I studied tai chi privately for several years with an instructor whose pet peeve was when students would roll their eyes at themselves when they made a mistake doing the tai chi form. Evidently lots of students were prone to this, me included.
She used to say that the judgment was a waste of energy and not helping at all. In fact, she said you could cut your problems by 50% if you just stopped passing judgment on yourself. You could just go about practicing and correcting your tai chi as needed, leaving the judgment out altogether.
Judgment didn’t actually help you perform better.
And really this is a very tai chi idea since tai chi is all about the most efficient use of energy, whether in your posture or defending yourself against an attacker. Tension and effort that don’t serve a purpose are simply a waste of your limited life force.
Apply tai chi principles to your health.
I have noticed a similar phenomenon in my acupuncture practice. People may not literally roll their eyes (although sometimes they do) at their bodies when they have a health challenge.
But people often judge their bodies as having failed when they get sick, experience pain, or even age.
And it isn’t hard to see why folks might do this. It is unpleasant to be unwell, and we tend to judge things we don’t like to experience. It can certainly be extremely frustrating to want to participate in life a certain way, but your body won’t seem to cooperate.
Add to that the emphasis our society is increasingly putting on wellness, as if illness is a sort of moral failure. You got sick? You must have done something wrong. You must not have meditated enough or juiced enough or avoided gluten or done enough yoga/cardio/pilates/bootcamp/crossfit, etc.
Or the really toxic New Age-y version: you must be sick because you have unresolved subconscious negativity. Stop thinking those thoughts and you’d get better.
So, just to be clear, getting sick and experiencing pain (and getting older) are all inevitable parts of the human experience. Full stop.
To quote an acupuncture mentor of mine, “Sometimes these things happen.” That’s all.
Bodies get old. All bodies will ultimately die. That’s just the nature of being on the planet. You haven’t done anything wrong. There has been no moral failure.
Holding yourself and your body accountable for an unrealistic standard (never getting sick) is both a waste of energy and an additional problem you have stacked on top of the health issue.
In fact, sometimes in my office the judgment about the health issue can be a bigger problem than the health issue itself. Sometimes it delays people from taking the steps necessary to care for themselves since they have a belief their body shouldn’t require that care.
I shouldn’t be sick or in pain so I’m not going to address the problem.
Better to spend that energy accessing care and resources to help you feel better. Dawdling in judgment just delays healing or relief.
The balancing act.
But wait a minute! Shouldn’t I take responsibility for my health?
I mean, cardio/pilates/meditation/yoga/herbal teas/nutrition really do help your health, right? Don’t I bear some responsibility for taking care of myself?
I am not suggesting that accepting illness as a part of the human experience means you are obligated to throw up your hands and give up on self-care. Accepting the reality that sometimes the body gets sick doesn’t mean you should not access the resources you have to give your body the best chance of thriving and feeling good.
However, taking care of your health doesn’t mean you will fully escape illness, injury, discomfort, or aging. (This is especially true since there are factors beyond your control that play into health, including genetics, environment, and socio-economic status.)
So you can take responsibility for taking care of yourself in a committed way, but you can’t realistically take responsibility for every single health event you ever have.
And making conscious decisions about how to care for yourself during illness can happen very efficiently if you leave the judgment at the door. The judgment is an optional extra, and I don’t recommend it.
What you can do instead.
What you can start with is an acceptance of reality. The body is a temporary thing. It doesn’t last forever, and it sometimes gets sick.
You can argue with this reality and suffer a lot. Or, you can practice acceptance that this sometimes happens and your body hasn’t failed or betrayed you.
It’s just a body being a body.
Instead of judgment, you can simply acknowledge what is with a simple phrase. “Right now, it’s like this.”
Or, my tai chi teacher was a big fan of the phrase, “That’s interesting.” Instead of judging, you can get curious about how your body feels, even if it is uncomfortable.
Then you will not only have avoided the extra stress of judgment, you will have some information about what is happening in your body that will help you take appropriate steps to care for it.
You can just get on with evaluating and applying any available solutions. No wasted time and energy shaking your fist at your body.
Now this doesn’t mean that when you are sick or injured you necessarily won’t feel sad or scared. Being ill is usually no picnic. That can definitely be part of the reality you may have to acknowledge.
However, you can let yourself off the hook. Your body isn’t supposed to be immortal or never get sick.
Cut out the middle step of judgment, save the energy you would have spent shaking your fist or rolling your eyes at your body, and get about taking care of yourself (or correcting your tai chi form).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t need additional and optional problems. Dumping half of them feels like a relief.