“We’ve come to rely on shaming and blaming ourselves into meeting some standard of healthy, fit and beautiful” with Fotis Georgiadis & Jill Pagano

With such low approval numbers, we simply can’t ignore that something profound is going on between ourselves and our expectations around our body. I break the answer down into two categories: the cause is a combination of “ourselves” and “everything else.” When it comes to ourselves, our struggle is often grown from what’s going on […]

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With such low approval numbers, we simply can’t ignore that something profound is going on between ourselves and our expectations around our body. I break the answer down into two categories: the cause is a combination of “ourselves” and “everything else.” When it comes to ourselves, our struggle is often grown from what’s going on inside of us — mostly between our ears — our critical language and our perfectionistic expectations. We’ve come to rely on shaming and blaming ourselves into meeting some standard of healthy, fit and beautiful. We’ve become quite addicted to comparing ourselves to others and comparing ourselves to some kind of fairy-tale standard of perfection.

As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Jill Pagano. Jill is a speaker, author and well-being visionary who shares how living with our body can be delightfully sweet. For over twenty-five years she has been an ambassador for the human body by influencing countless individuals to improve their well-being with her out-of-the-box philosophy. In her provocative debut book, Getting Happy with Your Body, Jill teaches others how to become healthy and happy in their bodies by “exercising” what goes on between their ears and in their hearts. She is the creator of The Happy Body Habit™, an innovative corporatewell-being program that daringly asserts it’s time to go beyond weight loss, exercise and health assessments as our only solutions to better health and wellness.

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

First, let me say thank you for interviewing me and allowing me to share what I’ve learned and what I love with your readers.

My childhood nickname was “Shaky-Jake” — the one who couldn’t stop moving. I loved to wiggle and dance from the time I was a toddler. In high school I would dance around in my makeshift dance-exercise “studio” in the basement of our home. When I went off to college, I danced with the university’s dance theater while pursuing the more traditional study of communication and business. In my twenties, I danced between the distinct worlds of my marketing nine-to-five day job and teaching dance fitness classes at night. Within a few years, I left marketing and pursued fitness full-time with my own personal training business, eventually specializing in post-rehab clientele.

From there, I had an auspicious encounter that helped me transition away from pure, traditional fitness. I began to study Somatics, which is broadly defined as physical movement studies, emphasizing internal perception, awareness and experience. For the last two decades, I’ve been learning about myself through inquiry, awareness and movement.

Now I passionately share with people how to have a more compassionate and loving approach with their body to be healthier and happier in their body and their life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

I just finished publishing my first book, Getting Happy with Your Body, as a way to start a new conversation and a new approach to ending the battle many have with their bodies.

My intent is to help people shift their mindset from their body being a nuisance or disappointment. Instead, I want to encourage people to see how they are in a relationship with their body and that they can, in fact, create a rewarding, healthy and happy relationship between themselves and their body.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

In the early stage of my career as a fitness professional, I took on the warrior archetype. I wore my body like a badge of fitness perfection, thinking because I was fit, I must certainly be healthy, too. I was teaching tons of exercise classes, training lots of clients and playing hard on the weekends. I told my body what I wanted it to do and what it would have to endure for me. I was quite the bully. And my body did what it was told, until it just couldn’t anymore.

Even though my body was asking me to slow down for months, maybe years (let’s see… Epstein Barr, Shingles and a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), I wasn’t listening. Truth be told, I didn’t even know how to listen. My communication with my body was one-direction, with every command coming from me. I never took the time to understand how to be receptive to my body or how to listen to what it needed or desired. Even though I was a professional fitness instructor at the height of my career with a body to show for it, I had no idea how to care for my body and no idea it was breaking down because of what I was putting it through.

I thought all this illness and injury was, well, normal.

As luck or destiny would have it, I attended a well-regarded trade convention for fitness professionals. I signed up for the scheduled morning workout session, which was held in a large, bland hotel conference room. Guts and Grace was the title of the session. Sounded interesting. The first thing I noticed was lyrical and relaxing music. It wasn’t the loud, beat-driven music I was using in my group classes. The two teachers both dressed colorfully, unlike my traditional black, and adorned themselves with silver bangle bracelets. And shocking to me, they were barefoot!

They invited all of us to take off our shoes. What?? Keep in mind, this was the mid-90’s, during high-impact, dance aerobic days, and nearly a decade prior to Pilates and yoga hitting the mainstream market. As class began, the teachers invited us to sense our bodies. They also encouraged us to dance expressively. When it came time to do floor work, they called it floor play. Throughout class, they repeatedly encouraged us to find the joy in our movement and our body.

Joy? Sense my body? Express myself? Play? I was accustomed to exercising hard in order to sweat, burn calories, and get stronger. I liked doing that but never considered exercise to be joyful.

To my biggest surprise, this hour-long class experience flipped a switch deep inside me. It woke the sleeping giant. I felt my body move a new way, a way I hadn’t felt since being a playful child. I can only describe the experience akin to returning home. And once I felt that connection, I wanted more.

Little did I know the profound impact that one class would have on my career and my life. That one class was my tipping point and was my trajectory for studying a new way to learn from, live in and love my body.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

With such low approval numbers, we simply can’t ignore that something profound is going on between ourselves and our expectations around our body. I break the answer down into two categories: the cause is a combination of “ourselves” and “everything else.” When it comes to ourselves, our struggle is often grown from what’s going on inside of us — mostly between our ears — our critical language and our perfectionistic expectations. We’ve come to rely on shaming and blaming ourselves into meeting some standard of healthy, fit and beautiful. We’ve become quite addicted to comparing ourselves to others and comparing ourselves to some kind of fairy-tale standard of perfection.

At the same time, our country’s multi-billion dollar, advertisement-laden diet and fitness industry relentlessly promises and promotes quick, easy, inexpensive and painless “fixes” for every dissatisfaction we have with our bodies. Take this pill, join this club, get this surgery, and start this diet — and we will all finally be happy, bubbly, super-fit, radiant, and surrounded by people who love us (with perfect skin, no less!).

What’s the consequence? A range of emotions, whether it be dissatisfaction, shame, or judgement, which creates a gap between compassionately loving ourselves and our body.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

Because I’m an ambassador for the human body I’m going to add “your body” to this question and ask: Why is it truly important to understand your body and to love your body? I ask clients to imagine what they might feel like if they loved their body. Words like peaceful, awesome, relaxed, confident, comfortable in my skin and happy come up. Isn’t the possibility of feeling all those yummy feelings reason enough?

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

The answer comes down to a four-letter word: WITH. The reason we have mediocre relationships (with our body or another person) is we’ve forgotten how to be with them. We’ve forgotten how to place our attention on them, how to listen to them, and how to choose in favor of the relationship to help it nurture and grow. Instead, we are dissatisfied with it, fight it, or completely ignore it. Not much of a satisfying relationship, huh?

When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Asking questions is valuable if we can truly be curious. Oftentimes when we ask questions, we ask them by being critical of ourselves. “Why am I so stupid about this”? “Why aren’t I good at…”? Because asking critical questions can be a tendency, I really encourage becoming curious and then going into “noticing”: ask a question and then simply notice. Noticing is observing ourselves with keen and non-judgmental awareness: “When I ask myself this question, how am I thinking, feeling and acting”? Noticing can reveal the answers. Being mindfully aware of ourselves allows us to wake up and see how our thinking or behavior is creating undesirable outcomes. Then we can ask ourselves the tough questions and respond with curiosity instead of condemnation.

As for making changes within ourselves, change equals choice. Whether it be a big step or a small, simple, maneuver. Never underestimate the ripple effect of small, simple maneuvers! Recognizing that change is constant, especially in my body, inspires me to gets comfortable and curious with how my choices create new outcomes.

Two years ago, I had a lower back injury. An area of my spine that once was a subtle nuisance all of a sudden became debilitating. I had never experienced such pain with just the slightest movement. I can still remember being in bed, and how even the weight of the bed sheet was painful. Very scary! Thankfully, over time, my body healed. Throughout my recovery, I constantly relied on the process of being with my body to check in and sense what helped it feel better. Two healthy years later, I still check in regularly with my spine. I recently noticed that sitting in my comfy sofa irritated my spine. If I laid on the floor to watch TV, my back felt great. But if I reclined on the sofa, the previously-injured area of my spine would become sore. So now I enjoy lying on the floor or limiting the amount of time I’m on the sofa. This small change and choice keeps my body happy and keeps me feeling pain-free.

Nothing earth shattering, right?

But what if I didn’t make a change? What if I kept choosing the sofa even though it made my back feel sore? What if I simply went along, without changing, thinking I didn’t have any other choices? How often do we put ourselves in positions of suffering (physically, mentally, and emotionally), because we fail to make another choice?

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

From my perspective, the value of being alone goes one step further and asks “what’s the value of being alone and with our body?” I can understand how that may seem like an odd statement. We are with our body each and every day, but so often we are completely distracted from it. We are using our mind to think about what we need to do, or what just happened. We are subtly or intensely feeling our emotions. But how often do we spend time just being with our physical body? Moving it and sensing what that movement feels like. Going for a walk and sensing the swing of our legs. Sitting in the sun and sensing the warmth on our face. The value of being in our body, just us and our body, is we live more fully in the present moment. We experience not the past, not the future, but the beauty of right now. Life as a human being is best experienced in the richness of the current moment.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

To be hyper-critical is to be out of alignment with love. We can see this with people who hate, abuse and constantly criticize their body. Their treatment of their body is a deeper reflection of how they feel about themselves. Their diminished capacity to love themselves ends up influencing and dominating their relationships. In one way, this happens with our friends and family; in another way, with the relationship we have with our body. A certain level of self-understanding and self-love then begins as fuel for us to deepen our connection with others, even if that “other” is our body.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

For me, the first step to accepting myself is compassionate understanding. I can accept myself when I understand why I do what I do. This works for accepting our bodies, too.

Often we don’t accept our body because someone made us feel like we weren’t worthy. Or lovable. The most impressionable experiences of our life can continually play out like a running, looped tape, influencing the decisions we make about our body without us even realizing it.

The good news is we can begin a new story, today.

In order to do that, I recommend writing your body’s biography to better understand how life events helped create the stories you retell yourself that keep you from accepting yourself.

To create your body’s biography, write about experiences that still stick out in your mind that somehow influenced you or brought attention to your body during certain stages of your life. Journey from your childhood to adulthood, asking yourself what event or person influenced your feelings about your body. What experiences or people, positive or negative, left an impression on you?

For example, when I was in high school, one hot summer day my father and a buddy of his were sitting on the deck visiting. I came into the house in my swimsuit after sunbathing. My father’s friend commented on how I was “looking real good” in my bikini. It may have been harmless, but I still remember feeling very uncomfortable and somehow…undressed. His attention (at his age) felt creepy. This was my early introduction to feeling vulnerable based on what I wore.

After you excavate and compile these stories of influence, you can then connect the dots and see if these stories from your past help you understand and accept yourself today.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

I like to share my Be with Your Body Practice. It’s a profoundly simple, three-step practice that helps us get to know and develop a relationship with our body. The steps are similar to how we develop other relationships in our life, whether that be a friend, lover or colleague. First we meet them, then we begin to get to know them by listening, and then we develop an ongoing relationship by choosing to be with them.

Step One: Meet your Body — Place your attention on your body

When you meet your body, you place your attention directly on it. Think of it like meeting someone for the first time. You take your attention away from whatever you are doing and direct it towards the person you are meeting. When you are building a relationship with your body, you’ll place that attention on your body. The outcome of meeting your body is you’ll end up noticing. You’ll notice what you see, hear, and how your body feels.

Step Two: Listen to your body — Physically sense your body

Listening to your body is the act of receiving the physical messages your body is sending you. When you listen to your body you are sensing your body. Often, we say we feel cold when actually we are physically sensing coldness. We listen to our body in order to gain information it is sharing with us. When we listen to our body by sensing, we can better understand what our body needs or desires.

Step Three: Choose your body — Create your next moment

To choose is to recognize your options and pick one. The act of choosing is what you do until you choose again, ideally consciously. When you choose to invest your time and energy with those you love in your life, those relationships grow deeper and more meaningful. And so it also goes between you and your body. After you meet and listen to your body, you then get to choose what to do next, in favor of your body. So now instead of thinking, “I should run three miles,” you can actually meet, listen and make an informed choice as you are running. This helps you align with your body and can keep you and your body happier.

I encourage you to spend some time with each step and play with that particular practice. Heed the word practice. All three steps get easier with practice. You’ll find you can meet your body the more often you do so. Listening to your body may seem relatively new, but trust you have been doing it all your life (like each time you run to the bathroom, or feel a hunger pang). As far as choosing goes, research shows we make up to 35,000 choices a day! The difference here is I’m asking you to consider choosing for your body. What would make your body feel better? The powerful part of the Be with your Body Practice is you are now doing each and all of these steps with consciousness while including your body in your life.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Well, I’d be remiss not to mention my recently published debut book, Getting Happy with Your Body: How to Live in, Learn from and Love your Body Once and for All. It’s 25 years of my stories, learnings and experiences and I feel humbled and excited to share it with others.

My Most Amazing Experiences:

Gil Hedley’s Hands-On Human Dissection course: I spent six days learning from Gil (with a group of 40 others) as we dissected human forms and learned about the human inner space. The experience is out of this world and Gil presents it with the perfect balance of philosophy, science and spirituality.

The Nia Technique’s White Belt Training: If you love dance and music and want to learn how to listen to your body, the Nia White Belt Training is a profound place to start. Being on the Nia Faculty, I taught the six-day training for five years, but taking the training in 1996 changed the course of my life.

Provocative Books I Enjoy:

Unravelling — Letting Go, Getting Well by Philip Greenfield. One of my favorite books. Phil’s writing and insights are unique and fresh.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. A groundbreaking book on understanding trauma and how the body helps us heal. Well-researched and compassionate.

Cutting Edge and Compassionate Self-Care:

The MELT Method, created by Sue Hitzmann. Sue has created a simple, self-care tool that anyone can do in a few minutes a day. I’ve been MELTing several times a week for nearly 6 years. It helps my body feel better every single time.

Wake Your Body Up Video Serieswith Gary Ward. A brilliant series of videos by Finding Centre and author Gary Ward. To me, Gary is the Mr. Rogers of movement mechanics. He encourages you, inspires you and educates you in a straightforward, compassionate way. Oh, and he’s easy on the eyes and has a London accent, so bonus points!

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee: British TV Series/Podcast/Books. I can’t get enough of Dr. Chatterjee. I love the accent. I love his compassionate and well-balanced approach. He’s the Dr. Oz of the UK, with a European swagger.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

I feel I’m here to encourage and inspire people to learn about themselves and their body in a more inviting, compassionate and unique way than is currently popular. I’m not here to tell people what they need to do to be healthy (eat more vegies, drink more water) or happy (be more grateful, get off your smart phone).

My biggest mission (and challenge!) is to encourage people away from thinking someone else knows best for them and to instead guide them into discovering and deciding for themselves. I do this by helping them become more present. The body is my vehicle because the body lives in the present moment. Our body provides us with a rich and authentic relationship to ourselves — to a deeper sense of knowing — versus an untrustworthy mind that can pursue relentless thinking and analyzing.

I’m on a mission to have us live in our body so we can live happier and at peace with right now. And the body is my teacher, my expert and my muse.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

My favorite right now is “I stand in awe of my body…” by American essayist, poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. This short phrase gives me pause. The words invite me to learn more about my body, continually. Studying the body has been compared to an astronaut studying space: timeless, endless, vast and unknowing. The human body — with all its simplicities, complexities, and mysteries — is a universe unto itself. And I am continually in awe!

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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