After reading Hillary L. McBride’s Practices for Embodied Living: Experiencing the Wisdom of Your Body, I wished I’d already read her previous book called The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living. It’s now in my ever growing cue of what to read.
I heard the author on a podcast when she was promoting the previous book and was interested in her work. I’ve been especially intrigued and fascinated with the way our bodies work and the way God made them to direct us, heal us, and connect us since I read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk years ago. Sadly, we don’t listen to our bodies and generally, aren’t taught to do so.
A Long Way To Go
That’s changing. We are beginning to better understand the interconnection between our bodies and our mental, emotional, spiritual, and communal health – but we have a long way to go.
The authors of The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Church write, “Somehow we Christians have come to believe that we have bodies, not that we are bodies. We act as if the “real me” is not our own body…but is something spiritual (not physical) inside – our mind or soul.”
Are humans composed of a body and soul? Are we bodies only? What makes us human? Theologians and philosophers throughout history have wrestled with these questions. I’m not going to dive into the implications of the different anthropological viewpoints. Not that I could dive there deeply anyway, but I’ll let the theologians and philosophers do that.
I will say that whatever our beliefs about our bodies and souls, it is clear that paying attention to and caring for our bodies is thoroughly beneficial individually and communally. While caring for and paying attention to our bodies is the obvious wise way to live, we don’t do it very well. We have a complicated relationship with our bodies.
How many times have you white-knuckled your way through a difficult circumstance disregarding the signs of exhaustion and depression? Have you ever pushed through chronic physical pain waiting for a good time to see a doctor? Suffered through mental distress failing to admit your need to talk to someone about it? Ignored your anxiety? Neglected rest? Undereaten? Overeaten? Felt lightheaded from dehydration?
We learn, sometimes on purpose but often without even knowing it is happening, to draw a line between our minds and our bodies, saying that the body is “not me.” This can happen so early that we can wake up in our adult lives and believe, deeply, that our minds are the places where our selves exist. To be so separate from ourselves costs us so much: connection to ourselves and others, the joy of pleasure, the sense of aliveness, the ability to be here now.Hillary L McBride, PhD in Practices for Embodied Living
We have a bad habit of forgetting how important our bodies are to our well-being. We live as if they don’t matter. McBride shows us how to break the habit and brings us back to living in our bodies. While Practices for Embodied Living is easy to read, it’s full of insight into how we become disembodied and how culture and politics shape the way we think about our bodies. She writes about our emotions, stress and trauma, pain and illness, our sensuality, and ends with a chapter titled Holy Flesh.
Remember and Reconnect
The author includes an abundance of practices and ideas to help us remember and reconnect with our bodies. She writes, “All of us are bodies and can practice remembering that in a way that draws us more deeply into the present and connects us with each other.” The practices range from a simple checking in, finding your pulse, and answering questions on your beliefs about pain, to the more challenging ones such as considering your body in the four seasons, and moving your body in specific ways as you think about a difficult situation that had you feeling frozen, angry, or scared.
In the beginning of the book the author suggests various ways to approach the practices. She emphasizes the “work is most like a medicine when it meets your needs as an individual…” In other words, use the book and the suggested practices in a way that works best for you. Do all of them, some of them, or only read about them. Then when you’re ready and feel comfortable, try one or two. Maybe gather close friends and try them as a group.
One of my favorite practices is found in a section called Boundary Skills. The practice is to try saying no with your whole body. The author suggests imagining something you find it easy to say no to then using a form or motion that captures the power of a no without needing words. I did this practice and found a powerful form for my no.
Another favorite is called Embodied Prayers. McBride writes, “Praying is not just about asking for things outside of us but about practicing letting ourselves be changed into more whole versions of ourselves, trusting that when we are more whole, we build a world where others are welcomed into more of their wholeness.”
And when we forget again how significant our bodies are an additional practice might be to read the story of Creation in Genesis 1-4 or the story of how God came to be with us in Luke 2. Or read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels being mindful of how he paid attention to his body and cared for and healed the bodies of others.
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14 MSG
There are lots of beautiful ways to start paying more attention to our bodies and in Practices for Embodied Living the author takes us on a wonderful journey to get there. Along the way, we remember and get to know our bodies so that we live more fully, freely, and wholly.