Is the Body a Tool for Good or Evil?

 strands of wet hair on a woman's bare shoulder

I use my body to punish myself.  I don't have to, but I do.

I do it because “it’s my own damn fault for not getting enough sleep” or because "I’m alone".  

I do it because “I deserve it” (…at first that thought is justified as a reward for all my hard work, but quickly becomes a vehicle of abusive).

I eat an entire bag of veggie chips (or two) because I’m too tired to do anything else while I watch 4 hours of a Netflix Docuseries.

The next morning, I refuse to eat.  I refuse to nourish myself until I go to the gym and run at least two miles on the elliptical machine (the treadmill is too hard on my joints.  

I would like to be able to punish myself by running-on-empty for years to come.  I can’t do that if I wear out my knees!)

Isn't the sodium overload for my kidneys punishment enough?  Won't the fibrous burden on my intestines be torture enough? Perhaps a cup of unsweetened yogurt, a large glass of water, and a long brisk walk would be saner?  

No. I must run.  

I must sweat, gasp, and get nauseous.  I must sacrifice something to the angry Goddess of Stretch-Marks and Muffin-Top and all of those other manufactured delusions that advertisers want me to fear and support by buying their products.

Just the same, the body can be used for good instead of evil.  

Inevitably, I will panic.  No matter how many miles I run.  The barbaric thoughts will come and I will try to power through those, too

Why? Why not sit? Why not listen?  Why not see the thoughts as the ghosts they really are?

My brain, caught in a barrage of thought and emotion, recruits my body.  The nervous system activates and I am now fleeing. I am now fighting. My body knows what to do.  I escape into the nearest bathroom. I click the lock on the door.

I’m hiding, but the thoughts are still here.  

I look in the mirror and remember I that I have prepared for this.  

The word comes to my lips and my reflection says to me: “Practice”.  

I have been here before and I have choices.  

I don’t remember this particular sentence, of course, but I remember that sensation is the key.  

The body holds the key to defuse an anxiety attack, and the body remembers everything.

I turn on the tap and run water over my hands.  I focus on the sensation of the warmth, the fluidity, the slick impermanence of the water.

A fatalistic thought comes (what if it’s for real this time?  What if I’m having an aneurysm?) and I feel it trickle through my outstretched palms; watch it swirl down the drain with the water and I notice another thought quickly replaces it.

I lift a finger to my carotid pulse and feel how my furious heartbeat slows a bit with my every exhale; quickens again with every inhale.  

I can count to four on my exhale and four on my inhale.  Then, I can count to four on my inhale and five on my exhale…four on my inhale…six in my exhale.  

I can do this for a while…for as long as I want.  (What if someone needs the bathroom? What if it’s an emergency?) Everything else can wait.  No rush.

Nothing is more important to the human body than breath and water.

I use my vision to notice color.  Color is easy. Pleasant.

There is no judgment in color.  All of it is good. Blue lettering on the "Wash Hands" sign.  I don't read the words. I see the vivid shade of turquoise. Then, I notice the pop of yellow tile.  The contrasting dark hue of the caulking between each tile.

Twenty minutes later, I leave the gym quick enough so no one sees my puffy eyes and runny nose.  I thank The Powers That Be that no one asks if I'm okay.

It would not be the end of the world if someone did, but it feels like a blessing.   

I mean, how does one explain mental illness to a casual bystander?  

Why would I even bother to try?

I can only go home to lick my wounds.

When I get there, I make sure to stretch my body.  

As I do, I consciously thank it for running.  I thank it for tasting food and hugging friends and sleeping deeply and digesting (even under duress) and for being a fine vehicle with which to explore the world around me.  

The body is a formidable weapon, but an even greater tool.


Michelle is a writer, dancer, and anatomy geek experiencing the normal amount of self-deprecation, anxiety, and despair for a generally-disordered human-being.  She currently lives in Minneapolis with her roommate from Mexico and a dove named Ike.  You can find more writing from her at www.medium.com/@wtwistyoga and wtwistyoga.tumblr.com.