Your body knows something. Can you listen to what it is trying to tell you? Often we are too busy thinking, too busy talking, and just plain too busy to listen. We aren’t trained to listen to our bodies. In fact, in our current society, we are taught how to tune out, numb, push through, and ignore. Have a headache? Take a Tylenol. Tired? Drink some coffee. Stomachache? Pop an antacid. We treat the symptoms and bypass the opportunity to listen more deeply to what our bodies are trying to communicate.
When faced with an illness, I believe there are three key ways that we can help nurture our healing process by listening to our bodies. First, we can simply become aware of what we are feeling in our bodies. This sounds so simple, yet so many of us ignore the messages our bodies are sending to us. By tuning in to our bodies, we can respond more appropriately to what our body needs.
Author and body-centered therapist, Steve Sisgold, teaches about the BQ, which he describes as the Body Awareness Quotient. He describes the BQ as a body intelligence that is analogous to the IQ for mental intelligence or EQ for emotional intelligence. On his whole body intelligence website, Steve states, “your conscious mind may not tell you what you need to know. It is living in the past, projecting into the future, and creating stories around the truth. We need to stop relying on our IQ (mental intelligence) and consult our other ally, our BQ™ (body awareness intelligence). I’ve found the fastest way to raise my BQ™ is to ask myself, What is my body telling me right now?”
In Sisgold’s book, ”What is Your Body Telling You,” he offers a BQ test to help his readers become aware their own body’s intelligence. To get an idea of a person’s body intelligence, he asks questions such as:
- How often do you notice the quality of your breathing?
- How often do you consciously pause from what you are doing to take a few deep, full, relaxing breaths?
- How often do you scan your body to connect with what your body is feeling?
- When you feel something uncomfortable in your body, is your tendency to tune into it or to tune it out?
- Do you have a body friendly vocabulary or do you say things like, “I could just kick myself for doing that,” or “I hate my body.”
- Is your body language congruent with your words? Do you notice when your mouth is saying one thing and your body is communicating something completely different? Do you act “fine” or even cheerful when you feel your stomach is nervous, your chest is tight, or your jaw is clenched?
Many of us frequently ignore our body’s messages. During my medical training this was especially true for me. As a medical student and a resident, I learned how to ignore hunger, fatigue, and even the need to use the bathroom, so that I could scrub into long surgical cases and keep up with the demands of my work. I most certainly ignored any signals of stress, anxiety, pain, and overwhelm and I kept pushing myself despite any messages I might have received from my body.
In our current society, this tendency to push ourselves and ignore the needs of our bodies has become common as we attempt to keep up with the demands of our lives. The simple step of becoming aware of what our bodies are feeling can be, in itself, an enormous step in the direction of healing.
A second way that we can learn to listen to our bodies and help our healing process is by connecting to our intuition. There is nothing wrong with making rational decisions based on facts, but empowered patients will also allow their inner intuitive voice a seat at the decisional making table. We must realize that external sources of information are not always correct. Medicine and science are constantly in flux. Things that were the standard of care 50 years ago are now outmoded, outdated, or in some cases, even proven to be harmful. Listening to intuition helps to avoid the pitfalls of blind faith and can be an important tool during a healing journey. In fact, in her book, Radical Remission, Kelly Turner notes that following your intuition is one of the nine key factors seen in the patients she studied who had achieved a radical, unexpected remission from cancer.
Intuition can come in many forms, such as an internal voice of deep knowingness, a physical feeling in the body, or it can come through dreams, meditations, journals, guided imagery, or even by paying attention to the coincidences in one’s life. Different people have unique ways to access to their intuition and each way is valid and can be helpful in creating a healing plan.
A third way that learning to listen to our bodies can help us to heal is by paying attention to the problematic parts of body (the pain, discomfort, symptom, or illness), and use the opportunity to listen more deeply to the body as a conveyor of an important message.
It took a huge wake-up call in the form of an illness for me to learn how to listen to my body. When illness first struck, I was enraged that my body would fail me. Like a relentless taskmaster, I demanded much from my body and expected it to perform. After a while, my rage turned into despair and I began to ask myself… Why me? Why this?
Then I had a moment of breakthrough in the midst of my breakdown. From my humbled place of questioning, I began to see that my body actually had something to say. I learned how to ask more powerful questions, such as: What does my body need? What can I learn from this? How can I grow?
Like the ones we love, we often take our own bodies for granted. And yet, our bodies are incredible gifts to be cherished… even in the breakdowns. Illness can be an opportunity to shift our relationship with our bodies into one of gratitude. By learning to honor our bodies and by accepting that there may be something that we can learn, we open ourselves to possibility.
Instead of simply covering up and ignoring the symptoms, try tuning in. Turn your awareness toward what your body is telling you: the aching shoulder, the upset stomach, the headache, the tumor, the metabolic imbalance, the fatigue. Listening in this way can open the door to healing. Instead of fighting, resenting or ignoring simply ask: what am I feeling in my body? Where? How? When? Why?
Then listen. Really listen. Acknowledge what you feel. “Hello neck ache. I feel you. I hear you. I wonder why you are here. What do you need? How can I help?
As you ask these questions, listen to what comes up for you. There is a wisdom inside of you that goes beyond what you think you know. Trust yourself. Know that you are strong enough. You are not going to give up… not on yourself. As you listen, be gentle with yourself. Be willing to forgive, to comfort, to love and to nurture your body. Let your actions reflect the belief that your body is your ally and greatest friend. Because my friend, it is… it truly is.