Be Quiet! Your Body Is Trying To Tell You Something
‘There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.’ Friedrich Nietzsche
You often hear the expression ‘listen to your body. But how often do we do it? I’m just as guilty – those who know me well know that I sometimes push myself too hard, testing my physical limits. But lately I’ve had cause to start listening a bit more and it’s amazing what you hear when you start paying attention…
I’ve recently come back to practising yoga again after years of feeling a bit disenchanted with it – couldn’t seem to find a class with the right vibe or the right teacher and ‘gym yoga’ just leaves me cold. But a few weeks ago I spent some time in Kerala and it was out there that I was fortunate enough to have 1:1 yoga instruction every morning. The yoga was simple – no fancy headstands or such like – but seemed to go deeper than anything I’d experienced for a while. I left feeling inspired to keep up my practice in the UK.
However, something happened one morning in Kerala that reminded me how truly wise the body is. I woke with half an hour or so to spare before my yoga session and switched on my mobile phone. Bad move. An email alerted me to an irritating letter from my car insurance company – nothing major but it somehow managed to burst my little bubble of tranquillity. I hurriedly typed a reply and let the irritation go. Or so I thought. It was only in my yoga session, while trying to do the simplest of moves that I realised that I hadn’t let go at all. I felt clumsy, breathing from chest and out of balance. Noticing this I consciously thought about the annoying email, felt its power in my muscles and then truly let it go. From then on, my breathing slowed down and deepened, and my movements became more fluid.
This experience reminded me how wise the body is and how wisely designed it is to self-regulate and alert us to any perturbations of the mind. It also reminded me how easily dis-ease can be created in the body when we aren’t paying attention and consciously letting go.
A whisper turns into a shout…
So with these thoughts in mind, I returned to my Tuesday clinic at the Capio psychiatric hospital and found myself working with a group of ten patients. On this morning we were talking about nutrition and listening to the body’s needs. One man, an alcoholic, talked about how he could go all day without eating, just fuelling his body with caffeine, alcohol and sugar and then he would binge on whatever he could get his hands on in the evening. Another patient, a beautiful young girl with an eating disorder talked about how she couldn’t bear to talk or think about food. With my Kerala insights in mind, I gently guided the group’s thoughts to body wisdom and how they might start listening to what their body was telling them – hearing the whispers before it became a shout. ‘But how do we listen to the body?’ asked a lawyer. Not an unusual question – I see so many people who just live in their heads all the time. (Again, I’m guilty of this one which is why exercise is so important to me.) They’ve trained themselves to do this all their lives and, to some extent, it’s served them well – they’ve passed exams and interviews, established impressive careers – and all from the head. Not surprisingly, some of them end up in my clinic chronically fatigued from the effort of spending their time living from the head and not the heart.
So how do we take small steps to reconnecting with the body and listening?
We ended our session by closing our eyes, breathing deeply, feeling our feet on the ground. Climbing back into the body. After a few minutes of this peaceful silence, we opened our eyes revelling in the mood that had settled in the group. The tiny girl in my group said, eyes shining with tears ‘When I closed my eyes, every cell in my body was asking for food. I’m going to go and eat something now.’
So many people ignore the body’s whispers – they don’t listen to the need for water, the right foods and at the right time, the need for movement. They only hear when it becomes a shout – they are starving hungry and exhausted, or have a dehydration headache or chronic back pain from the effect of so much sitting and poor posture, or worse, serious illness. The world in which we live is so noisy – information, demand and distraction. How do we filter it out and listen? And if we don’t take the time to listen and meet our most basic of needs what else might we miss?
So how do we begin to cultivate a relationship with the body in which there is a real dialogue, an awareness of its needs long before they become desperate cries? Long before they manifest as dis-ease and illness in our cells and tissues?
The simple answer is to start listening. Stop, feel your feet on the ground – in yoga everything starts with the feet, breathe deeply, pay attention, notice and then make your choice.
Yes it’s simple but the results can be profound.
The body is wise. Listen to its whispers. It will tell you what it needs.
Yours in amazing health and energy.