reminders your body is incredible

Photo: Henry Leutwyler

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Welcome to Your Body
So many of us have never fully settled into our body. We inhabit it as an afterthought, the way we might live in a rented room. And the accommodations are rarely up to our standards: At 13, we wonder whether we'll ever grow breasts; at 30, we lament our swimsuited lumpiness; at 50, we look at pictures of ourselves at 30 and can't believe we ever had it so good.

With all the drama surrounding the way our body looks, we too rarely think of the things it does. Or, for that matter, all the things it is. Our body is the protagonist of our most momentous stories—it lies with our lovers, births our babies, walks us forward into each day. It's the physical manifestation of our emotions. It's also a philanthropist, giving endlessly to meet needs we don't even realize we have. On a hot afternoon, your finely calibrated thermoregulatory system produces sweat to keep you from overheating. As you drink and eat, saliva helps protect your tooth enamel by bathing it in calcium and other minerals. When your bladder is almost full, receptors in its wall send messages to the spinal cord, setting off a chain of signals that will eventually prompt you to take a bathroom break. Every day a host of benevolent mysteries is happening inside you.

And there's good reason for you to ponder them: Being more in tune with your body can help you feel better about it. In one study published last year, researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, asked female subjects to silently count their heartbeats without feeling their pulse. The ones who judged more accurately—who had more "interoceptive awareness," or a sense of their own physiology—were less likely to think of their body as a mere object and more likely to judge it based on competence than appearance. According to some researchers, women who "self-objectify," who see their physical being only as something to look at and evaluate, are more prone to depression, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction.

In the spirit of appreciation, we're exploring the glories and challenges of life in a body and celebrating the amazing feats of which our mortal flesh is capable—to name a few: defying gravity, sensing danger, telling stories and carrying around our souls. So read on. And next time you're about to tell yourself how big your butt looks in those pants, try listening to your heart instead.