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  • Writer's pictureChristine Petrides

Your Body is not a Machine to be fixed but a Garden to be Tended to.

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

This blog was inspired by an Instagram post that I made that said:

Your body is not a machine to be fixed, but a garden to be tended to”

It was well received, which I found to be positive, but I feel like we still have a long way to go. I think we all like the idea of the body being a garden, but when push comes to shove and we are in pain, how many of us actually reassure ourselves that nothing is broken and that we just need to think about what variables are at play? I would say that most of us probably jump to conclusions, fearful that something is damaged and worried about the implications of that damage.

Now, I am not using this as a way to say that we all suck and the we need to toughen up, but that our underlying understanding of our own bodies and they way they work is misinformed. We are misinformed by media, the medical system, our schools, our friends, and our family.

Language and metaphors, whether we realise it or not, are integral to the way humans learn about and understand the world. Language frames the way that we look at things, the way we conceptualise things and a big part of the way that we transfer information. But language, most importantly, is the way we connect. It’s how we share ideas, learn about each other, and how we make contact with those around us.

Since language is something that we learn from the beginning of life, we tend not to think much about it’s construction and purpose. Inherently we understand why we need it and we use it mostly according to how we learn it. I would also like to add, that in this blog I am specifically referring to verbal language as this is what I know. I have read, however, that sign language is rich in metaphor as well, so one could assume that these concepts would also apply to non-verbal language, just perhaps not in the same way.

Sometimes however, words cannot describe what it is that we feel, see, touch, or hear. Language is like code, something we have agreed upon, to convey what we experience. It is however, quite difficult to truly know what it is that another person is experiencing and this is where things can get quite tricky. We have to use things like metaphors, analogies, similes, and other conceptual frameworks in order to transfer that experience into words. Of course there are other ways to express ourselves other than just words, however, here I am focusing on verbal communication. Without getting too technical, I would like to touch briefly on these terms mentioned above, because I think they are terms we often confuse and tend to take for granted.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary:

An analogy is a comparison of two otherwise unlike things based on resemblance of a particular aspect, whereas both metaphor and similes are types of analogies. A metaphor is when a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them: “The body is a garden”. A simile, is comparing two unlike thing that is often introduced as like or as: “The body is like a garden”.

Although analogies can be a great way for us to verbally express subjective experiences, like love or pain, when we liken one thing to another, we influence how it could be understood. What someone actually understands will vary based on their individual experience and prior knowledge. And although analogies are a very useful way to convey complex information in a quick and memorable way. We need to be careful, especially in health-care what kinds of messages we send and concepts that we are trying to convey because, as soon as we try choose to convey information in one way over another (for example, with one metaphor instead of another) we have influenced that way that the concept could potentially be understood.

Alternatively analogies also give us insight into the way one understands a concept of relates to a concept. So in healthcare, I believe it really important for us to have a better understanding of why the words we are so important and should be asking ourselves the following questions before we flippantly use some analogy because it’s easier for us. We should be asking ourselves: do these words arrangements, truly describe what one is feeling? Are they accurate? Do they do the sensation justice? And more importantly, do they do harm?

The body as a machine is a BAD metaphor for the body. ⠀

Here's why:⠀

❌ It implies that your body breaks down and is then just broken⠀

❌It implies that you won't be able to do much about it, but need a specialist to fix/repair it⠀

❌It disembodies and disempowers you from your body⠀

The body is not an inanimate object apart from us. We are our body and our body is us. Our mind and body are not separate. We are not living in our heads and the body just exists along side it. Our body AND brain are sense making systems working together to explore and understand the world around us. We use our body to interact with the world and continue to build our relationship with the world around us. The way we think about and use our bodies reflects how our bodies show up in the world. When we compare our bodies to inanimate object like machines, we encourage dualism, the idea that our mind and body are separate. We suggest that the body functions as an object, that it starts out intact and simply wears down as time goes on, like a car tire, or an engine. When we make a comparison like this we are conveying information inaccurately and putting a powerful picture in the mind about how the body operates. We imply that there is no regeneration, repair, or resilience within our system. What do you think happens if we feel that there is something broken, rattling, or in the process of breaking in our bodies? If it were you, do you think that creates a feeling of safety in you? The metaphor of body as machine is not only inaccurate, but also potentially very dangerous, if you live with pain and have been told this about your own body.

The body as a GARDEN is a much better metaphor!

Here's why:⠀

✔️ Your body can and does repair itself (discs heal, bones heal, muscles recover)⠀

✔️ Your body needs tending to in order to thrive (like water, exercise, and rest) ⠀

✔️ Sometimes there is nothing "wrong" with your body at all, you just need the right set of conditions (maybe your body is just too tired and overworked; some rest can help change your symptoms)

Using the body as a garden metaphor is way more ACCURATE. I love using the garden metaphor because it much better encapsulates the living existence. Plants, trees, and flowers are living organisms that we are all familiar with. We’ve likely had them in our homes at some point and seen some thrive while others not so much. But, when they die or come close to that, we have an implicit understanding that the plant itself was not at fault, but that it’s conditions were probably less than ideal. Of course plants are less complex than human beings, but the same principles apply very well to humans. We all understand that if we sleep well, exercise, and eat healthy food, that we will be giving ourselves good conditions to thrive. And yet, these are just the basics, which most of us already struggle with. The body’s capacity to grow, regenerate and get stronger exists throughout our entire lives, in fact one might say that is the difference between being dead and being alive. Being alive, no matter what state we are currently in, means that we have the capacity to change. That is what being human is about. Although we do sometimes get injured or run down, neither of these states are permanent. Injuries heal and persistent states of stress, fatigue or pain can be changed.

Furthermore, our lives exist as a constant process of interacting, feedback and learning, within our environment. And how we react to our environment is a reflection of this. Internal reactions, overt actions, behaviour, thoughts all form and influence each

other. Humans need a lot to thrive, but as a basic we need to feel safe. So let’s help others feel safe in their bodies and use the more accurate and inspiring metaphor of the body as a garden instead!

Your body is ALIVE! ⠀

My name is Christine Petrides and I'm a specialised physiotherapist and persistent pain coach. If you having difficulties living with and managing you pain, get in touch.

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