Learning to Listen to Your Body
It’s taken a long time. Too long, certainly. But I’m finally learning to listen to my body and to hear what it is telling me.
Your body only ever wants what is best for you. It wants to help you be the healthiest version of yourself. But, for a lot of us, we’ve spent so much time tuning out our body that now, we couldn’t hear it if we wanted to.
I didn’t understand just how out of tune I was until I came to the realization that I didn’t know what it felt like to be hungry. That is to say, I could go hours or even a full day without food and not feel hungry, even when I listened expectantly for my body to signal that it was time to eat. Sure I would want food, but when I tried to dig into that feeling of wanting, I found it went no further than boredom or a desire to taste a flavor I knew I would enjoy. There was no real need behind it.
This prompted me to start digging deeper and I began to realize how disconnected I was from my own body. I wondered what else I had been blocking out. What signals have I been ignoring for most of my life?
It’s hard to know what signals you’re missing when you’ve been missing them for so long. Of course, sometimes your body sends you signals that can’t be ignored like sickness or wounds that won’t heal but, ideally, I wanted to be aware of what my body was saying long before that point. I needed to find a way to get back to baseline and learn to start hearing myself again.
Tuning Back In — A Reset
If the problem is tuning something out, the solution should simply be to tune back in, right? There are lots of ways to do that and I’ve tried many of them. Anything that moves you back towards your inherent level of awareness, even a little bit, is worth doing.
After a lot of exploration, I’ve found that the two exercises that work the best for me by far are fasting and practicing mindfulness.
I first started experimenting with fasting in 2016 after I read The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung (super technical, but a truly great read). I gave myself a lot of time to adjust, moving from a 14:10 (14 hours fasting, 10 hours eating) to a 16:8 within the first year, then practicing that for over a year before extending my fasting period again.
During the first year or so of my regular fasts, I was able to recognize some harmful patterns that I had fallen into. First, I noticed that in moments of boredom I reached for food or drinks to fill the gap. I also found that periods of stress led to me making poor decisions when it came time to eat. During especially trying times, I would abandon my regular fast altogether and use food/drink to distract myself instead of actually dealing with my emotions.
When you don’t have food or drink to distract yourself, you’re almost forced to become a bit more mindful. Fasting in conjunction with trying out meditation, yoga, rock climbing, and even mountain biking helped me find ways of becoming more mindful in everything I do.
Whether you’re focused intently on maintaining your balance, moving smoothly to the next hold on a boulder, or gliding down a mountain whilst dodging obstacles, any physical motion that requires your attention helps you tune in and become more mindful of your surroundings. Practicing a variety of activities helped me learn what mindfulness feels like so I can practice it even when I’m not barreling down a hill.
Stationary meditation is hard. It works incredibly well for developing mindfulness, but I find it very difficult to make myself practice it. In my early days of learning mindfulness, it helped me hear some of my body’s signals again and I highly recommend that everyone try at least a little meditation so that you get a feel for the current state of your mind at any given moment. Mine always seems to be playing some portion of a song on a loop.
Nowadays, I find myself practicing mindfulness in little moments. Sometimes, when I sip my coffee, I close my eyes and really taste the espresso. What flavors can I detect? Do I get any tasting notes? What does the temperature feel like? I do a quick body scan a couple of times a day to see where I can release any tension I may be holding.
When we rush through life, as I used to, we miss so many beautiful moments. We start thinking about the next meal when we should still be enjoying the current one. We start planning our next vacation when we’re currently on an amazing trip. So much is missed when you’re not able to truly be in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness continues to help me tune in to myself and the world around me in the present moment and I am so grateful for it.
Emotional & Physical Tuning
Of course, what matters most is finding the reset that works best for you. When you’re ready to start tuning back in to your body, you might try one of the following: vinyasa yoga, meditation, rock climbing, playing music, speaking with a therapist, getting a massage, mindful eating, running or hiking, grounding.
Some of these practices tend to work better for emotional tuning and others for physical tuning. Many work well for both. I recommend trying a wide variety of practices to see what resonates with you. Keep trying things out until you feel truly “in the zone”.
When you find the thing(s) that help you be present, that’s when you’ll be able to begin tuning back in to yourself.
If you don’t know where to begin, it can help to work with an expert. Speaking with a therapist will certainly help with emotional tuning and, with the right therapist, it can also help with physical tuning. For myself, I’ve found that I hold anxiety, stress, and tension in a physical way that manifests as tightness in my throat and chest. Working with others is what helped me realize this.
You can also work with a personal trainer who understands your goals to help with physical tuning. I’ve heard that the CrossFit community is great about encouraging their members to recognize and listen to the signals their bodies send. Yoga communities are also generally very good about this.
Find what works for you and leave the rest. Do what feels good and right for your body. Whenever it crosses your mind, take a moment to center yourself and ask yourself how you actually feel in this moment. Why do you feel that way? Where does the feeling manifest in your body?
The more your practice, the easier it becomes to listen to your body.