Our bodies are “talking” to us all the time—telling us with sensations, both pleasure and discomfort—what we need to feel safe, satiated, and at our optimal vitality. Being "bodywise" means listening to what our bodies are trying to tell us and making choices that help us live a life our body loves.
Why does this matter? I’m a physician, and a colleague of mine said to me, “When the body first talks, it knocks. And if we don’t listen, it gives us a shove. And if we still don’t listen, it ‘slaps us upside the head.’” True words. Disease starts slowly, and progresses over time. If we pay attention to the warning signs our bodies give us, we can "head it off at the pass," and keep ourselves healthy and whole.
And even more than avoiding illness, being aware of what our bodies are trying to say gives us power and insight in our lives, work, and relationships. How much more focused and powerful might you feel if you were totally connected and acting in sync with your body? What if you were healthy, whole, and sourcing your impact in the world from the deep intuition of your body?
You can develop your body intelligence by beginning to listen to your body in these seven ways:
1. Eating with body intelligence.
Before diving into the candy bowl at work, scooping lunch onto your plate, or deciding what to cook for dinner, take one deep breath and feel into your body.
Ask yourself: Are you actually hungry? Or perhaps bored or anxious? How can you best take care of your body in this situation? If your stomach is rumbling and you’re clearly in need of food, what would your body choose to eat to nourish itself?
Just one breath. And choose your food with your body intelligence.
2. Is this neck or back ache my body talking to me?
The next time you are at your computer or desk, try setting an alarm for each 60- to 90-minute period.
Ask yourself: If you pause for a moment, what do you feel in your body? Stiffness or pain in neck or back? Cramping or tingling in fingers? Headache? Could you work or check your social media standing up? Lying down? How can you move your body into positions that prevent pain?
Take a moment to move your body in the way it needs. Stretch your back or neck, take a brief walk, roll your wrists and hands, open your chest. And consider shifting your position.
3. Why do I have to pee when I need to pee?
Other than folks who urinate too frequently (either from nerves for from a bladder condition), most of us, well, don’t pee when we need to pee.
Ask yourself: Which one are you? Do you "hold it" too much? Or are you getting up ever 45 minutes to pee?
It sounds silly, but that trip to the bathroom in which you attend to your body’s basic needs sets the precedent for listening more closely to all of your body’s needs. Not urinating for long periods of time can actually damage the function of your bladder. So. Pee when you need to pee.
4. Is gluten killing me?
I don’t know. Is gluten killing you? As a physician, food fads drive me crazy as they always generalize individual reactions to the entire population—which is never accurate. But we do currently have the largest percentage of people worldwide with food allergies or food sensitivities (not true allergy and less serious, but still consequential), that we have ever had. This may be a consequence of depleting our healthy bacteria in our gut, having an overly clean environment, or the lack of exposure to the normal bacteria and parasites our immune system is built for. But regardless, it is worth paying attention to.
Ask yourself: Do you have more headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, muscle aches, or skin rashes when you eat certain foods? Classic food allergens are cow dairy, gluten, soy, eggs and shellfish.
Notice how you feel when you eat them. If you suspect a food might be bothering you, stop eating it, notice how your body feels, and then add it back in after a few weeks. Trust your body intelligence to judge whether or not gluten (or other food allergens) are actually hurting you.
5. Why am I so tired?
We are addicted in modern society to productivity and constant mental stimulation, while being sedentary. An odd combination for a human physiology adapted to constant movement and far less mental stimulation. And the interesting fall out from all of this is that many of us are tired. A lack of sleep is the most common cause of fatigue. Average amount of sleep in the U.S. is six and a half hours. But the average amount we need is eight hours. The consequence? Anxiety, depression, irritability, lack of concentration, obesity, and overuse of caffeine.
Ask yourself: When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself, “Does my body feel rested and ready to start my day, even without caffeine?” If the answer is no, you may need more sleep. Or, ironically, more exercise to improve both fatigue and your sleep cycle. How does your body feel when you’re really rested? And how does it feel sleep-deprived and caffeinated? Not the same, folks.
And if you’re using caffeine to get around sleeping enough, believe me, it’s probably not working. For more vitality, exercise more, reduce your screen time, sleep more, and drink less caffeine.
6. Should I be in this job, this relationship, this house, this city?
I know it sounds nuts, but your body communicates wisdom from your unconscious brain that you may not typically be aware of.
Ask yourself: Feeling warm, tingly and fluttery about the date you’re about to go on? It’s a good sign. Feeling tightness in your chest and body and a coldness when you think about the date you’re about to go on? Maybe staying home with Netflix is a better idea.
Each of us has a set of sensations or body experiences that indicates a positive reaction to a situation, such as tingling, warmth or openness in the chest. And each of us has a set of reactions in our body that indicates a negative reaction to a situation, such as tightness or coldness in the chest, or a pit in the stomach. When you understand this communication from your body, you can use it to guide decision-making.
7. Really? My genitals can be wise?
Okay, despite jokes about the idiocy and non-selectiveness of human libido, I find that my patients actually get good information from their genitals about how and with whom they should mate.
Ask yourself: Do you have pelvic pain, frequent bladder and vaginal infections or pain with sex? Or if you're a man, does your penis "cooperate" when you're having sex?
Women in my practice routinely experience this when they’re with a partner that they don’t trust or feel safe with. She might still be saying “yes” with her words, but her genitals are screaming a different message. It’s smart to listen. And despite all the jokes about men and libido, most males in my practice develop what Bernie Zilbergeld called ‘the wisdom of the penis.’ If he feels criticized or used, or simply doesn’t like the person he’s trying to have sex with, his wise penis may not cooperate. You see what I mean. There may be absolutely nothing wrong with you or your sexual function. Your body may be asking for a different emotional connection with the person you are with, or simply for a different person. Pay attention.
I hope these steps to living a more "bodywise" life help you live with less pain, fewer medical visits, and more vitality. Let your body intelligence lead you to your wiser, more joyful you.