In the 21st century, it’s proverbial wisdom that we should listen to our bodies. We see it in articles, it’s what our doctors, therapists, friends, pastors, and yoga instructors tell us. I’ve encouraged this as well, having written about the mind/body connection in some of my other posts. It’s generally good advice. The problem is: Some of us don’t know how to listen to our bodies.
Here’s a bit of my story. I ignored physical and emotional pain for many years (while putting on a happy face). While I was generally happy, I still had a lifetime of being told it doesn’t matter how I feel — and I certainly should never express “negative” emotions. So, when people began to encourage me to listen to my body, these words had little meaning.
But finally this idea began to connect, but I still had to learn how to listen. Here are some things I’ve practiced in order to learn to listen to my body.
- Yoga: Ten years of practice has been invaluable in connecting body, mind, and breath.
- Writing Down How I Feel: This simple, magical act of writing down (repeatedly) how I feel gives new perspectives. Once the feelings or situation is on paper, I can process with remarkable clarity.
- Gaining a Broader Emotional Vocabulary: Fear, for example, may be a vague word. But this fear could be apprehension, or anxiety, or a real threat, or worry, or panic, or a lack of confidence, or timidity, or overthinking. Precision in language brings clarity of thought. (A bird is a bird until you call it a cardinal.)
- Emotional Mapping: Strong emotions activate and deactivate parts various parts of the body. By seeing these emotions on a “body atlas”, I was able to train myself to identify what emotions I was feeling. Shame, fear, anxiety, anger, etc. all affect the body differently. (For an example of the “body atlas”: Click and scroll to page 2.)
- Sharing My Story: Of course, this should be with someone we trust. We don’t owe “just anyone” our stories, but sharing them with someone we trust brings self-understanding – even if they never say a word or advise.
- Recognizing My Personal Power: I had little childhood training or role-modeling in how to manage the complexities of life. I was taught to ignore physical and emotional pain. I was taught problems were unsolvable and meant to be endured. Add certain elements of “Christianity” that equate self-care with selfishness and we can learn to feel helpless. But we are not! Recognizing our personal power embraces the idea that our problem-solving potential is much more advanced than we realize. We just need a bit more practice.
Thanks for reading and take care of Your Self.