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Body Image

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Meditation has always been my way of staying sane. It started in college in a class called "Dance as a Healing Art." I had to take that or Acting, and I am terrified of acting. The class was early in the morning twice a week in the dance studio in the basement of the building. We started each class with a 10 minutes meditation. I remember the first two weeks being excruciating. It was cold, I was sleepy and sitting still felt impossible. But after about two weeks it started getting better, and easier, and I began looking forward to it. Just 10 minutes at a time, twice a week and my mind was shifting. I thought clearer, I slept better, I didn't wake up in the middle of the night turning things over in my mind a hundred times, and during the day that obsessing pattern was absent as well. That semester I was taking 21 credits, I was in three shows and taking all of my upper level writing classes. I got a 4.0 for the first time in my life. The shift was so dramatic and obvious I became a strong believer in the power of meditation, and I still am.

Flash forward to today. My mind has been struggling again, yet I can't pinpoint with exactly what. Usually I go running back to meditation when I'm overwhelmed, anxious or desperate, but that's not what's going on today. As I browse through the various classes to take on the one's titled Fierce Strength to Face Challenges or Morning Meditation for a Tough Day aren't jumping out at me. In my relatively low-stress mental state I'm just looking for something to focus my mind on. Then I see Body Image Meditation and decide it's never a bad day to work on body image, especially as a dancer.

The meditation is a little unexpected. The instructor starts introducing body image not just about body shape or size, but about self-concept. As a whole, what does it mean to be you? She begins by asking me to visualize my optimal body scenario, whether it relates to size, shape, health or vitality. Then I'm supposed to walk through my day paying specific attention to how I feel going about my life in this optimal body scenario. While I do have some frustrations with my shape, that's not what jumps out at me today. As I go through my day in my optimal body, my visual is of my dancing and there are a few key elements. My splits in aerial look amazing and effortless. My leg extends up to my ear in contemporary class. I feel strong and capable, balanced and centered as I dance. And the primary thing that enables this is a freedom and lack of restriction and pain in my hips. This feeling is great! I feel the people around me in dance class notice me and they can clearly see how much training I've had. I feel accomplished. I feel like I can finally, legitimately, call myself a dancer because I am one of those people who when you see them move, it takes your breath away and you know they were born to be a dancer.

Then the meditation turns, and I am asked to now tune into my body as it is now, and to again go through my day. I go through a similar scenario of being in dance class. This time, I feel stiff and when I try to kick my leg up to my ear like before, it feels like it gets caught. Caught on other muscles that attach to my bones. They tug on each other haphazardly, sometimes they pull the bones out of place and I know I'll need to return to physical therapy soon to get it sorted out. Embedded in my left hip flexor, deep within the tissue, is a "bone island" that formed after surgery. It makes my leg fee heavy when I try to lift it, it prevents hip flexion when doing a grande plie in second, and at a dozen different points during class it sends my brain the signal "that doesn't feel right". Going through my day as me, the real me, as I am today, I feel self-conscious, apologetic and frustrated. As I dance across the floor in this scenario, I feel like a fraud, and like the people in the dance class are now wondering how I take myself seriously as a dancer when I'm clearly not that good. I feel disappointed.

My mind wanders away from the meditation with this powerful revelation that the gap between my ideal and my real will never be resolved. My body image conflict is centered around a functionality that my body wasn't built for. I begin to realize that I will remain tangled in this conflict until I change my perspective, until I set realistic expectations. But I don't have the answer right away, I need to let it sink in. I need to somehow erase this expectation I've been focused on my entire dancer life and create a new one, one that's realistic yet feels more similar to the ideal scenario.

And so beings the process of peeling back the layers.

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