We very often ignore the signals of our body. How many times were you tired but just went on? Does it happen to you that you have to pee, but don’t go straight to the toilet because you want to finish your task first? Do you sometimes feel your stomach cringing when you are asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable? Your body is talking to you. It knows exactly what it needs. The message is clear. But are you listening?
Love your body as much as your friend
We often see our body as a vehicle to transport our head. To school, work, social events… A lot of us have the belief that the mind and body are entities that function independently of each other. And our mind overrules our body signals most of the time – including stress, fatigue, anxiety, hunger, the need to go to the bathroom, and so on.
Whatever our mind wants, needs to happen. Even though we don’t take care of, or listen to our body, when some physical part breaks down, our mind takes over and blames our body for being weak. But when you really listen to your body, you will see that it’s actually trying to tell your mind something. In fact, our body is very intelligent: it knows exactly how much oxygen it needs and how to show you when it’s lacking nutrients, to name just a few examples. However, a lot of times we are cut off from these signals. When a friend is talking to you, you probably pay attention and try to serve his needs, right? So why don’t we love our bodies as much as our friends?
Respect your body like your wisest teacher
In yoga, this wisdom is called your inner teacher. You stifle the voice of your inner teacher every time you continue to hurt yourself in some way throughout your life: whether that be through your relentless perfectionism, ruthless self-criticism, or blatant disregard for your body’s needs. A lot of us became quite adept at ignoring the signs of our intuition, often even seeing it as a form of self-control, being able to overcome the signals of body and soul.
As it may take some time to really respect a teacher in life, to really understand his words, the same way we have to learn to respect the wisdom of our bodies. But don’t you think it’s time to start listening now?
There are two ways we can listen and gather information from our body: our physiology sends signals about our inside world, while our senses pick up information from the outside world. We will go deeper into both types of body signals and how to listen to them.
Ignoring body signals about our inside world
We repeatedly ignore signals that function to keep our vehicle running. You probably ignore your basic needs for sleep, food, water and going to the bathroom quite often. I have to admit, I do. Because regularly I think that the work I’m doing at that moment is more important than refilling my water bottle. Or I’m in a conversation and don’t want to disturb my conversation partner, so I hold my pee.
How often do you get a headache because you are dehydrated? Are you used to skipping meals because you don’t have time to eat? And what about sleep? How often do you go to bed when you’re feeling tired? How often do you take an afternoon nap because you feel you need it? High chance you’re ignoring those signals frequently, heh? It sounds very childish maybe, and it is so obvious that you should follow up on those basic signals. But sadly a lot of us often don’t do that.
But ignoring your body is the equivalent of slapping duct tape on your car’s check engine light. How effective is that? In the short term, you may buy yourself some time, but the problem doesn’t go away. And if you ignore it long enough, it’s likely to result in a catastrophic physical breakdown… So, if you make the mistake of using your mind to override your body, you’ll be highly productive—until you burn out or get serious physical diseases. To arrive successfully at your destination, you need to pay attention to the internal condition of your vehicle while paying attention to the external driving conditions.
Ignoring body signals about your outside world
Besides our physiology sending signals about our inside world, our senses pick up information from the outside world. Your observations, interpretations, and ideas that you form from this information can have an impact on your inside world.
There are times when I am in the situation that someone is explaining something to me, and I don’t really get it, but I don’t dare to ask more questions. Afterward, I can feel a bit anxious because I don’t know what to do. Have you ever noticed that your heart started pounding, your throat narrowed, or you get a stomach ache after such a social interaction? Or maybe you feel very alert and can’t sleep because you’re doing a task with a lot of responsibility? Knowing when you need to ask more questions, or if a job is not a good fit for you, are just a few important insights that result from being tuned in to your physiology.
Interpreting your body is the first step to understanding yourself and getting clear about how to respond in any situation. When you are tuned in, what’s happening outside you (changes in your environment or in someone’s tone or body language) will provide clues about your interactions with others. And being aware of what’s happening within you (your physical reactions to those changes) will give you important feedback about your thoughts, emotions, and desires.
Learn to communicate with your body
When the internal signals you receive from your body match your values and the actions you take, you will likely feel calm, peaceful and aligned. When you are not aligned (in other words, when you override your body’s signals and take action that is different from what you really want) you may feel overwhelmed, upset or disconnected.
You need to learn how your body communicates with your mind. Your body is sending you messages, whether you are aware of them or not. These physiological signals are unique for each individual. For example, I experience a racing heart because I am nervous about having a tough conversation. You may feel low energy for the same reason. Stress may cause one person’s stomach to churn and another to start sweating excessively. How does your body communicate with you and demand your attention?
Physical signals from your body may actually also mean that you need medical attention. So always make sure to get checked out by your health professional first. But once you know there’s no medical issue, and you learn to decipher your body’s signals, the signals may act as a friendly reminder not to behave in a certain way. When choosing a certain behavior, ask your body, “How do you feel about this?”. If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress, watch out. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, proceed. And really take care of your needs for your inner world. Sleep when you’re tired. Eat when you’re hungry. Drink when you’re thirsty. Go to the bathroom directly when you feel the need to. Your body is your temple and your wisest teacher. Take good care of it!
Misinterpreting body signals
Listening to physical signals can bring you really deep and help you distinguish between the healthy and unhealthy, the wholesome and unwholesome. And eventually, your inner wisdom will make you realize that you are a lot of times lying to yourself. Usually, the unhealthy behaviors are a sign that you are craving something and you have learned to get it through an unwholesome behavior.
It’s good to be aware of the fact that our mind gets really confused by certain body signals since we have a lot of unhealthy, unwholesome things to consume in our modern society. From our nature, sugar, for instance, is something very precious. Sugar was only available in fruits, which nourishes us with vitamins. But nowadays we have access to pure refined sugar, which disorders our body signals. So next time when you’re craving something sweet, remind yourself that your body is most likely to crave for vitamins, not for empty calories. You need to relearn that your sugar craving is not really helping you, but that it’s actually destroying you.
Another example is smoking. For a lot of people, this is an allowance to take a break, to zone out and take time for themselves. If you really listen to your inner signals, you will recognize that you are misinterpreting your real need. Maybe you’re actually wanting connection with people, and smoking is great because then you have a reason to talk to strangers. The same thing happens with sexual desire. Often the sexual drive is not that big. When you actually take a closer look, you’re just craving for human connection.
You don’t only need to learn to listen, but as well apply your deep inner wisdom to see what you really need. And that will make it easier to replace unwholesome behavior with wholesome behavior. Replacing a bad habit with a healthy habit.
Use body signals to get to know your true nature
Listening to your inner teacher will help you to get closer to your true you, and loving this true you. Actually, listening to your body signals is a form of self-inquiry. Self-inquiry is the constant attention to the inner awareness of “I” or “I am” as a way of discovering the unreality of the “I”-thought. The Sanskrit word is Vichāra, which means deliberation. It is a turning of attention and curiosity inwards towards yourself and towards the truth of your nature. It is a practice of redirecting attention away from outward objects, events, and experiences and towards the experiences within your body and being, including subtle experiences within awareness itself. Eventually, this inward focus can lead to an experience of your ultimate true nature. And even beyond the experience itself to a dimension that is empty of any experience or sense of self.