Embody (v): be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling)
We have a tendency, in the West at least, to live up in our heads and think of our bodies as something apart from our true selves. And perhaps in one sense they are, because we leave them behind when we die. But we ignore our physical selves at our peril.
Our bodies literally embody our lives.
Think of those older women you see on the streets with bitter, turned-down mouths and blank eyes. That didn’t happen overnight.
Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.
As with our faces, so with our bodies.
Now I know that some of us have physical problems of one sort or another, of varying degrees of severity. Some of have or have had eating disorders.
But the body is an amazingly responsive organism. It wants to be well. It wants to be strong. It wants to move. It wants to express who we are.
As we get older there’s a tendency to assume our bodies will break down. And eventually they will. But there’s a lot we can do to embody our lives, without going on some absurdly extreme fitness regime.
I don’t mean we should deny physical aging. As we get older it becomes obvious: we go through menopause, our skin becomes thinner and our muscles less smooth, less strong. As I get nearer my 60th birthday, I notice these things in myself. And of course we do become statistically more prone to disease the older we get.
But I think some of the physical aspects of aging are from expectation and habit, not reality. For example I noticed the other day that as I stood up from squatting to reach something on a low shelf, I grunted. I had an immediate flash-back to my mother, who used to do exactly the same thing. I realised I always do this, too. Why? I didn’t need to grunt, I’m pretty flexible. It was an odd moment of realisation that something had become an automatic habit.
To be at one with our bodies, to embody our lives, we don’t need to be physically perfect. (Just as well!) But we do need to look after our bodies.
We need to allow ourselves to enjoy our food, to listen to our bodies and trust them to tell us what we really want to eat and how much, whether it’s a green salad or a slice of chocolate cake.
We need to move our bodies in ways that delight us, whether it’s making love or walking or yoga. If you hate the very thought of going to a gym, take a dance class instead. Take long bike rides, hike into the country. Dig your garden in the sunshine. Just move.
Then you’ll be able to embody your inner delightfulness in your physical self.