Today I’m not the same as I was 10 years ago. Ten years ago I would subsist on pizza and coke, not even a ‘diet’ one, and top it up with chocolate for better joy. I hadn’t lived a day without putting junk into my body. I would never exercise, or even if I did, I’d do something silly like 100 crunches, believing it would give me abs.
Today I’m not the same as I was 5 years ago. Five years ago I would restrict myself too much, not letting myself eat a piece of chocolate, or bread or anything that had been processed. I wouldn’t touch fruit juice out of a carton. I’d go to gym 4 days a week no matter how I felt and I would lift weight and run, even if I didn’t feel like it, believing that if I skipped even one day of my routine, I would ruin my health. Of course, I’d stop one day and start stuffing myself with chocolate and other random things that weren’t allowed and I would feel super guilty about it.
Today I am none of those. Today I let myself feel joy of simple things while also nourishing my body. Today I do not believe in restrictions, but I do believe in listening to my body because my body knows best. But listening to one’s body is not always easy and straight-forward. It takes practice. And before you learn to hear it your mind will try to trick you many times.
The Mind-Body Connection
Your mind speaks to you all the time, and the way it talks affects your body and health. This is hardly any news today, since we know that negative thoughts and emotional stress can change the brain chemistry, which in turn changes the way the body responds and functions. We know that emotional pain can cause physical pain and emotional stress can lead to disease. At the same time we know that emotional well-being correlates with better health in general, so the link between the body and mind is apparent.
But this communication is not one-way – your body speaks to you all the time, too. The problem is your mind is not always tuned to hear it. When the mind speaks, the body listens and acts upon it. It should be natural that when the body speaks we can hear it too; with all the feelings, emotions and sensations that we have we should be able to feel and know what the body is telling us. And yet somewhere along the way we lost the ability to hear it, we lost touch.
Maybe it was a trait necessary for our survival – being able to push ourselves beyond the limit. But nowadays it seems like this trait is playing against us, allowing us to put our own bodies through unnecessary stress only to limit our abilities and quality of life in the long run.
We also learned to ingnore our own bodies trying to live by the ‘shoulds’ that the society and we ourselves keep pushing, like working extra hours, dieting to the extreme in trying to have an ‘ideal’ body or living in the gym. We learned to not listen when it tells us to stop, so we push forward through the pain and stiffness, we learned not to listen when it says ‘enough’. But we also learned to give in to temptations and think ‘I don’t feel like hitting the treadmill today, I’ll just stay home and watch TV’ or ‘I’m still feeling blue, I need another doughnut’ even though you’ve eaten 4 already.
We forgot how to live mindfully, paying attention to not just how we feel emotionally, but also physically. We only pay attention to the body when it’s in pain, and even then we do not always act. We also push too many ‘shoulds’ because we believe that it’s the right thing to do, or, on the contrary, we even ignore the ‘should’ and just act according to our whims, letting the weaknesses take over.
Rediscovering the Connection
When your body speaks to you, it is crucial to understand whether it is your body talking or your mind playing tricks on you.
That is how we lose the connection between the mind and body. We act on our whims without differentiating where this whim is coming from. For example, you want a cake. You feel so strong towards having a cake. And yet after you’ve had it you realise that you didn’t really want it or need it. That was probably just your psychological mind speaking to you. The effect of getting what it wanted is so short-lived that it may even make you disappointed – after all you did something that you didn’t really want and you didn’t even enjoy it as much. Or another example could be reaching for the second/third slice of cake because you want more and ignoring the stuffed and almost nauseous feeling in your stomach. You’re likely to be overrun with guilt as soon as you finish the slice.
When it is your body speaking to you, it is different. You feel good upon acting on its desire, and not just for a short period of time.
It also feels good on both physical and psychological levels. If you think of skipping a workout, you’d probably regret it if it was your mind’s whim. But if it is your body telling you that it’s not a good idea to bench press right now because your muscles don’t feel rested or you’re coming down with flu, you’d be glad you skipped.
To be able to hear what your body is saying to you, you need to be willing to listen and also to look deeper, much-much deeper than your superficial mind-driven desires.
5 Steps To Connect With Your Body
There are many different ways to re-connect with your body, even if you have been out of touch for years. It is never too late to start listening. These following tips will help you to tune in and better understand yourself:
We often rush too much and forget to pay attention to how we feel when making decisions. Doing things that do not really agree with us or that we don’t really enjoy accumulate tension and anxiety and stress us out. Taking time to let it sink in may help you avoid making rushed decisions and choose the answer that is right for you.
- Whenever you are asked to do something, don’t say yes or no straight away. Take at least a moment to consider it. If the decision is bigger, ask for time to think.
- If you find yourself craving something that isn’t really healthy for your body, also give it time. Don’t act on a whim. Give it 15 to 20 minutes. Cravings usually come in waves and pass after about 15 minutes. If you find that you still want it after, consider having it. But don’t rush into any decisions.
Listen to Your Natural Instincts
We often schedule our lives down to a minute because being productive is the key. We schedule our workouts to suit our daily routine, we go to bed late or don’t lie down for a nap during the day afraid to lose precious time. We eat on the hour either because we’re told we need to eat every X hours or because we have breaks at work at certain times and cannot eat at any other time. All these things make us learn to ignore our natural cues and instincts and overtime we just stop listening.
- Eat when you’re hungry, not when your watch tells you to do so. If you’re at work, of course, it’s tricky. Pack some healthy snacks if you have an opportunity to eat them during work and don’t fill up at your lunch time if you don’t feel hungry.
- Workout when you feel like it and not when you think you should, at least while you’re learning to listen to your body. Also do the type of workout you feel like. Try to avoid strict routines for a while and change things around. Try yoga instead of weights, cycling instead of running, etc. Find what makes you feel good right now.
- Have a short nap if you find yourself tired in the afternoon; go to bed earlier at night and get up when you feel you’ve had enough sleep even if your alarm hasn’t rung yet. Let your physical cues guide you, don’t force anything.
Do a Body Scan
No, I don’t mean any medical imaging tests. When performing a body scan you mentally focus on different parts of your body, scanning them for any feelings and sensations. You can do it as a part of your yoga exercise or meditation. It is really a kind of meditation of its own, and you can do it anytime. All you need is peace and quiet.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, hands and feet relaxed.
- Close your eyes, relax your muscles and start breathing slowly.
- Focus on your breath only for the next few moments.
- Then focus on your feet. Notice if there’s any tiredness in them.
- Travel up in your mind to your legs and hips. Are they tired? Are the muscles achy? Take a note of any sensation there.
- Travel up to your belly. Notice how it dips and rises with your breaths. Maybe you feel your stomach rumbling, or maybe it is comfortable. Just really tune in to any sensations.
- Go up to your chest. Feel the lungs expand as you breathe in. Do you feel your heart beat in the chest?
- Next scan your hands, then arms. Any tightness? Or maybe they are fully relaxed and weightless?
- Go up to your shoulders and neck. We tend to carry a lot of tightness there. See if you can relax them.
- Travel up to your jaw, make sure it is not clenched. Check your eyes. They should be fully relaxed, too. Scan your forhead. Can you feel the energy centre at your ‘third eye’?
- Continue lying still and breating for a few more moments, then gently bring some movement to your feet and hands, open your eyes and slowly rise from your position.
This practice is not only very relaxing and refreshing, but it also helps you to focus on particular parts of your body and listen to them. Once you know how to tune in, it will be easier for you to hear it.
Write a Well-being Journal
Take a few minutes a day to sit down quietly and write what’s on your mind, what your mood is like and how you are feeling today. It shouldn’t take long unless you want it to. Doing this will also help you learn the way your body and mind work and will help you stay attuned to what’s going on inside you.
Food and exercise journals can also be helpful, but try using them as a way to learn their effects on your body rather than tracking your routine. Focus on ‘how does it make me feel?’ rather than on ‘what did I accomplish?’
Do Things That Make You Feel Good
Dedicate a day to your wellness. Don’t schedule anything for one day and just let yourself do the things you enjoy doing, things that make you feel good. Quit all rules and routines for one day and only do things that you feel like doing whenever you feel like. Let your natural cues and feelings take the lead.
But keep in mind that you shouldn’t rush. Take time and don’t forget to ask yourself the most important question before making a decision.
The Ultimate Question To Ask Yourself
Do I really want this? What’s in it for me?
And then let your gut instinct and your body to decide. Listen closely. Think ahead and look out for signs of your mind playing tricks. Most of the time you know it deep down when it’s worth it and when it’s not.