Friday, January 29, 2010

From Where I Sit ~ Reclaiming My Body Temple

The Body as Sacred

I've been pondering this quote off and on for many years now.

"Wherever you live is your temple if you treat it like one."
~The Buddha

I took this thought very seriously once, when I lost my health in 1994. My body was no longer a temple. An ailing prison was more like it.

As a result, I spent an entire year refurbishing my body temple—mind, body and spirit. I cleansed and reorganized my mind, nurtured and exercised my body, and unleashed my spirit. It was "my" year. I reclaimed the sacredness of my body. It was also the year I fell in love with the notion of "God" as I have come to understand it.

Since that crisis/opportunity year, I have been the most faithful of "worshipers," engaging in the practice of extreme self-care. I have become extra kind to myself. Gentle. Loving. Nurturing. On all levels—body, mind, spirit.

And, yet, I've also struggled down one final avenue of temple honoring—exercise.

For most of my adult life I practiced yoga. To me, it offered the perfect balance of body/mind/spirit attention. I found it in college (1973), did it through 3 pregnancies, and on into my late 40s. I stopped when my temple suffered various injuries (3 bouts of torn rotator cuff, for one). I tried to regroup, once the injuries healed, but the practice was not to my satisfaction. I vowed to walk regularly. I did so, faithfully, until we moved to a location where walking was less than desirable (unless I drove somewhere special). I know, excuses ...

Then, in 2003, I experienced a closed head injury and everything changed. I could not move fast. I could not do inverted exercise. I still can't. So the challenge these days is to find a way to "move" and honor my body temple without it creating dizziness, nausea, and more.

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of leading a day retreat on "Reclaiming Our Bodies as Sacred." 27 women re-committed to their bodies in various ways. Here is some of what we talked about:

~Befriending our bodies; treating them more kindly, gently
~Healing our body through the practice of blessing and appreciation
~Dropping back into our body through the senses so that we can experience the Sacred
~Allowing our various body parts to express the Sacred out into the world (through our hands, feet,      
    voice, etc.)
~Letting go of anything that does not speak to the soul of our body, esp. childhood messages
~Honoring our body's wisdom and trusting it.

What we did not cover as well as I'd liked (after all, we only had 6 hrs. to do all this!) was eating mindfully and moving our body for well-being and longevity.

Thankfully, I am very good to my body when it comes to eating healthfully. I am a vegetarian, and have been for 10 years. I eat very little processed food and eat organic. I cook from scratch. I rarely eat out. And my body loves me for it!

So when I look at the temple furnishings inventoried above, I believe I am a pretty good housekeeper. Except for one thing—movement. That's my growing edge ... and I do vow to embrace it.

I've nicknamed my journey this year: "The Year of the Body." I will reclaim a form of "fitness" that will serve me well ... and my body temple, too. Enough creaking, aching, and groaning already. I hear you!

It's good to remember that this journey to reclaiming our body as sacred is not for the purpose of societal expectations (to be thin) or to fulfill media standards (to be beautiful or youthful). It is to honor our body and affirm —with mindset and habits—that we are sacred beings.

And that we are worth the time, attention, energy, and financial expenditure it takes to be happy and well. To walk a more holistic path in life, one filled with conscious choices, so that we can finally heal the rift between body, mind, and spirit—thereby, reclaiming ourselves as "holy" and whole human beings.

Whew! That sounds like a big journey—and it is. But every great journey begins with small steps, one choice, then another. Baby steps I call them. 

So, how about you? 

What is your "growing edge" when it comes to treating your body like a temple? And how are you willing to make that temple glow and thrive?

I'd love to hear ...


I told the retreat participants I would post some of my favorite resources which support the reclaiming of our bodies as sacred. Here's the list: 

God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness and Embodied Spiritual Practice by Jay Michaelson

Divining the Body: Reclaim the Holiness of Your Physical Self by Jan Phillips

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing by Christiane Northrup, MD

Healing Mind, Healthy Woman: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Manage Stress and Take Control of Your Life by Alice Domar, MD

Praying with the Body by Jane Venard

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

Skylight Paths publishing offers many titles on embodied spiritual practice, such as Dance, the Sacred Art and Running the Sacred Art. 

And, of course, two of the books I authored, Coming Home to Ourselves and Your Truest Self have chapters on reclaiming the sacredness of your physical self. :-

(Body image courtesy of


LoveCompanion said...

Dear Jan, I love this new heart journey series we're sharing or I'll call it that ;) I find it so interesting how the very things that we think would forever damper us make us stronger. I also abused my body for years --in that I overgave and never considered my own worth. Everything beautiful I wanted in most cases I gave away and subtle resentment set in because my own well was so dry. It took an illness in 2008 to stop me in my tracks. While I was already into my spiritual journey more in depth since fall 2005, this took me to a whole entirely new level and I was 'dependent' physically and emotionally and I didn't like that at all. I wanted to have that illusion of control still and yet when I bottomed out I found grace. It was the most beautiful favor to get me through 'one day at a time' and that was all I could think of because it was too much otherwise. Now a few years later I've healed up quite a bit in those areas though I still have to watch the soft spots - I'm still underweight but healthier than I was. I also eat out rarely and cook most wholesome foods at home. I'm much more selective. I think for me, what I am working hardest on now is 'not pushing myself too hard'... I am a *hsp (highly sensitive person) so I have to honor my body's needs or else I fall apart its as simple as that. I get overstimulated way too easily. So, I'm learning to set healthy boundaries and to take more "pause" breaks. Its tough when I'm so driven to complete a task, to stall for a break.. but I'm trying. This is my focus right now to be "kinder" to me! ;) thanks for sharing such an important topic of treating our bodies as sacred. It is not only a well thought but an essential for living a truly beautiful and 'holy' life! ;) hugs, Jenn

Davine said...

What an inspiring post. I must say I don't think I treat my temple very well and must do some cleaning and decluttering. But where to start that is the confronting part. One small step as you say is correct but it's taking that first step that is the hardest.

Char Brooks said...

I learn so much from your words - healthy food choices are my growing edge right now.

Bless you always Jan - you're a beautiful presence in the world.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Jan, you know how much I honor and walk this path.

I want to write about this in more depth soon, but I think one thing we tend to forget as we try to re-embody is FUN. We are meant to have FUN. Walking,'s all well-intentioned but I think it doesn't stick because it's obligatory.

Fun sticks. :)

Deborah Carr said...

What a lovely blog you have, Jan. This is my first visit.I've added a link to mine so I can return often.

It's good to live in a growing community of women who are beginning to believe in themselves.

Jan said...

Well our journeys sound very similar. I did the same in "giving myself away" in my twenties and thirties, so by the time the 40s came, the health issues came along too. That is where the journey into self-kindness, compassion, gentleness breaks through. So glad that this is where you find yourself these days—being good to you.

(As an HSP myself, I can certainly relate. It's impt for us to honor the ways our body reacts with the environment.)

Thank you for your transparency. Just one step, a small one. Could you manage that? I began with "transitional eating" for one. Eliminating one unhealthy food each week; introducing one new healthy one. You can imagine that by the end of a year you'd have a completely different way of eating. :-)

Exercise for me has been the same way. Start with just 5 minutes. Add 1 minute each day. It's amazing how well baby steps work. :-) May you find a way that soothes your body and brings peace of mind.

Jan said...

So nice to have you here. I'll keep you in heart, thought, and prayer in the hopes that this growing edge will come to fruition and you'll find yourself healthier than ever. Hugs!

Thank you for visiting and leaving such kind thoughts. I will be checking your blog next. :-) Be well!

Jan said...

Yes, I know how you feel about this and I so appreciate your stance. Now that you know about one of my "injuries" and why I can't move about quickly (i.e. dancing), perhaps you have some creative ideas for me. I do love walking though and will do so daily once I get to Florida in two weeks. Three glorious months! Walking the beach is pure delight. Plus the benefit of a tan. :-)

Dance on with joy and honor that wonderful body of yours!

Anonymous said...

Wow. An amazing topic. Okay. What I do right is to eat very healthy, fresh and simple. I move my body and celebrate all that it can do in various ways--yoga, kayaking, swimming, hiking, running (although I'm currently sidelined). I have a healthy body image.
My area of opportunity would be self care in general. I tend to expect the most of my body's performance with minimal maintenance. Kind of wash/feed/go and power through the day. I am most compassionate when my mind needs a break or my soul needs soothing. I am not at all compassionate when my physical body needs a rest. Today I brought my car in to be serviced and the mechanic said you may not drive on more mile on that tire or it will explode. I feel like my body must feel like that at may not "plow" through until you respect my limits or something of that sort.
Trying to heal from surgery has been tough. I am resting, but not well at all. It is something I must change. Perhaps now that I'm aware and mindful changes will occur.

Jan said...

I appreciate you taking inventory of how you care for your temple! It does sound like you are doing a pretty good job. Good for you! One thought, as a single mom (I was too for many years), we have a tendency to push around on bald tires!...until we have a blow out then we slow down again and vow to do things differently. I think the fact that you just had surgery, combined with what the car guy said, there is a message there sweetheart (and I say this, oh, so lovingly). It is soooo impt for you to take good care of you—extreme self care—so you can heal, really heal.

I had a friend once who had a hysterectomy. They told her to lay low for 6 weeks, even no driving. She was a very high energy person, felt so good, that within a week she was at her daughter's basketball game. Within a day, she was back in the hospital. It took her much longer to recover because she didn't honor her body's time frame to heal. As we take good care of us, we are also, vicariously, caring for our children (make sense?).

So just be good to YOU! OK? Be Thich Nhat Hanh, "Go slowly, breathe, and smile."

Alright, I realize I have just taken on the role of your mother--that's me, forever the mom--so sorry about that. I do hold you dear. xo

debbie said...

Thank you for this. I started your meditation challenge a few weeks ago and it has helped me tremendously. Now your posts over here are helping me grow, too.... so thanks again! I struggle with body image, as many women do, so my focus this year has been STRENGTH. Trying to build a stronger body, stronger mind, and stronger focus on the present moment. The body part is the hardest for me since Ive dealt with eating issues for so long. I look forward to sharing this journey of reclaiming our bodies!

Jan said...

When I read your thoughts I was truly heartened because you are open and honest about your journey. Transparency is key, I believe, to embracing our truest selves. I appreciate your new intentions for yourself. Wonderful! Supporting you in thought, heart and prayer. :-)

So glad you were with us through the Challenge too. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

O Jan, I can't believe you had a head injury! So did I (almost 4 years ago with relapse last March). I'm still viewing my body as an ailing prison. I have a hard time accepting that I need to nurture and nurture and nurture. There's so much else I would like to do. I did some Tai Chi for a while but it does not satisfy me anymore. I'm hoping to start walking again as soon as the weather gets better. And I've asked God to bring me the perfect kind of exercise. We'll see what happens. Great post! Thanks!

Cheryl Wright said...

Movement Jan. Movement. When I was out of my bed at 4.30 am and out of the house at 5.40 and not back home until 7.00 pm and often later, exercise was a dirty word.

Just two weeks ago, I begin taking baby steps toward a healthier body. That, "Enough creaking, aching, and groaning already," is the perfect mantra to add to my new body-honoring, body-loving, body-caring practice.

How timely your retreat, post, decision and journey. How serendipitous (as usual) eh Jan.

We're taking those baby steps together and it is going to be a wonderful journey.

Laura said...

Hi Jan,
Wow, great post. Very timely for so many of us! I've been wanting to swim, hike, do mindful and slow yoga, roll down hills, things that don't feel like "shoulds".

Working on eating more at home, more veggies. They're so yummy, I get a bit lazy about fixing them.

I got your link to seeds of kindness. I really admire those metta beads! Beautiful. There are so many mindful artists...the world is changing perhaps?

Oh, there was a book about mindful eating on Amazon called Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time. It looked very useful.

May you be happy, may you be well. May we all.


Jan said...

It does take a long time to recover, doesn't it? And, as I understand it (and have experienced such an injury) more things can show up in time. Mine primarily affected my eyesight. It forced me to really slow down and look and listen deeply. To really honor my body signals right when they were happening, perhaps for the first time in my life. The journey with this injury delivers one deep into mindfulness. We must actually GO slowly, breathe, and smile. I am looking forward to swimming (pool) and walking when I get to Fl in 2 weeks. Those two forms do work well for me. Plus they are further exercises in mindfulness! May you continue to be gentle with yourself...

I am glad to hear that you are taking better care of you too! As we age, I am finding this to be more and more important. The body does not respond like it did when it was 20, so it is so impt to keep it strong and moving. Yes, we will journey through this one together too! May you continue to be well....

Jan said...

It sounds as if you have created some important new lifestyle elements for yourself. Great news! I know you like to walk and that, to me, is just the best too. We get to be out in nature (weather permitting, so much to see, learn from). There are a number of mindful eating books out there--I should review some--because I do believe that is the best way to maintain a healthy body weight. I have a friend who lost nearly 30 pounds just from eating mindfully! Love it...

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Jan, wow your body had some knocks, thank your for sharing and I admire how you cope with it.
I have a very healthy body and yet never liked it, too thin, too that, too this.
I am not religeous and never wanted to hear the word God, but I finally got over that. Then I realized, I did not make my temple, I got given it by God, one who only makes beautiful things.
I felt it was very disrespectful to judge it so badly. Since then I am really changed about my body, I love it as is, it works well and I look after it.
That persepctive really made a huge change.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. lovely to hear more of your story - I'll be following you on this too .. maybe a little behind, but I'll be there!

I eat fairly well .. a general diet - always fresh foods everyday and very very little processed food -

I used to play squash regularly - but now the years have gone by and I must, as you say, stretch and get back into movement.

I walk as much as I can - but not enough and I really have no excuse once Spring cometh ..

So thanks for the 'jogger'! You're brilliant bringing these thoughts and concepts out for us ..and helping us with our wellbeing, while coming from your own challenges and uses them as experiences. Thank you - Hilary

Kel said...

Jan, I can understand grieving the loss of yoga, as it offers so much more than a form of exercise. But how wonderful that for three months of the year you are able to walk and swim as you desire.

My main form of exercise is walking. It's free and it's also good for my dog :) Something Cindy said got my attention and I think instead of having a walking stick, I might make myself a 'fun stick' to take on walks. Actually, I think my dog would LOVE that :)

Jan said...

It sounds as if you have had a profound journey into your body and loving self-acceptance. Wonderful! May you continue to have a deep and appreciative relationship with it. :-)

Well, as you say, we can always improve upon what we are doing. As I walk in Florida I will take you with me along the shore, how's that?! I am afraid I am not a cold weather walker -- too icy here, too. So let's celebrate the spring with a renewed commitment to get out and be with Mother Nature and allow her to provide blessed balance.

Jan said...

Sounds great to have a walking stick, especially one you crafted yourself with all that artistic energy you have. I was just mentioning to my husband that one of the good things about having a dog is getting out and walking it - dog motivation! I hope your walks will continue to bring you joy.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. I'd sure post easy .. if I get a walk on a Florida beach ..but the weight might tip the scales!! No - it's not that bad .. gosh would love to be with you physically - but great that you'll have me popping into your thoughts occasionally .. those sandy beach walks .. mind you I have them here!! I will celebrate Spring with you and our (my) renewed committment to be out and about a lot more - getting that blessed balance right ... love the thought.

Carolynn said...

*sigh* I don't know why I resist exercise so much. I feel so good when I do it. This has been a subject of much curious wondering on my part of late. I would like to at least get out and walk for 20 minutes in the morning. I set the intention...I haven't made it out the door yet...

The acceptance of my body began several years ago when I accepted the fact that there would always be someone younger than me, prettier than me, thinner than me, smarter than me, richer than me...etc. It helped me to stop comparing myself to others & coming up short. I accepted myself AS IS.

I would like to lose a few pounds, but like you, it's because I want to feel healthier, and less constricted in my clothing. Looking nice would be a welcome cherry on top.

Thank you for sharing this. You are beautiful & wise.


(P.S. I'm looking forward to sharing my experience with Laura, soon...amazing!)

Carolynn said...

Reading over some of the comments, there is one more book I would like to mention. It's called "When the Body Says No" by Dr. Gabor Mate (there's an accent over the "e"). It's very informative and insightful.


Jan said...

I wonder is the English coastline walkable with sandy beach or is it rocky? Hmmmm....

Well glad I am not alone in the "struggle." It does sound as if you have powerful intentions for yourself. Maybe we can vow to keep those intentions together! The book recommendation sounds very good. Thank you for that. :-)

I concur that self-acceptance is so key. We must stop comparing ourselves. And also judging others by their "covers."

And I would love to hear more about your free session with Laura. Yes!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. how right you are .. here we have stones, some sand - but usually have to drive. In Cornwall it's lovely - there are sandy beaches and because the west is a peninsula .. if the weather is bad one side - it's better the other.

However we have the South Downs and I can walk 80 miles from here to Winchester - up and down the 7 Sisters, and up and down dale .. I'm not that strong a walker!!

There are coastal paths which we can enjoy all around Britain .. and we have the Cuckoo Trail - along the old railway line that was closed after the War - I think they're regretting those closures - the the trails are good for walkers, bikers etc ..

A long beach of sand in the warmth .. sounds rather lovely! From a cold and wet Eastbourne - farewell for now!! Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

I wish you well on your journey of the body this year, Jan. I have a feeling you'll accomplish what you set out to do.

For me, body-wise, I could use more help in loving myself through my choice of how I eat. What I eat is usually okay, but I let my body serve as an empty vessel that mirrors an old emptiness I felt as an adolescent. Therefore I often eat to fill an emotionally barren part of me. I'm getting better every day, yet the tendency is still there. I don't judge myself harshly for it, the way I once did, so I figure this year I'll just watch that old habit fade away on its own. After all, what we resist persists, so if I don't pay it any mind, I figure it will get tired of me and leave on its own. (smile)

My best to you, and lots of love! May the love you share with the world return to you multiplied!

Jan said...

My you are the walker! I would not be able to catch up with you. I am always happy to hear when areas of our countries are opened up to safe walking for people. Such a great form of exercise and it clears the mind, sets up an appreciation for nature--an all 'round body, mind, spirit form of connection. Blessings!

What powerful awarenesses you have about this issue. Your intention to move beyond all this is commendable and I sense you will continue to heal this "wound." Yes, making healthy food choices to give our body engine good fuel is a journey. I had a sign on my frig for many years that said, "Food is fuel." it really helped me make better choice.
Blessings to you as you journey onward! Love thyself. :-)

Sharon said...

Massage saved my body and has taught me how to take care of myself. I found a massage therapist 15 years ago when I couldn't turn my head and my right hip was in constant pain ~ all due to stress. My neck healed quickly but my hips took a while, and they sometimes still get out of alignment. I schedule a therapeutic massage once a month and stay intune with what my body needs with the help of a professional who knows me well, inside and out.

Oh, to be walking on a beach in March. Heaven! Jan, I will think of you as I plod along on my treadmill.

peggy said...

Hi Jan,

I also had to spend a year reclaiming my body, my temple. Post mastectomy, there was a lot my upper body could no longer do. All the yoga poses that came easy to me, cow-face pose, eagle, plank, down dog, cobra, - anything that required my left arm to rotate, bear weight, or just go up and took me nearly three years to be able to do chattarunga again. Six years later, there are still a few things either my mind or my body are resisting, but my practice is back in full :-)

I'm also taking care of my temple with Thai Kickboxing - very soon, I'll be a first degree black belt, so I'm really putting a lot of effort into training like a fighter so I can go the distance when it comes time to test in November.

Blessings to you - I hope your day is wonderful!