Listen to my Body? WTF? (Part 1)
When I was in college I had to take a Microeconomics class for a Business requirement. Economics for me was like learning a completely new language, with a completely new alphabet. It was foreign, mind boggling and downright frustrating. I remember my professor distinctly for his wild gray hair, long eyebrows and merciless attitude towards students (he once thought my hair was a hat). He was a master in Economics, but was so intelligent in his field that he could not successfully break down economics for beginners. I remember one day after asking a question he responded hastily by saying “THINK LIKE AN ECONOMIST!!!” All I could think was WTF? How the ACTUAL FUCK does an economist think? I have never taken this course in my life! I was racking my brain trying to find an answer, and felt frustrated beyond belief. I simply could not do it. I had not been taught where to begin.
The truth is, certain concepts and subjects come intuitively to some people, and are impossible for others to understand. One of the concepts that can be the hardest to understand is how to listen to your body. Listening to your body is one of the keys to health. On a physical level, the messages your body sends you can help you in making conscious decisions in what you eat, how you exercise, and how you take care of yourself. On a deeper level, these messages can help you make important life decisions, sharpen your intuition, and navigate daily challenges. Our bodies send us messages in each moment, but it’s up to us to tune in, listen, and interpret.
Learning to be in touch with my own body, has been a daily practice that has developed into being more natural for me over time. While I certainly feel more comfortable with listening to my body than studying economics, I don’t ever want to forget what it feels like to start from the beginning. When people hear the words “listen to your body” or “what does your body say?," this might be interpreted in the same way I interpreted my professor commanding “think like an economist!”- foreign, mind boggling, and frustrating.
So let’s start from the beginning, and break it down piece by piece.
LIsten to your body Part 1: Breath
Step 1) Breath.
Sounds simple right? It absolutely is-no foreign concept here! Breathing is something we all have to do to stay alive. But how often do you actually slow down and pay attention to your breathing, rather than just letting your body go on autopilot? Listening to your breath is the first step in listening to your body because it trains you to transition your attention from external sources to turning inward. It’s a great way to move from your mind to your body. Plus, it is scientifically proven that conscious breathing can alter your physiology, relieve anxiety, and encourage you to be more present. A great way to focus on your breath, is by finding a cosy spot to sit, stand, or lay down. Start by closing your eyes or softening your gaze. At this point do not try to change your breathing.
Step 2) Notice what type of breathing you are performing.
Some questions to ask yourself at this stage are: how long are my breaths? Are they shallow or deep? Am I inhaling longer, or exhaling longer? Am I breathing through my nose or my mouth?
Step 3) Notice where your breath is coming from.
Some people tend to fill their chests with air as they inhale, while others fill their belly. Ask yourself where you feel yours. If you are having trouble detecting this, you can place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest so you can physically feel where your breath is most heightened. Stay here for awhile and start counting breaths-inhale “one”, exhale “two”. Follow this sequence until you reach “ten”. Repeat as many times as you wish.
Step 4) Through the course of counting your breaths start to notice if your breath shifts as you pay more attention to it.
Feel the rising of your belly or chest, feel the air fill your nostrils, and listen to the whoosh as you exhale. Stay here for as long as you want and see if you notice any signals. Do you feel a tightness anywhere as you breath? Does your breath seem to get stuck in your belly, your chest, your throat? These could be indicators of feeling stressed, feeling anxious, or feeling unable to accept the present moment. For instance, when it’s difficult for me to fill my belly with breath, I feel anxious. When it feels stuck in my chest I am usually stressed. When it catches in my throat I know I am disconnected from the present and having trouble accepting something in my life. Ask yourself if any of these feelings resonate with you, but try not to get stuck on the answers.
Listening to your body first requires you to practice asking the right questions, and taking notice before interpreting anything. This can be very difficult initially because often times we want answers immediately. Don’t worry. With practice, the answers will come. For now, enjoy the beautiful gift of your breath that gives your body, spirit, and mind life!
In my next section of how to listen to your body I will be going over how to perform a body scan which always starts with breathing! So keep up the practice of noticing your breath- try to set aside even just one minute each day this week, or the next time you are driving, sitting still, or waiting in line notice your breathing.