When we think of the phrase, “If I were you,” it probably comes with a picture of a parent scolding a child. Something like: “If I were you, I’d get that room cleaned young lady.”
Or perhaps we think about a friend advising a friend: “If I were you, I’d leave that job tomorrow.”
I’ve certainly heard myself say it to my daughters: “If I were you, I’d take all the practice tests I could get my hands on.”
In these cases, when we consider the idea of “being someone else,” it is with an air of judgment and subtle condescension. It is with a belief that we know better than they do. It predicts dire consequences if the advice is not followed.
But the magical thing about language is that meanings can change when considered from a fresh angle, like this one that I often shared with my yoga students:
“Imagine that you have brought your best friend’s body to class today instead of your own. She now has yours. You did not exchange rules, you simply trust one another to intuitively take good care of each other’s bodies. As you move through your practice today wearing your friend’s body, notice where the aches and pains lie. Observe the areas of tension and tightness with compassion. Notice also where the body is inviting you to move further inward. Take that step on behalf of your friend’s body. Keep in mind that once class is over, you will be returning her body to her. She will slip it right back on. You will tell her how much you loved it, how well you cared for it, how beautiful you think it is. She will note how much more expansive and grounded it feels. She will be pleased by how freely her neck and shoulders now roll. She will thank you.
You will then slip back into your own body. For your body, she cooked a nutritious meal from scratch. With every chop and every dice, she thought about how this food would nourish your body. She ate the meal slowly, appreciating every single bite. She treated the act of eating like an act of celebration, for in fact there was something to celebrate: your amazing body.”
I offered this idea of “body switching” because I noticed a habit among my students – one I was all too familiar with in my own life. It was the tendency to be harder on ourselves than we would be on anyone else, to expect more from ourselves than we would from anyone else. When we wear our own body to yoga class or into our normal day, we complain about our “bad knee,” we push past our limits, we toy with injury, we grow frustrated with our limitations, we criticize the extra flesh around our hips or thighs.
But, when we imagine it is a friend’s body that must be returned, our approach changes. Respect for the body surges. Limits and edges are sought and honored. Mindful attention is sustained. Healing happens. “If I were you,” now means that if I had borrowed a body today, rather than keeping my own, I would treat it with extra kindness.
But aren’t we all, in effect, “borrowing” our bodies? They are not “ours” in any permanent sense. We do not own them, at least not from the perspective of our souls, which have likely worn (and perhaps worn out) countless bodies. At some point we all return our bodies – not to a friend, but to Mother Earth. Don’t we want to be able to say: “Here it is, thank you, I took good care of it?” That is not to say that Mother Earth is looking for it to be returned like new. Like a child’s mangy teddy bear stained with various flavors of juice, we should use our bodies well and love them thoroughly. Our scars, laugh lines and wrinkles are all signs that we have done so. I, for one, want to say to Her: “I know every scratch, stretch mark and birthmark of my body. I used its strengths. I respected its weaknesses. I learned how it likes to be touched, honored how it opened for love, understood how it spoke its desires for connection. I learned to give it what it needed most – my tenderness.”
Perhaps someday we will all treat our bodies as kindly as we would treat a friend’s body. But for now, what’s the harm in pretending? If we believe that we are all part of the multi-limbed Oneness, it’s not even entirely in our imagination.
If we live this way, then every day we can say:
- I will take that afternoon nap you need.
- I will sing that song you want to sing and dance the dance you wish to dance.
- I will voice your relationship needs and desires.
- I will choose colorful, fresh foods to nourish you.
- I will care for you.
- I will love you.
- I will cherish you.
For these are all things I would do, if I were you.