How Your Body Tells You What It Needs Right Now

 

The other day, I was talking on the phone with a friend who’s being overwhelmed by physical issues since her marriage fell apart – constant nausea and pain from an old wrist injury acting up.

Our conversation had a more personal focus, but she did ask me my professional opinion about what she could do to help remedy one or the other of those symptoms. As always, I suggested she talk to her wrist and stomach – listen to what they have to say, listen to what they need.

At which point, she very kindly asked, “Ok, I get the idea of listening to my body, but how do I do that?”

Of course! Here I am, constantly spouting off about something that’s obvious to me – and to someone who’s already worked with me – but that idea on its own may mean nothing to you, or you might have a notion that’s only somewhat related to what I’m talking about.

 

Let’s clear that up right now. What do I mean when I say “listen to your body”?

Starting with the obvious

Your body speaks to you on a daily basis. When you get hungry or tired or have a pain, your body sends you a bunch of signals to indicate that something needs your attention. Ideally, you eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired, and step away from the computer to rest your wrist when it hurts: that’s you listening to your body.

If you’re well tuned into your body and actually heed its signals, it doesn’t need to speak very loudly.

Sometimes, though, you ignore those signals, or you’re not in touch enough to actually hear them. In which case, your body starts to speak more loudly: you feel faint and irritable from low blood sugar, your mind is foggy from lack of sleep, or your wrist is so badly inflamed, you can’t work for 3 days.

Your body acts like a little kid looking for loving attention. Do you see what she needs after the first gentle “Mom?”, or do you ignore her until she’s escalated through “Mom. Mom? Moom. Mooo-oooom! MOM!”

 

Listening as a way of fixing a problem

More specifically, you need to listen to your body when trying to sort out how best to address a certain ailment and to understand if certain remedies are working. Let’s say we’re talking about my friend’s nausea. I would ask her to take a few days to notice if there’s a time of day it acts up more than others, if certain foods or activities aggravate it or make it better. Then, once I’ve made certain suggestions about her eating habits and herbs, she’s going to check in to see if there’s any change – for better or worse.

One issue that comes up often with clients is women who graze mindlessly or fall into some other aspect of emotional eating. There again, it’s a matter of understanding if there’s any actual hunger involved. Is the hunger for food, or for a deeper need? Maybe the need for food is a way of avoiding something else. (This is a big topic, and I’ll come back to address it more substantially in another post soon.)

 

Listening to your Body is a way of hearing the needs of your soul.

Don’t worry, there’s a how-to audio for this part at the end.

The other concept I throw around a lot is based on that Teilhard de Chardin quote about us being souls having a human experience: the idea that the body is a container which allows the soul to move on the earth. The body is how we interact in this existence. So it stands to reason that if the soul wants to send us a message, it’s going to do so through medium of the body.

The sensations you feel in your body are your soul speaking to you in a language you can understand.

In that regard, listening to your body involves so much more than noticing your symptoms after certain foods. Listening to your body is part of a healing conversation.

 

When you tune in and hear what your soul is saying to you via the body, you are engaging in a conversation with your self. You are deepening the relationship to your self – in the same way that conversations with the women in your life have turned them from acquaintances into friends into besties.

Conversations aren’t one-sided. They are a back and forth exchange – speaking as well as listening, asking as well as answering; giving and receiving.

When you speak your concerns aloud, whether to yourself or a friend, you draw them out of the shadow of fear and into the light for release.

When you share the experience of what you’re feeling in your body with your practitioner, you’re giving her a fuller picture of why your body is reacting the way it does and how to best approach its healing.

 

What I teach women is based on a technique known as Focusing – developed by psychologist Eugene Gendlin. Some people refer to it as hearing your inner voice or your soul voice or your higher self. Basically, you’re talking to YOU.

Learning how to listen to your body – having a conversation to better understand how it works, how you work – what lights you up and what drags you down – is an essential part of the healing journey.

Put your info in the grey box to access the audio guide which walks you through the steps.

In my next post, once you’ve had a bit of time to practice and get to know yourself in a new way, I’m going to offer a key to making this work as a more effective tool for how you heal and grow. (And let you know what happened with my friend and here wrist.)

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The Health Benefits of Sisterhood

 

People laugh at me sometimes, with how obsessed I am with book club. More than guiding my current reading habits and being an outlet for intellectual curiosity, it takes up priority space in my calendar. Some would say I’m almost religious about it. Could be.

One thing I know for sure: that one night each month feeds my soul.

I used to have a similar take on a choir I’d joined for a time. About the art school office I worked in for 10 years. About natural health school. About hanging with my friends – girls’ night dinner parties being the cherry on the cake.

The common denominator in all these enriching scenarios? Female community.

(Maybe my need for such circles is a bit religious. Being part of a value-based collective certainly adds appeal to any religion. Having stepped away from the Catholic Church I was raised in, my need might be greater than someone who’s stayed more fully connected to a specific faith.)

My girlfriends, and the other clutches of women I mention above, were key to my survival post-divorce. Over 5 tumultuous years, I first learned how a non-judgmental circle of women (& a few special men) grants me

  • the courage to surrender the masks/labels and be myself;
  • the safe space in which to pour my hopes and fears;
  • shoulders to cry on, buddies to dance with;
  • the permission to put myself first (not that we women need it, but we think we do).

I learned that a strong group makes each individual woman stronger.

Being immersed in a community of like-minded, supportive women is the most direct route to knowing and loving yourself.

This solid container works for anything you want to improve really, however, in terms of health, the support of a group is proven to speed recovery and reduce risks of recurrence.

As part of a community, you have a built-in buddy system – someone to hold you accountable, to cheer you on, to hold your hand when things get rough, and to celebrate with you when they go well.

Knowing someone has your back in that way makes it easier to step out of your comfort zone.

On my own, I doubt I’d have had the energy to find another man, let alone explore the world of online dating. Without the love of friends and colleagues, jumping full-tilt into a new line of study might not have been so effortless, and I may never have discovered a new career – one that continues to stretch and fulfill me 14 years later.

A healthy relationship and enriching work serve to nourish you in mind and soul – essential pieces of your health picture.

More than just having a body free of disease, health literally means to be whole. To have balance in the lifestyle choices you make, so you can enjoy balance in your life.

That “being healthy” umbrella covers every part of your life – relationships, heart & soul, mind, work, money, society. It’s not just about the perfect body or a body free of disease. In fact (this is a discussion to explore further another day), it’s possible to be healthy even with a disease.

Every part of your life stands to improve with the health-giving support of a collective.

Community also means a place to ask questions and learn from the experience of others.

In recent years, I’ve discovered pockets of loving circles online. Some of the small Facebook groups I belong to hold the same magic as I’ve experienced in person. They might be a network of colleagues and other alternative health practitioners; financial advice; business support for solopreneurs; accountability and cheerleading through a challenge or a course. I’m also a part of deep spiritual circles through the internet.

I have connected with like-minded women all over the globe who I now consider good friends.

No matter the area of life, my book club, my friends, these online groups all prove to me yet again that it takes a village to raise a healthy woman.

Which is precisely why I have opened a community of my own. The Whole Health Dinner Party is a closed Facebook group for members of my community. It’s a place to talk about food and body and soul and life. For asking niggling questions and sharing thoughts. A place for conversation about health in all its shapes and forms.

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How Your Emotions Change How You Eat

 

In the last post, I wrote about a simple approach to making your meals healthier. Simple. That word is so deceiving. It means “easily understood”; it does not always mean easy to carry out. A simple decision might be easy, such as “I’ll drink a glass of water as soon as I get up.” Deciding to give up sugar or choose whole foods over processed is simple, however, if it were easy, people would just buy different groceries and I’d be out of work.

I’ll go a step further and say that “simple” holds a certain amount of wisdom and potential for growth behind it. Giving your kid a new limit, like no TV on Tuesdays, is simple, though requires you to stretch some of your parenting muscles, and him to exercise his creativity. Letting him watch because you’re tired today is easy, but may not be the best thing for him…or you…in the long run.

When you first introduce the idea, there will be resistance (aka a temper tantrum or two) until the new routine becomes habit. He’ll bend over backwards to negotiate a trade (“I’ll stay off on Wednesday”) or to convince you that letting him watch TV “just this one Tuesday” will be ok. While it’s important to hold space for those possibilities to come up, it’s best to stand your ground. You know from experience that if you hold firm for 10 minutes, he’ll back off and end up having a blast rediscovering the Playmobil he hasn’t touched in months.

Similar scenarios will play out in your head after you give up, say, sugar or dairy. You’ll have inner (or outer!) tantrums about how it’s unfair that you can’t have ice cream when all your friends are eating it. You’ll negotiate extra kale or a longer workout tomorrow, or promise yourself this will be the last bowl of ice cream you’ll ever eat in your entire life.

Like a good parent, you need to give those outbursts room to release. Maybe not by kicking and screaming in the middle of a restaurant, but in your journal, talking to a friend, or by dancing it off in your living room.

Once the storm has passed, this is the opportunity to explore neglected nuggets that might have gone unnoticed for months or even years. I’m talking about emotions and memories that get stuffed under that need for ice cream.

“I’m afraid I’ll never enjoy my food again.”

“I don’t want to burden my friends with my health issues.”

“I’m sad that I can’t eat what I want.”

“I feel like I’m being punished…like my body’s betrayed me…like it’s all downhill from here…”

Ah, now here are the forgotten toys – the parts of you that you shove to the back of your emotional drawer.

In my yoga class last week, we focused on hip openers. The teacher prefaced the class by reminding us how, as part of the second chakra, home of how we connect and relate to the world around us, the hips are the drawers where we dump all the emotional stuff we don’t want to deal with. Like the trinkets and old clothes that clog up your dresser, stuffed emotions block the internal feng shui of your body – unexpressed emotions clog up the flow of energy and movement in your life. No wonder we women end up with tight or arthritic hips!

Your intestines, as well as your uterus and ovaries, also sit in that same area of the body. What does that say about the women who show up in my office? Women with IBS, constipation, bloating & gas, menstrual pain, fibroids, infertility. Seems the hips aren’t the only place that collect our emotional junk for storage.

Beyond the brain-gut connection, this bit of energetic anatomy clarifies how emotions and food are so tightly linked. Incidentally, the stomach, liver and pancreas lie in the 3rd chakra – the seat of your will and anger – another potential hotbed of emotional turmoil mixed in with your eating habits.

Just as cleaning out the dresser breathes new life into your wardrobe and your home, giving those old emotions space to move up and out opens up your body and life to similar movement.

Perhaps April is a synchronous time for me to be preparing to put my house up for sale. The urge to spring clean has helped motivate my efforts. As I declutter and clean and sort and donate, I have the time to get curious about the emotions that surface: about leaving this place, leaving this city and everyone I know. There are days when I have to stop the work and just be with the sadness, the fear and anxiety. There are days when I plow through another closet. And some when I avoid it all by eating every sweet and starchy thing I can find in the pantry.

There’s another good word: avoid. A-void, void-less. In stuffing my face with cheese bagels and apple pie, am I trying to re-clog the space I’ve so diligently created?

I’ve done a lot of writing, a lot of crying, talking, singing, dancing, and I’ve supported myself through the pain with flower essences and body work. Perhaps it’s time instead for me to sit in that open space and allow possibility to unfold. Here goes… feels like I’m bored in my room with no TV…until I start to notice the “toys” around me.

The void morphs into a sacred space, where waits my love of adventure, my excitement about setting up a new house (I already catch myself playing mental doll’s house with some of the places I’ve seen online.), a clean slate for my work and a whole city full of friends and clients I have yet to know.

Without really trying, my urge for sweets has subsided and I’m ready to nourish the new life I’m about to create.

This type of work isn’t easy…you may have to face some harsh realities about yourself, or wade through some pretty nasty sludge. It starts with the simple act of giving the shadows in the corner room to breathe. It starts with the simple gesture of being gentle with yourself no matter what surfaces.

It starts with listening to your body.

What have you discovered about yourself as you make a food shift, or other life transition? Or where do you get stuck every time you try? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

The Soul of Choice

 

You have a choice. You always have a choice.

Get some work done or binge-watch House of Cards? Go out with friends or stay in with your sweetie? Marry the guy or not? Fries or salad?

Do you realize you also have a choice when it comes to your health and well-being?

If the doctor tells you to take a certain medication or the naturopath gives you a list of supplements or your Chinese herbalist tells you to lay off the coffee and sugar, it’s up to you whether or not you do it.

On a certain level, it’s wise to go ahead and follow what they suggest. You’ve gone to whichever practitioner for help, so you do as they ask, trusting their expertise. It’s what you were seeking in the first place.

What’s not so great is if you’re following any of those suggestions blindly, without understanding what it’s for. (Yes, I do know people who pop pills daily because the doctor told them to, yet have no idea why.) It’s a bad idea to give all your power to the health care provider.

Then again, maybe that can be to your advantage, so you have someone to blame if things don’t work out as you’d expected. (She said in a snarky tone.)

You have a choice.

It’s your right.

It’s your responsibility.

When you follow suggestions and prescriptions blindly, you’re handing over more than your power; you’re giving away all responsibility for your own body and health.

The doctor, the naturopath, the Chinese practitioner is there to gather information and provide solutions according to what they know. All they can do is offer the help. I see myself as the lamplighter, illuminating a certain path. It’s up to you to take the steps, to follow the path…or not.

Responsibility in this sense means:

  • be honest with yourself that you need professional help in the first place;
  • be honest with your practitioner(s), giving them the whole picture and allowing them to support you as thoroughly as possible;
  • ask questions if you don’t understand either what’s happening, the suggestions/prescriptions you’ve been given, or what you can expect from the substance or lifestyle shift – both good and bad.

If, for whatever reason, what’s been offered doesn’t sit right with you, it’s your responsibility to take time, to gather more information, to ask for modifications or a 2nd opinion.

However, I’ll say it again, you must take responsibility for your choices.

This train of thought brings to mind The Lovers card from the Tarot.

Picture a man and a woman, naked, and on the verge of that first kiss, with all the delicious tension and possibility in that moment. The potency is so ripe, entire books have been written about it – what happens if they kiss? What happens if they don’t? (The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver is a must-read if you’re into that sort of thing.)

This is Adam & Eve about to bite into the apple. No matter what you decide, there are consequences. Some good, some bad. Stay in the state you’re in now, or dare to face the unknown world of something that could be either dangerous or liberating? Regardless of the choice you make, you must take responsibility for what happens next.

This card also reminds you that “getting naked” – dropping fully into your body with pure openness, even vulnerability – will clarify your decisions.

In the long, slow process of moving to another city, my husband and I have been learning all we can about the different neighbourhoods and making lists of what we want in a house. Then we cull the internet for places in our price-range that tick as many of the boxes we’ve made a priority, like a big backyard with trees and a finished basement.

On our list, we’ve also written down how we want to feel in our new home. Spacious, warm, welcome. It’s not until we actually go and drive around the areas, walk through the houses and “get the vibe” that we know for sure if a place is right for us or not. We need to feel it.

It’s the same with health decisions.

Yes, it starts with an informed decision, as described above. At a certain point, though, you need to turn off your head and connect to how it feels in your body.

Maybe a certain supplement gives you a headache, or the thought of going straight for high-tech meds intuitively feels too extreme for the time-being. Maybe the prospect of giving up sugar brings up fear or anger.

It’s possible that you need more information. It’s possible that you need support addressing the emotional reaction. Maybe your body is telling you something that doesn’t come across logically.

Noticing and addressing those sensations is a part of responsible choice.

OK, so you’ve made your decisions: you’re taking the pills and steering clear of the caffeine, but what happens if you slip up?

I could write a whole other post about this one, but let me make one thing clear:

Cheating is a choice.

Drinking a cup of coffee, eating a chocolate doughnut or kissing your boss: none of these things “just happen”. Perhaps fleeting and lost in a whirlwind of emotion and desire, but that moment of “Do or not do” is there.

The power of the moment, and your ability to make a wise choice, lies in doing so consciously. Understand that you are responsible for the consequences and the choices that come afterwards.

Is it one coffee, one doughnut or one kiss – savoured and enjoyed for all it’s worth? Or do you allow your efforts to backslide into a full affair with whichever substance has tempted you?

It gets back to how you want to feel in your body, even decide who you want to be, and determine if the belly ache you’ll have later is worth the 30 seconds of sweet in your mouth now.

At some point, my husband and I will have to stop flirting with ideas and make an offer on one particular house. Once you’ve thought about the options, you’ve got to pick which one(s) you’ll follow to improve your health.

The magic of choice lies in the commitment to what you’ve chosen. Follow your choice with your whole heart, and watch as healing and your life unfold before you.

What choices do you make on a daily basis for the good of your health, body and soul? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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Featured image: Vi – The Lovers. Morgan-Greer Tarot

Contemplate This!

Meditation was something for yogis and the crunchiest of granolas.

You know, something for people without their feet planted firmly on the ground. It was something they did to take them out of life – to become “detached” from all that was around them.

Or so I thought.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Just as yoga had quickly shattered my notion that it was simply about stretching the muscles, meditation has revealed how a spiritual practice effects the physical. Meditation grounds me so fully into myself and into my life that there are days when I can’t function (on a solidly practical level) without it.

Sitting in stillness quiets the inner voices calling out all the shoulds to my day.

It removes the worry about what others will think and gives me the freedom to just be who I am – one of the things that can suck my energy dry if I let it.

Along with yoga, meditation has become the logical antidote to our overly stimulating lifestyles, to the stress levels at the root cause of just about every ailment we currently know.

I love how mindfulness and breathing have trickled into the mainstream world of business, sports, medicine, law – everyone’s getting in on it.

It makes us more relaxed, more productive. Seems so counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? That taking time out of you jam-packed day to sit quietly would improve how you work. But it does.

Since starting my morning practice about a year ago, my ability to focus and stay on task has sky-rocketed. It’s effect is abundantly clear on the days when I don’t sit for those vital 10 minutes and I find myself back in some form of working-mom-ADD.

No lotus position required.

That’s the thing: It doesn’t take a huge investment in time. It doesn’t take any special equipment or cost a dime (unless you want to train more deeply).

Simply sit in a comfortable position – legs crossed or feet on the floor – so that your sitting bones are settled evenly on the cushion/chair/floor and your spine is straight.

Then breathe.

You can get apps to help with specific techniques, such as at headspace.com where they have intro videos and a free trial period. (No, I’m not an affiliate.)

The simplest is to stay focused on the in & out of your breath, and label any thoughts as such and let them float away as a cloud.

That analogy always seemed rather airy-fairy and elusive to me until I heard the folks at a headspace explain it like this:

The blue sky is there all the time, yet on grey days we focus on the clouds, letting them get us down or change the focus of our day. But, get in an airplane and there it is: perfectly blue sky.

Who you are, the essence of you, the seat of your gifts is like that blue sky: there all the time. Again, we focus on the clouds; our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, criticisms, bad news, etc. as the source of our self-definition. Like the clouds, these things are nothing more than what’s most readily visible in a given moment.

In the 10-15 minutes that I sit, I revel in the concrete sensation of being fully in touch with my essence. I’m reminded that it’s accessible all the time by simply parting the clouds.

Spending that time with that internal truth is just as valuable as spending 20 minutes playing with your child or chatting with your sweetie. It strengthens the relationship.

Acknowledge it or not, housewife or CEO, holistic practitioner or plumber, that deeper connection to self

  • Builds trust and improves the communication channels, giving you better access to your values, and priorities.
  • Helps you get clear about your needs
  • Eases the struggle with lifestyle choices…and business choices
  • Deepens the connection to Source and engages the Universe to move with you and for you, in whatever you undertake.
  • Improves your health and vitality. Unplugging from the constant buzz of the outside world gives your adrenals a break, which means better sleep, concentration, creativity. More libido and less belly fat. (Read more about those interactions here.)

When I was preparing the “recipe card” for vibrant health that I now hand around as a business card, the first “ingredient” was a no-brainer.

Warm your heart with daily contemplation until it holds the steady glow of a pilot light.

That’s the source of your inner glow, the heat that sparks any action you take, the flame of the gifts and integrity you spread to your loves ones, your community, to the world.

So I dare you, have a seat and breathe.

Try it for a few days then come and tell me what you’ve noticed. Or what’s changed for you in a big way if you’ve already got a practice going. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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