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Fitness from the Inside Out

Back in the '80s, there was a popular song relating a woman's many journeys -- from far-flung exotic lands to the bedrooms of handsome kings -- but the song's refrain (and title) delivered the clincher: None of these travels mattered, because "I've never been to me."

The song seems dated now, but beneath the sentimentality lies a valid message: We are women on a journey, and to become emotionally whole and healthy, sometimes we need to focus that journey inward.

5 Ways to "hear" yourself

"The life inside is where the deepest beliefs are hidden," says Elaine Sullivan, M.Ed., L.P.C., a counselor, educator and board member of the National Wellness Institute, who lives and practices in Dallas. For the past 30 years, Sullivan has been helping women reconnect with their inner selves, particularly through journal writing. Sullivan says we each possess a "tremendous inner landscape" made up of the memories -- most of them in the unconscious -- of everything we've ever felt or experienced.

But why is it so beneficial to journey to our "life inside"? And how exactly do we make the trip? It takes courage, time, solitude and silence to explore one's inner landscape -- but the payoff can mean greater peace, self-understanding and often, liberation. If we deny or suppress our inner selves -- i.e., our deep beliefs, who we are -- we're susceptible to depression, stress, even addiction.

There's no way to discover every nook and cranny of one's vast inner topography, but some healthy forays can be helpful:

1. Allow time to be silent. "We need to quiet the noise -- around us and within us -- to hear the deep inner teacher, the voice we all have," Sullivan says. Pay attention to where your mind wanders in the silence. Meditate. Write in a journal.

2. Write your autobiography. Describe in a journal the events in your life that made you happy; then the events that made you sad; then fearful; then angry. Look for patterns in your responses to these emotions. Are these responses healthy and honest? When things go wrong, recognizing your patterns will allow you to choose new, more constructive responses.

3. Make time for yourself by getting rid of distractions. Avoid automatically turning on the TV at home or the radio in the car. Eliminate activities you don't absolutely love. By freeing up time and slowing down your pace, you'll feel more peaceful and ultimately be more productive.

4. Be aware of qualities you admire in others -- and qualities that drive you crazy. Make a list of four qualities in each category (ones you admire; ones you don't) and see if you can apply them to yourself. Freely accept those admirable qualities! As for the ones you dislike (being defensive or judgmental, for instance), examine the emotions that may be at the core of these. Are you afraid to be less than perfect, that you don't measure up? When you try to understand such emotions, you have more control over how you express them.

5. Accept your "shadows." The unconscious mind holds it all: shadows and light, strengths and weaknesses. If you try to deny the "shadows," they'll reveal themselves anyway, but in unhealthy, unexpected ways. So be kind to yourself and don't judge yourself. You have many interesting facets; you'll feel more healthy if you make an attempt to embrace them all.

"When we take that journey into the wonderful, dazzling world of the unconscious, we come to know ourselves in a deeper way, so we can come back healthier and richer, better able to benefit the communities in which we live," Sullivan says. And if you catch yourself joining in on the refrain of "I've never been to me," perhaps it's time to make that trip.

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