In my mind-body coach training course we are learning all about emotions and trauma. We shone a light on all of our past traumas by writing a list of the things that were stressful in our lives. After compiling a list of the stressful events I’ve experienced in my 26 years of living, I found out something quite surprising. I still carry a huge amount of emotion in my body from something that happened in my life 10 years ago! As I wrote down every single event about my mom and her battle with a brain tumour and eventually her defeat in the battle, I would immediately burst out in tears, even a few hyperventilating tears.
After 10 years of crying and releasing sadness here and there, I was surprised to find out how much emotion is still stored in my body from this time in my life.
I’m not beating myself up for storing so much sadness for 10 years. I’m actually thankful to now be aware of this, and now I can give myself the time to grieve over the loss of my mom 10 years ago.
When we don’t let our emotions flow in our body, we aren’t able to release our emotions from our body. So what happens to these emotions when they aren’t felt and released? Emotions are vibrational energy within our bodies and when they aren’t felt and released they are stuffed down and stored. They don’t just magically disappear just because we don’t want to feel them. They lodge into certain areas of our bodies, and if this is done repeatedly, over time this will create physical pain in our bodies. Enter stage right: interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, or any kind of chronic pain.
I am pretty motivated to keep interstitial cystitis far away from my pelvic region from now on, so I am happy to now set aside time each day to feel some stuck emotion, and new emotion as well. There are many ways to do this, my favourite being listening to music that I feel strongly connected to. It does a fine job of opening up my emotional valve. Other ways you can access and allow those emotions that have been stuffed way down:
- moving your body in any way (dancing, doing yoga, lightly working out, walking, stretching)
- getting a massage
- doing breathing exercises
- spending time out in nature
- journaling/writing without any editing
Now, take a moment to look at your life and the stressful events you may have gone through. Does a specific event or time in your life immediately resurface in your mind? If something does immediately resurface, it means that there is still some emotion that needs to be felt around this, and it is time to do so. Your body will never give you more than you can handle, so whatever resurfaces is supposed to resurface, and it’s ready to be felt. On the other hand, if nothing comes up, try some of the techniques listed above to start oiling your emotional valve. Trust me, and just do it; especially if you want to live a pain-free and fabulously energized life. Your body will thank you for it!
Before I started on my own life coaching journey I was completely disconnected from my body. I was always in my mind worrying, planning, counting, and rationalizing, and hardly ever in my body feeling and noticing. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, don’t worry, I will use my previous relationship (or lack thereof) with food to explain what I mean.
Back when I was a college student and living on my own I had two things in mind: achieving straight-A’s and being thin. I didn’t care about much else. I spent all my time and attention on studying and counting calories. The fewer calories I ate, the more pleased with myself I was. Some days I ate only 700 calories. I covered up my hunger pangs by throwing back cups of black coffee (no sugar or cream allowed in this body!) and drinking copious amounts of water and tea. I also ignored the taste of food. I devoured my meals so fast that I probably couldn’t even tell you what was in them. This resulted in horrific, knife-stabbing stomach pains. In short, I didn’t eat when I was hungry and I didn’t stop when I was full. I wasn’t listening to my body and what it wanted. I was up in my head obsessed with calories and staying thin and completely ignoring my body.
This obsession resulted in diarrhea almost daily. Every bus trip to school consisted of me, sweaty and uncomfortable, sitting on the bus crossing my fingers that I could make it to the bathroom in time. My hair also became thinner and more fragile. I was starving my body of the nutrients it needed and it was showing up in more ways than one. My body was functioning below par and it was completely off-track, unbalanced, and unhealthy.
I thought if I stopped counting calories then I would lose all control and end up overeating and be overweight. The funny thing is, I was already out of control; I was just on the other end of the spectrum. My weight obsession and strict calorie counting had taken over my life. I actually remember thinking that I would never be able to stop counting calories and eat normally again. My mind’s idea of being thin was running and ruining my life at the same time. My body was yelling at me by giving me irritable bowel syndrome and hair loss, but I wasn’t ready to listen.
When I moved back home counting calories became too difficult. There were people around and too much good food available to me now. Potato chips, nuts, cheese, cookies, mayonnaise…I didn’t expose myself to any of this fatty fare when I was living on my own. Now that it was available to me, I couldn’t help myself. Over time, I ended up eating whatever I wanted. My strict diet fell apart, but I was still completely disconnected from my body. I still over-ate. I still under-ate. I still obsessed over food. I now beat myself up over eating too many chips and ice cream. Food wasn’t purely there to satiate me, it was there to provide me with comfort when I needed it. We had a love-hate relationship.
Now, after a few years of life coaching with Abigail Steidley, self-coaching, and completion of Martha Beck’s Life Coaching program, I realize that I have come a long way with my relationship with food. Although I didn’t start my life coaching journey to alleviate my eating problems, the increased mind-body awareness that I now have has allowed me to be more conscious of many things in life, one of which being eating. I am now aware of how my body reacts when it feels happy, joyful, content, angry, sad, frustrated, etc. which aids in a healthy consumption of food. I am constantly asking myself how I feel in the present moment, and how I want to feel. I spend time noticing and evaluating my thoughts. Understanding this is crucial if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight by eating consciously, NOT by weighing your food.
So what is eating consciously? It is asking yourself questions and understanding why you want to eat. Are you actually hungry, or is it just thirst? Do you know how you want to feel after you’ve finished a meal? For me, I want to feel healthy, content, light, and nourished. I am now conscious of what foods can elicit this feeling in me. Will that McDonalds McChicken Meal with a side of French Fries make me feel that way? Hmm, probably not. But a delicious and nutritious green smoothie in the morning sure makes me feel nourished, content, healthy, light, and ready to start my day! And I don’t have to spend fifteen minutes weighing my ingredients because I aim for a certain feeling and not a certain caloric count!
How do you feel after you’ve stuffed yourself like a bloated turkey? I usually feel regretful and sick to my stomach. Sometimes we ask ourselves why we ate so much but don’t actually answer the question. Well, it’s time to answer the question! Grab a pen and paper and go wild. Why did you eat so much? Were you not paying attention to your body while you were eating so you didn’t even know you were full fifteen minutes ago? Was it that you were eating too fast and not properly chewing and enjoying your food? Were you avoiding an uncomfortable emotion by occupying yourself with handfuls of Halloween candy? Is this the way you really want to feel?
Looking inward by asking yourself questions and answering them truthfully is one of the most helpful things you can do to increase your self-awareness and adopt healthy eating behaviors.
Trust me when I say I am far from perfect; I still can cave-in and reach for a bag of chips when I feel tired and frustrated, but the difference now is that I am completely conscious that I am emotionally eating. I will tell myself, “Yup, I am eating because I’m frustrated right now, and that’s ok!” The pure act of noticing why you are doing something can often nip it in the bud earlier so you don’t eat as much. It can take its power away. But I have come a long way when I look back to my pre-life coaching days. If I’m going to splurge and eat a bunch of grease, I’m going to do it whole-heartedly and enjoy every bite of it! If I feel like making a healthier meal, I do that instead! I try to listen to my body and feed it what it wants instead of following outrageous rules I set for myself. When you stop and listen to your body, your body will crave what it needs. It may surprise you, but it will probably crave alot healthier foods than you think if you just listen to it! Your body doesn’t lie to you. If it tells you it’s hungry, it needs food, so feed it. If it tells you it’s full, it doesn’t need any more food, so stop eating. If it tells you it wants a big salad, it wants nutrients, so give it a big salad! If it tells you it wants a box of Oreos, or any sort of request that seems a bit off kilter, try looking inward before darting for those Oreos. You may realize that it’s not Oreos your body wants, it might be something completely different, and it’s probably not even food-related. But if you would still fight ‘til the death to get that Oreo, just go for it! But make sure you enjoy it fully and with no regrets!
I’m dividing this post into 2 parts, because I know that when you see too much text, you hesitate to read it. I know! I’m the very same way. So here’s Part 1 of “Me, Revealed” in which I tell my story.
I am 25 years old, well, I’ll be 26 in one week!! Hurrah! I am excited to be turning 26, and I hope to embrace each birthday with the same excitement, even when my number reads 86. Some people have asked me if I’ve ever thought I was too young to become a life coach, or if this was a barrier to getting clients? Hmm, I honestly never even thought about it! And that’s not a bad thought to ponder!
Now I didn’t wake up one day, shoot out of bed, point my eureka finger in the air, and say “Eureka! That’s it! I’m going to be a life coach!” Well, actually, that sort of happened, but not until I endured a few years of chronic physical pain, unhappiness, and being life coached myself. And it happened while I was practicing Yo-Ching (Yoga and Coaching), without my eureka finger pointing in the air…
The reason I have chosen to embark on this life coaching journey is because my body told me to! Haha! In a very indirect, drawn-out, forceful kind of way. It was only drawn-out and forceful because I wasn’t listening to the signals my body was sending me. They weren’t signals telling me I had to become a life coach, they were signals telling me to slow down, love myself, stop overworking myself, stop over-achieving, stop trying to please everyone, stop trying to be, well, perfect! *Gasp* Not be perfect? Isn’t that what we’re all striving to be?
I like to think it all started when I was powering through my pre-requisite courses to get into my Dental Hygiene program. Other wise souls have told me I’ve always had “something going on”. I had a very mild form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) when I was a child which is a sign that I was avoiding things/emotions even when I was very young. It’s like your mind comes up with these tricks to preoccupy your mind and grab your attention so that you avoid feeling emotions and living in the present moment. Some of my OCDs included: not being able to step on sidewalk cracks, tucking my hair behind my ears twice always, if I scratch my left knee I would have to scratch my right knee, making a pig-like motion with my nostrils, of course, twice, etc. When one OCD went away, another one formed. I remember wondering if this would ever go away. I felt like the OCD had so much power over me. And it did.
But anyhow, even though I was weird when I was little, the real signs of something being off started when I was 20. In my school pre-requisites I scored straight A’s, and at the same time maintained an eating disorder to achieve my “perfect” body. I didn’t even take dinner breaks from studying! I ate my tofu stir fry as I copied out my Biology notes at my desk! Can I get my gold star, please? I was proud of myself for being so smart and motivated and eating so “healthy” (healthy=700-1000 calories/day). I’ve finally learned that it was not actually smart and healthy at all! I developed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) from all the pressure I was putting on myself. This pressure wasn’t only from getting good grades and looking good, it was from trying to be interested and educated in things I wasn’t interested in, it was wanting love and acceptance from everyone, it was lots of pressure!! I experienced these symptoms every night on my way to my night classes. I would run off the bus and make my pit stop at the loo before I went to class. It became normal to do that. My hair also started to thin from my lack of nutrition. These symptoms don’t develop when you’re treating your body right, that’s for dang sure!
When I moved back home I started to eat better, and my IBS symptoms slowly went away, but they were replaced with IC (Interstitial Cystitis). IC is basically like IBS but with your bladder. The bladder lining is irritated and you get symptoms of urgency, frequency, and pain. Luckily I didn’t have the pain, but I sure had the other two symptoms! It’s kind of like having a bladder infection 24/7. Not fun! I was in my dental hygiene program at the time I was coping with my IC symptoms. Now I’m kind of a worry wart, so all of my attention went to my symptoms and I would worry, worry, worry about them. What if this never goes away? I can’t do this, this, and this because of it! Why me!?!?! Of course, those thoughts don’t help, but we like to think things that make us feel worse, right? 🙂 And when we focus on and obsess about something, that something usually shows up more! I’m sure you’ve heard of the story about the pink elephant. When someone tells you not to think about the pink elephant, what do you do? You think about the pink elephant!!! Gaahhh!!! The medical system couldn’t do anything for me either. They prescribed me medication that did nothing but give me xerostomia (dry mouth). It is one of those issues you just have to learn to live with, and just decrease your stress dammit! Come see me when you’re less stressed, my urologist says. Pfft. Umm, ok?!
In walks amazing Mind-Body Master Life Coach Abigail Steidley. Well, she didn’t walk in as much as I sent her a desperate e-mail telling her I needed her help, and FAST! I actually found her advertisement when I was on an Interstitial Cystitis website searching for the magic pill to cure my bladder so I could get on with my life! I coached with her for two years pretty regularly, and found out all this fascinating stuff about the mind and the body, and of course, myself! My symptoms didn’t go away over night, they very slowly decreased, to the point where one day I realized that I didn’t worry about my bladder anymore. Abigail told me I wouldn’t wake up one day, know that my bladder was “healed” and then perform daily celebrations because I was healthy! (Although I think this would be fantastic for us to do. Why don’t we celebrate good health every day?) I just very slowly stopped worrying about my bladder so much, and since my attention wasn’t focused on it, I never thought to think that my IC was gone! The mind and body are so fascinating! So how exactly did I rid of my IC, you ask? I learned to re-connect my mind and my body through thought work, breathing lessons, emotional awareness exercises, yoga, freewriting exercises, using my creative right brain to give my left brain a break, and much more. I was becoming more present. I was figuring out who I was and what I truly loved to do. I was questioning why I did the things I did. Why did my hand reach for the cupboards the instant I got home from school? (Yes, I went from almost starving myself to binge eating…) I was being curious and being a detective in my own life. I was opening up to the experience of being human and accepting myself as I am, “flaws” and all. I loved this life coaching thing! I was learning so much! I wanted Abigail to coach me forever. I didn’t want to end my life coaching journey. It felt like this was just the beginning of something wonderful. And it was. So the light bulb finally turned on when I was at a retreat and feeling clear in my head in October 2010. I don’t have to be life coached for the rest of my life to keep this in my life, I can BECOME a life coach! Best. Revelation. Ever.
Tune in next week for Pt. 2 of “Me, Revealed”, because honestly, although this seems like a “happily ever after” ending, it really wasn’t. 2011 has been eventful to say the least. There might even have to be a Part 3…