Presented April 2, 2023 Rev. Fiona Heath

When it comes to physical well-being I think all of us can recite the mantra of health:
eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly,
limit alcohol and tobacco and other drug use and get plenty of rest.
Some people do all this and more.

While I know all this to be good for you, as someone who will always choose cheese and bread for dinner and has a treadmill gathering dust,
I am not one of those people. While I wish I loved the idea of a long run, I’d rather read a book.

So I am grateful that physical well-being means more than running ten kilometres a day!

Not that these things aren’t exactly what helps bodies to stay healthy,
but physical wellness – as we speak about it today as part of our healing and growing focus –
physical wellness isn’t just about caring for our body through good food and exercise,
it is also about accepting, loving and trusting our bodies.

Women in particular often have a hard time appreciating our bodies as they are,
as female bodies are highly objectified in this society, and we are bombarded by media offering unreal images.
It can be hard to appreciate our own particular shape and size.

Learning to love our bodies and all their gifts can be the work of a lifetime, trying to undo all the “shoulds” around appearance.
With the rise of social media, young men experience this now as well.

That struggle to accept and appreciate our bodies as they are can also make it harder for us to listen to our bodies,
to trust our physical sensation.

When we trust our bodies, our choices become informed and guided by how the body receives the choice, not just by our mental response.

In my twenties I said yes to a job when I desperately needed paid work, despite the sick feeling in my stomach when I did so.
My stomach was right. It was a terrible workplace, run by a workaholic, I had to eat lunch at my desk every day and never take a break. I was given little direction and was told off when things went wrong.

There have been many times like this over the years where I ignored my physical response to a situation and kept going. And most of the time my body was right. Other times, I’d make a decision and it would just feel right, my body relaxing into the choice.

Can you remember a time when your body told you when a choice was the right one or the wrong one? Trusting your body includes listening to your instinct, but it also means more than that.

Each of us differ in how much importance we place on bodily sensations – from hunger and fatigue to anger and joy. Some might dismiss or suppress sensations, talk ourselves out of a strong feeling, or simply place more importance on reason or ethics than on feeling.

Each of us has to discern how important body trust – or interoception – is to how we live. How much value to be place on being able to sense our body’s signals.

Pain can overwhelm us, and so there are pain sensations that we do want to suppress so we can live.
Living with pain doesn’t preclude us from accepting and loving our bodies.

Indeed, being attuned to our pain can help us understand what is happening in our bodies. I had a friend who had a long time managed stomach condition, she knew that a new pain was different, and she advocated with her doctors to figure it out. It was cancer.

Our physical wellness is entangled with our emotional and mental wellness. There is research suggesting that people with low body trust are often those who have experienced trauma – the body keeps the score as the book says.

Traumatic experiences can leave brains and bodies in permanent stress mode, the nervous system on constant overload. For people who live with great trauma there are doctors and therapists who can help people back into a trusting calm relationship with their bodies.

Part of this is learning to manage distressing feelings, sitting with them until they dissolve, instead of shoving them down into permanent storage.

Toddlers are actually onto something when they have tantrums, overwhelmed by feelings, they are expressing them into the world, releasing all the distress. It may not be fun for the parents, but it helps little ones move emotion out of their body.

Managing emotions without meltdowns as an adult is, of course, a good thing, as long as we are actually processing and releasing the stress,
not just shoving it away.

I watched a movie recently where a character was calm and patient and non-reactive through a long work day where he was often put down and disrespected. He came home, opened a bottle of beer, and screamed. This is effective, but there are other options!

Body trust is about learning to notice the various sensations your body experiences over a day – the beating heart of a work out, the relaxing muscles when cuddling a pet – it’s being aware of what is happening with in your body.

As awareness increases you can begin to distinguish between sensation and emotion state. Our physical sensations are not the same as our emotional responses and seeing the difference can help stop the scream.

Better interoception – body trust – is a helpful skill for all of us.

American poet Audre Lorde says that when we live outside ourselves,
listening to external directives rather than our internal knowledge and needs,
we end up conforming to the needs of society rather then being our true selves.

Trusting ourselves, doing what feels right to us, is how we live well, how we live authentically.

Lorde says “once we begin to feel deeply in all the aspects of our lives,
we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they …bring joy and pleasure.”

Physical well-being is ultimately about experiencing joy and pleasure in our bodies just as they are, feeling alive,
feeling engaged in the world.

(Adapted from How to Trust Your Body by Saga Briggs)


While philosophers have said “I think, therefore I am.”, it is equally true to say “I feel, therefore I am.” We feel our way through the world, with our bodies needing touch and sensation and love and acceptance.

Religion used to be more embodied, in many cultures religious rites are full-bodied experiences with dances and singing and kneeling and breaking bread. The early Hebrew psalms were meant to be sung.

Our protestant ancestors were a little uptight, to say the least, and stripped religion down to theology and ethics and the life of the mind.
A Victorian legacy of distrusting the body and strong emotions.

For many years Unitarians and Universalists rejected the feeling side of religion.

There is an old joke that a Unitarian dies and before him are two signs – one pointing to heaven and one pointing to a discussion about heaven. You know he chooses the discussion!

Unitarian Universalism today is moving towards a theology of wholeness, of celebrating people in the fullness of their lives – mind, spirit and body. We have more rituals now, like the maple syrup communion last week, more movement and laughter yoga, more interaction and sharing, more honesty about our embodied selves.

We still have discussions of issues that matter, but we have so much more.

As people of the chalice we also celebrate that we are flesh, flesh that needs feeding, needs tending and cleaning and caring. We are flesh that loves and laughs and dances. We need touch, we need to be physically engaged with the world.

Yoga teacher Matthew Sanford notes that when his six year old is crying, he needs a hug. It’s not just that the child needs to feel loved, he needs to feel the boundary of his body, to know that his pain is contained and can be held. Hugs bring people into their bodies.

Sanford teaches adaptive yoga practices. He has been in a wheelchair since his teen years after a terrible accident left him a paraplegic.
He says yoga helped him re-claim his unmoving legs, the wholeness of his body.

He says he’s never known anyone to become more at home in their body, more loving and accepting and present,
without becoming more compassionate in general. (from Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, p.68)
Physical wellness is just this – loving and accepting our bodies as they are, full of flaws and beauty, able to suffer but also to feel great joy.

Mary Oliver says it best in her famous poem Wild Geese:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wellness in all its forms is about feeling alive, living our life in a way that we feel it in all of our senses – hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting; letting our soft animal bodies love what they love. Knowing that we have a place in the family of things, that we belong to this earth.

Each of us has activities that bring us joy and pleasure –
that might be yoga, a walk in the woods,
or the high of long distance running,
or sex or dancing or playing hockey or swimming.

Whatever brings your body joy, go and do it this week.

Let your body love what it loves.
Love your body as it is.
You belong just as you are.

We have beautiful soft animal bodies.
Let us cherish them.


So Say We All.


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