I’ve written before about pain as a vital messenger , letting us know what needs to be addressed in our mind-body system. Symptoms and pain certainly wake us up to the need to take an internal peek at ourselves, mentally, emotionally, and also physically. I’ve written a lot about the mental and emotional aspect of healing, but it’s important not to forget the physical aspect, too.
Though, to be clear, I’m not talking about “curing” whatever ails you through physical means only. Not at all! I’m talking about a well-rounded approach to wellness that takes into account every aspect of who you are.
I’ve just started another round of Mind-Body Coach Training, so I’m teaching a new group of coaches how to use mind-body tools with clients. In their very first class, I told them what we are trying to help our clients do is return to their bodies. That’s the basic definition, in my opinion, of “mind-body connection” – being aware and conscious of what is going on in one’s body.
I spent years not paying attention to my body’s signals. I ignored discomfort, pushed through exhaustion, didn’t eat when I was hungry, over-ate when I wasn’t hungry, stayed awake when I was tired, didn’t rest, over-exercised, and never checked in with my body at all. I had no idea I was holding pelvic floor tension or abdominal tension or lower back tension until screaming pain woke me up to what was happening in my body.
I was what we call dissociated from my body. I had learned how to take my conscious awareness away from my body the minute stress arose, as a quick escape. Unconsciously, I overused this dissociation technique. It’s a healthy technique that serves us well in moments of severe stress or trauma, but it’s not a healthy daily practice.
Your body needs your conscious awareness like a plant needs water. Without it, it begins to wither. Your body is constantly giving you important feedback about yourself. It’s saying, “I’m hungry, tired, thirsty, sleepy, worn out, exhausted, energized, over-caffeinated, under-fed, over-fed…etc.” It’s also telling you more subtle things, like, “You’re holding onto emotional energy here in this hamstring…” It’s even telling you what to do with your life. “Hey, you up there. I’d love to change careers!” Those are just examples, but they represent different types of information your body is trying to share with you, all day, every day. Important information that will help you live a healthy, enjoyable life.
All you have to do is listen.
There’s only one catch. To listen, you’re going to have to spend most of your time mentally aware of your body. And when you do that, you might discover some discomfort. Maybe there’s a tight muscle. Some nausea. Emotional discomfort. Welcome home! That’s what our bodies are holding onto while we’re up in our minds, busily planning, organizing, worrying, analyzing, and generally ignoring our poor bodies.
Discomfort is not a bad thing. Yes, I realize it is uncomfortable. But, if you set your hand on a hot stove, would you rather be notified, so you can remove it, or suffer permanent skin damage? Most of us would like to know that we need to move our hand! Pain is just a messenger, telling us that something needs attention. So is tension. So is emotional discomfort.
Discomfort is a messenger, and if you embrace it, you will no longer need the loud shouts of pain to get your attention. It may take some time to develop (or re-develop) the skill of listening to what your body has to say and interpreting it/translating it into everyday life action/nonaction, but it is time well spent.
Here’s how you can get started:
Get a watch with a timer, use a phone app, or purchase a Motivaider.
Set your device to alert you once an hour, 3 times a day, or whatever frequency you choose.
Every time it alerts you, stop what you’re doing for a second. Take a breath. Notice your body. See if you can feel your feet, the palms of your hands, your belly button. Look at your nose. (Not in a mirror – look at the tip of it. This is a quick way to become aware of your body.) Do a quick body scan and see if there is tension anywhere, or any other discomfort. Move your body a little bit. If you feel pain, just notice that it’s there, but notice the rest of your body, too.
After several weeks of this, you’ll start to intuit what your body wants, needs, or is telling you throughout the day. You don’t have to actively try to change anything, like try to get rid of pain or tension. By just becoming aware of what’s going on in your body, you’ll develop the ability to hear what it’s saying, over time. You are cultivating a whole new relationship with your body, so that you can stop warring. No more arguing with it over weight loss, pain relief, or other such issues. Instead, the two of you will be communicating as mother nature intended – regularly and amicably.