Would you agree that the phrase "listen to your body" sounds like a reasonable skill to practice and develop?
If we think back to when we were kids, we did just that. We ate when we were hungry, we slept/napped when we got tired (or maybe didn't and just pretended;), and we played when we were bored. Unfortunately, as we get older we assume more responsibility and we grow further apart from our own instincts and our own body. We're bombarded by the newest weight loss tips, and exercise programs, that before we even realize it we're fatigued, miserable, hungry, and unhappy.
So, how can we get those cues to be louder and clearer?
How can we learn to trust our body again?
How can we then take action?
Let's first remind ourselves that listening to our body is a skill, that will take time, take intentional practice, consistency and along the way we'll make mistakes.
How many of you have been told: "You should just listen to your body", nod your head in agreement, but then think one or all of the following:
"But, my body hates me"
"I don't know what you mean? I don't hear anything"
"But it tells me to eat and I shouldn't eat cause it's just stress"
"I don't trust it"
So as we can see, listening to our bodies isn't as simple as just listening. It's overlapped with some complexities (our emotions, our thoughts, our habits, our history). I want to provide you some starter tools on how you can be a better body listener:
#1: Body Scan Assessment Habit
For anyone embarking on this "journey" towards trying to understand their body better, I have found the "Body Scan Assessment" to be a great starting point. Each morning, after your alarm goes off, I'd encourage you get out of bed and then pause and do a quick body scan.
Write down what comes up first about how you are feeling and then how your body is feeling.
Are you tired, happy, sleepy, energized, achy, hungry, bloated etc.
Then starting from your toes make a note of how each body part is feeling:
Toes, feet, ankles, knees, hips, lowerback, midback, upperback, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, neck, head, eyes.
Some common things I hear are (achy, tight, tender, supple, dry, irritated etc.)
The purpose of the (morning) body scan is bring more awareness to how each part of you is feeling before the day starts. Note: there is no right or wrong answer. The goal is to refine your listening skills, allow your body to "talk" and then allow yourself to listen.
How do I feel right now?
**Evening Body Scan- I'd then suggest repeating this exercise in the evening. Take a scan of yourself and your body. Be sure to jot down the notes you're gathering.
After you complete a few days worth of the Body Scan Assessment Exercise, I'd encourage you to sit with a friend to look over your data.
Do you notice any patterns?
Is there a common area of pain or discomfort?
How was your mood in the morning compared to evening?
How would you LIKE to feel each morning and each night?
Patterns give us a starting point. However, if you do not notice any patterns, that's ok too! I would suggest then looking at an area that is the "loudest" ("pain points). For instance, "I'm always really exhausted when I wake up in the morning".
#3 Self Reflection and Awareness
Self reflection and awareness are key to hearing what your body is saying. After completing a few body scan days, you're going to want to take a moment to then sit and reflect on potential reasons why you may always be waking up tired, or always feel bloated in the morning. Now, I want to remind you that the skill of self reflection is also something that will need attention and practice. As you start out refining your "self awareness", set a time limit on how long you're reflecting.
More isn't always better.
In fact, in many scenarios self reflection can turn into self deprecation, confusion and frustration. Remind yourself, "I may not have the right answer now, but I do have some ideas of where to start.'"
After identifying patterns or "pain points", I'd encourage you to test out an experiment. If you're always really exhausted in the morning, maybe you can look at your sleep quality and quantity, your nighttime routine, or your meal before bed. Adjust just ONE area and reassess.
Do I feel the same or different?
Experimenting will bring you closer to understanding yourself better. To understanding what your body is really telling you. Often times, the hardest part is taking the step to take action and just "try something out".
I think it's safe to say that we may hear our bodies say "feed me, I'm hungry" or "Let's take the day off, I'm sore", but we may ignore these cues because we don't feel it's "right", we don't quite trust that our body is giving us the right signal. Along with listening to what your body is saying, we also need to learn how to trust what it's actually telling us. For years, I ignored my body's cue to rest. I would train, sweat, do another double day and repeat it all over again, until I got "walking pneumonia". Looking back, my body was definitely sending all sorts of cues my way:
Incredibly tight muscles
Injured my back (injuries are one of the more powerful cues our body's give us when we fail to listen to it)
Consistently moody, easily irritated, and less patient (uncommon traits of my personality)
The NEED to sleep 10+ hours a night
If I would have taken a few moments to be still and assess how I was really feeling I may have saved myself from getting so sick. But, I didn't and I trudged along.
What I do know, is that trusting your body is hard, challenging and emotionally exhausting. Think about trusting a friend, it can be simple, but it can also be very complicated. Especially if you were hurt, betrayed, disrespected etc. How do you then learn to trust your friend again?
With SMALL actions that make you feel more confident that the person has your back...AND With TIME!
That is why it is important to start "gathering data" on how you're feeling and then experiment. When we combine data collection with experimentation we start to notice how "right" our bodies really are. How each cue is helping us identify how we're really doing, feeling, functioning etc.
It is encouraged to have you review them with a close friend. It's extremely helpful to have an outside perspective help you assess your notes and in general how you've been feeling.
I cannot emphasize this enough...support is huge! You will benefit largely from a support network that you can turn to for advice, help, or just a listening ear as you migrate through the stages of "what is my body saying?" More often than not, we've spent more time working against our bodies than with them. Therefore learning to trust it when it says "hey, let's take a day off", may go against everything we're currently doing (eating less, doing more, resting less, working more etc).
Be patient with yourself as you dabble in new territory. It'll feel uncomfortable, foreign and challenging. And continue to remind yourself that this is a practice you're refining and it'll take time. Allow yourself to let go of perfection and embrace uncertainty (another one of those phrases that is MUCH harder to put into practice). Just keep the above steps in mind (body scan, patterns, self reflection/awareness, experimentation, trust, support) as ways to develop your listening skills.
Listening to your body, is a one of the greatest tools you can own for yourself. And Trusting your body is too.