and our ability to use resources like our physicality as a tool to discharge our emotions. For me, this is where a mindfulness practice has been crucial.
Being human IS A LOT. Understanding how to care for and regulate our physical systems is a skill that is 1) crucial to our mental health and 2) rarely taught formally.
For most of my early life I did not understand (nor even care to understand) the tools for physical health. It wasn't until my weight and my unhealthy lifestyle started to take a toll on my emotional and mental well-being that I was forced to look more closely at the habits I was unconsciously living out.
For the past ten years, I've been untangling them by actively attending to my physical health from a holistic perspective. While a rotation is required to steward my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health, the physical component has been my Achilles heel for most of my life, leaving me vulnerable to intrusive thoughts and yo-yo emotions. This is the intersection of physicality and emotional intelligence, the focus of which has been nothing short of transformative for me.
Despite what the unrealistic western beauty standards might tell us women, it's not about what the body looks like, but what it feels like to be in it. What it feels like to be in the body is also based in perception, which is influenced by other dimensions of your health. See what I mean by tangled web?
Our experience of our physical self can change by shifting our emotional terrain, but vice versa is also true. Physical discharge can free locked emotions. I thought losing a ton of weight would make much of my emotional pain go away. Instead, it brought it to the surface in ways I had to work through. I still do.
The gift has been that at each stage of my growth, I have unearthed new dimensions of myself while healing and attuning to an ever-present, ever-evolving reservoir of love and gratitude. I suppose some call this God.
I call it many things, but most importantly, I choose to stay connected to it daily by any means necessary. My hope is that you too can unearth this inner well-spring... not by the hallmark of hard work and painstaking effort (which have no doubt been apart of my story), but by the truth of who you are: a uniquely beautiful light in the world, marked with wounds that you are destined to heal as gifts on the way to your becoming and for the evolution of everyone.
There is no arrival, but attending to the physical dimension of ourselves holds boundless gold because we are embodied beings. This work has not only been some of the most challenging of my life so far, but also the most rewarding. Increased energy, self-esteem, self-efficacy and awareness have come from exploring how to meet my physical needs.
Physical goals and beauty standards aside, taking the time to connect to the present moment with gratitude for all your body does and for every breath it draws is a way to celebrate the gift you've been given and to deepen the unity of your whole self. This is a sure path to opening up deeper meaning and vitality in your lived experience.
To me, that is the epitome of health.