Our bodies are a marvellous network of awareness that can help us to be healthy and happy. They are designed as a complex inter-related system, which passes messages from one part to another, to maintain and build itself to be the best it can possibly be. So why don’t we use its intelligence more?
When we were little, and didn’t know any other way, we listened to and responded to our bodies’ messages. In the first place these are simple: I’m hungry, thirsty; I need to move or rest; I need a cuddle or to be on my own. Quite quickly, we learn to ignore these messages, because we are reliant on others to a large extent to fulfil the need, and others are not reliable!
Then, as we are more able to fulfil our own needs, we realise that ‘the world doesn’t work like that’. We are expected to eat, drink at certain times, stay still in classrooms and offices, keep working until it is time to stop, and not ask for cuddles any more! We get so good at ignoring our bodies that we forget to listen to their messages at all, until they are shouting at us so loudly that we have to take some notice – usually through illness or complete exhaustion.
Like most of us, I learnt these lessons well, and became very skilful at ignoring my body until it broke down. It was when my doctor told me that the reason I couldn’t move without pain was that I had refused to stop for too long and my body was rebelling and forcing me to stop that I registered that this was not very useful!
So I began to re-learn how to listen – and at first it was quite shocking! I realised how often my body was uncomfortable – aching, palpitating, tired, stiff, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ etc.
I had more complex messages from my body than when I was a baby: there were not only the simple physical needs; there were also the emotional reactions to deal with. What all the physical signs told me was that I was very out of balance as a system a lot of the time.
Do you recognise any of these body messages? Just do a quick scan right now and notice what your body feels like…
It is one thing to become aware again, and quite another to do something about it. So how do we remember to listen to our body’s intelligence, and then act on it?
Firstly, let’s gently learn to listen again – we have to retrain ourselves, so you need to go gently – otherwise it becomes onerous. Start by checking in, maybe twice or three times a day. What do you notice when you stop and pay attention to your body? Is it hungry or thirsty? Does it need to move or rest? Is it uncomfortable or comfortable? And if you can make it feel more comfortable by responding to these basic needs, do so. So often I will say to myself: ‘ Oh, I need a piece of fruit, or something to drink, or to sit down for a few minutes’, and wonder how I could have been so unaware of it!
When we begin to pay this attention to the needs our bodies are expressing, it becomes more habitual, and we start to notice the messages more often. Then we can take it a step further, so that we are not just responding to needs, but are beginning to actually nurture our bodies.
Firstly, you start by not just doing something to satisfy the need, but rather asking: what sort? ‘What sort of food do I want?’ what sort of movement do I want?’
Then, to enrich it further, give your body some treats! What makes your body feel really good? Is it a cycle ride, a slow hot bath, a good curry, a nap in the afternoon, a massage? You will have your own favourites. So, at least once a week, preferably more often, do something that makes your body feel good – after all, it works hard for you, it deserves some treats!
By gradually remembering more and more to listen to our bodies, we enhance our well-being, and reduce the need for our bodies to ‘shout’ at us with illness and exhaustion. It has to be worth it!
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
2 or 3 times a day: What do you notice when you stop and pay attention to your body? Is it hungry or thirsty? Does it need to move or rest? Is it uncomfortable or comfortable? And if you can make it feel more comfortable by responding to these basic needs, do so.
What sort of food/drink/movement/rest would work best for my body right now?
Treats – at least once a week: what would make my body feel really good today?