The body holds much of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore its messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us. Perhaps because we’re not taught from early on to pay attention to internal messages as well as external demands, we frequently ignore our body’s communications.
So we take another extra-strength aspirin rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use more caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than hearing our body’s message about needing rest or recognizing our fatigue as an early symptom of burnout we’d do well to heed. A look at our pets may be all the message we need about the value of naps.
We fail to take into account the thousand little messages communicated to us by how we’re holding ourselves: the mouth that’s pinched and tight rather than relaxed. The fact that our shoulders are up around our ears, the knot of tension in our stomach as we promise to do something when closer consideration might tell us we are already overextended.
These days we’re notorious for putting deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. (Is there hidden wisdom in calling a due date a deadline in the first place?) Instead of asking our body what it wants, we go for the quick fill-up or the comfort food that may be the last thing we really need.
So what to do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?
Start with the breath. Breathing consciously is a major part of body awareness. Turn off thoughts and just let yourself experience the inflow and outflow of breath. Label them, “In. Out. In. Out.” Note how and where you are breathing or failing to, a clear sign something important is going on.
Allow yourself quiet time. Sit for ten minutes just observing yourself, even (especially!) in the middle of a busy day. Meditate. Take a walk or a nap. Allow time to do nothing. Soak in a hot tub rather than taking a quick shower.
Get a massage. It’s not self-indulgence to be massaged; it wakes up the whole nervous system and helps you tune in.
Use your journal to dialogue with your body. Ask your body how it’s feeling, what it wants, what’s going on. Give that sore wrist or stiff lower back a voice and let it tell you what its message is.
Eat when hungry, sleep when tired. Take a week and really pay attention to your body’s most basic needs. Do your real rhythms for eating and sleeping conform to the habits you’ve established? If they don’t, change them!
Do a body inventory to relax. Start with your toes and work upwards. Scan your body from the inside. Or try tensing each part slightly, then relaxing it to release residual tension.
Practice mindfulness. Get used to tuning in to your physical self, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.
And if your body suggests rolling down a grassy hillside, taking flight on a playground swing, or skipping down a winding path, why resist? Its impulses hold the key to our well-being!