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.)

Know anyone else who wants to understand how to (re)connect with her body? Share this post using any (or all!) of the buttons here.

How to Find Hope & Motivation after Divorce

 

There’s something about life after moving that has reminded me so much about how things were after I got divorced, 17 years ago.

There came a point when I knew what I had to do, when I couldn’t live as I had been. When I understood I’d be better off on my own than in a marriage where I was expected to bow to all his needs with no expectation of return. A marriage where I spent an awful lot of time alone, feeling like a single parent, and furious with him for landing me in that situation.

Then came the flurry of activity that is divorce – thankfully it was a relatively amicable split, but there were still legalities to work out, stuff to sort and the kids to consider and nurture in a new way.

I lay awake at night worried I’d never be able to support myself and 2 kids (albeit part-time) on my own, until life eventually settled into something I could handle. As sad and as difficult as it was, I took a certain pleasure in being able to stretch my wings more than I ever had with my parenting and the house, without judgment or accusations of being inconsiderate.

That’s when it reality hit.

There I was, 34 years old: I’d been through school and had a steady job. I’d travelled a bit, been married, had kids. All the boxes I’d wanted to tick as a girl had been ticked, or at least the ones I believed should have been ticked.

Was that it?

Will this be my life from now on?

With a few health issues no longer content to stay in the background, it started to feel like it would even start heading downhill from there.

This happens after a move or a big career shift as well as with divorce, that once the stress calms into a routine, there’s a lull.

A wise woman will recognize that lull for what it is: a well-needed break, the calm after the storm. Time to rest, rejuvenate and gather your resources for what comes next in this life on the other side.

Sometimes, we’re not so wise.

There were days when I came face to face with the same issues as before. I was alone, having to do it all on my own. Some days I wondered why I’d even bothered.

Am I really better off than before?

Did I really need to upend the kids to still be in the same place?

And I was still blaming him for it.

It was my garden that spring that taught me the lesson I needed to learn: it’s possible, even inevitable, to start over.

Every year, the flowers wither and die. Fields go fallow and leaves rot. After the snow melts, the world’s all muddy and smelly. There’s a moment when you almost doubt anything will ever actually grow. And then it does.

Look out the window and it’s all dank and colourless. The sun warms up that much more and poof! It’s orange and yellow and violet. Robins chirp. Crab apple blossoms and lilacs fill the air with their perfume. Pea shoots herald crisp green sweetness.

Something had died in my life; come to an end. That didn’t mean I needed to stagnate in the fallout.

It was time to let the seeds of what I wanted for myself to take root. It was time to notice the colours in me, and ask myself: What form of sunshine would help them to bloom?

I started to focus the warmth of my attention on just that: people and activities and food that lit me up, that excited me and nourished me to my very core.

I started to trim away the branches that were holding me down – the blame, the regret, the self-flagellation.

I had done all this, kept putting one foot in front of the other through the previous year because I needed to make me a priority. I chose this life so that my needs, my values would have space to grow in a nurturing environment. How else could I expect to be truly healthy, effectively raise my sons and be of any service in my community?

When you’ve lost motivation for what you want most, when you can’t find the hope of a better day, I beg of you to try this:

Open your senses to the world around you.

Notice:

what flavours make you swoon

which aromas make you sigh

which colours energize your mind

which music makes you dance

Remember: The most beautiful bounty grows from the humus and rot.

Don’t give up on yourself!

 

If you need more help putting self-care at the top of the list, let me know, I’d be glad to help. Click here and we’ll set up a time to talk.

 

If you know someone who’s stagnating in the fallout of the life they’ve left behind, help them to blossom using any of the share buttons below.

Read This When Your Heart is Breaking

 

You have to be as blind as Cupid not to notice that it’s Valentine’s Day, but how do you celebrate a day of love when your heart is breaking? I don’t mean the Hallmark, boy-just-broke-up-with-you heartbreak of adolescence. (Painful, yes.)

I’m talking about the energy-draining way your heart breaks when you have to fold your business, when you sell your house, when your period stops for good, or yes, when your man walks out on you (or you leave him). A breaking heart carries with it the heavy sadness that makes you want to curl into a ball, close your heart off from any more potential for hurt, and hide under a blanket for the foreseeable future.

Yet, you’re expected to be happy about the changes in your life (sure some are indeed for the best), to let go and move on, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I mean, aren’t we all about being healthy in our processes – doesn’t being healthy mean feeling good?

The decades of twists & turns, ups & downs of my life have taught me differently. Circumstances like divorce, loss, injustices, as well as triumphs, opened me to the rainbow of emotions I hadn’t always understood before. Mainly, I hadn’t understood how they were connected to my health.

I often talk about how I learned that emotions are felt in the body, from a book. These weren’t separate phenomena going on in my head that had no practical bearing on me. They were actual, physiological responses altering my moods, my eating habits and essential to my survival. (Read more about the impact of emotions on your eating habits here; read more about the necessity of the core emotions here)

I learned – through joy and sorrow, success and hardship – that allowing the flow of all my emotions is part of the quickest path to renewed health, inner strength, productivity, and to love…loving myself, that is.

All that to say that even if you’re not bursting with thoughts of romance and crepe-paper hearts this week, that’s ok.

You’re feeling what you’re feeling and that’s not only ok, it’s necessary.

When you give yourself the time and space to literally curl inward, sleep a few extra hours, watch too much TV and only talk to your journal, you are performing a beautiful act of self-love. If your daughter was heartbroken, you’d make her tea and let her cry on your shoulder – chances are that’s what you need as well.

It’s extremely difficult to allow yourself that kind of wallowing; trust me, I know. When you’re the one who keeps everyone going, when you’re the one in control of the situation, it can seem nigh on impossible to fall apart. Perhaps you even harbour a fear that if you let go, you’ll sink into a rabbit hole of sadness and self-pity, even debilitating depression, and never find your way out.

That won’t happen. Emotions are simply energy-in-motion. Given the freedom to move, they do what they have to do and subside, like a wave. The times I surrendered to the depths of how I was feeling, I’ve always bounced right back within a day or two, recharged and motivated to take whatever necessary steps were next.

Sometimes you need to get to the bottom of the well before you can turn around and see the light.

If your heart is breaking – scratch that, WHEN your heart is breaking, because it will break, there’s no getting around that in this life – be gentle with yourself.

Listen deeply to what your body and your heart truly need in the moment and give it. Treat yourself with the loving care you would offer your best friend in the same situation.

Make your favourite, creamy soup and eat it 3 meals a day.

Spend the hours you need curled in bed pouring your sorrows into your journal.

Call the one person who will listen without judgment or advice.

Put on some heart-wrenching music; sing at the top of your lungs, dance in whatever way you’re your body wants to move, and let the tears flow when they come.

If nothing else, breathe. Connect to the one certain thing in the moment and the rest will follow as it needs.

Need help opening the doors to your heart again? Here’s a little ray of light you can let seep into the cracks and get things started.

My morning routine has become the ritual that allows me time to reassess, to nourish my whole being, and to start each day with intention. Next time I’ll discuss how to stay focused even when things are falling apart. (Sign up in the box below if you want to hear more.)

What nourishes you the most when your heart is breaking? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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The Missing Ingredient from your Meals

Aside

You’ve a plate full of colourful vegetables, a tasty protein, maybe a bed of hearty grains, all chosen and cooked with care. You add a sprinkle of fresh herbs and some grey sea salt. Lovely.

But you worked late and the kids have hockey, and so you forget the one ingredient that ensures this meal is as healthy as it can be.

You forget to breathe.

Not just at mealtime.

Every time you rush around clearing the list, shuttling the kids, meeting the deadlines, your breath takes a back seat.

Every time you let your worries get the better of you, and you get lost in your head, in a tailspin of overwhelm and fear, your breath is an afterthought.

You know from yoga, from Pilates, from running, from working out, from meditation, that the breath is how you stay connected to your body. It’s how you manage your pace. It keeps you energized through the tough bits. It’s how you stay anchored in the present moment.

Those same perks of breathing apply when you get home from the gym or the studio. They apply when you sit down to eat. Yes, taking the time to breathe between bites will slow you down, letting your digestive system get in on the game. It’ll give you a chance to notice when you’ve had enough.

There are also physiological benefits to conscious breathing before and during your meals.

Breath keeps you apace and holds you in the present moment

Taking a long, slow, deep breath reduces stress.

The stress response, aka fight or flight, isn’t conducive to digestion – you would never stop for a snack while being chased by a predator or battling a foe. Though there may not be enemy tribes pillaging your village, your body reacts the same way in the face of an angry customer, your son falling out of a tree or being cut off in traffic.

During a day when you’re always “on”, you’ve got to turn “off” for your digestion to function efficiently. Eating under stress contributes to heartburn, bloating, gas, dysbiosis, constipation, IBS, diverticulitis, colon cancer,…

Regardless of the quality of the food on your plate, your body can’t break down, absorb and assimilate the components effectively if it’s not relaxed. Taking a long, slow, deep breath engages the relaxation response, aka rest & digest.

You might even settle down enough for some pleasant conversation!

Breathing keeps you energized

Your breath – oxygen specifically – plays a major role in how efficiently you use your food.

Other than the nutrients that go into the maintenance & function of your body, most of what you derive from food is energy (calories). The carbohydrates get dismantled into glucose; under certain conditions, fat and protein get converted into glucose. Inside your cells, that glucose is burned by oxygen (in a process known as cellular respiration) to release the energy stored in its bonds.

Breathing consciously before and during a meal oxygenates your blood for maximum energy production.

Incidentally, if you’ll forgive me a little geek-out here, that energy is the sun’s heat and light that have been bound with carbon dioxide and water by plants eating and breathing. It’s perfect symbiosis: the plants had exhaled the O2 you need, now you exhale the CO2 they need, and you shine the sun’s light right back out to the Universe.

Breathing connects you to your body (and soul)

Your digestive tract contains a large part of your nervous system. As such, it works according how you approach, experience and react to life. Think of the times – like when you’re on holiday – and you can eat whatever you feel like without repercussion. Then you get home and you sneeze with the first piece of cheese or bloat from the first piece of bread.

Your digestion is also where you take in products from the outside world – plant or animal – dismantle them, and rebuild them according to your current needs. It’s how you literally create your (human) body. So, you could say that digestion is an expression of your humanity, of your uniqueness, of who you are.

Now the breath brings you into deep connection with your body; with its feelings and emotions. While you may think of those as secondary to your health, they are, in fact, vital to your survival.

Fear tells you when to move back. Joy & love compel you to move forward. Anger is how you protect yourself and your loved ones from harm.

The feelings (or your felt senses) are clues to what works for you and what doesn’t. When you sit through a job interview feeling tight in your chest, shoulders curled forward, it’s an indication this place may not be the best working environment for you. As opposed to an office that leaves you feeling open, with head held high.

Knowing how you feel in a situation, or after having eaten a certain food, is exactly what listening to your body is all about. It’s one way to get to know yourself at a deep level.

Noticed with this in mind, your feelings and emotions act as beacons to where you need to go – be it with food, other health-related decisions, relationships, work, where you live, how you play, etc.

Taking the time to breathe – to get in touch more fully with your body, to get to know yourself and express who that individual is – your body will in turn manifest who you are from the inside out. That manifestation happens through your digestion.

Breathe – fully and deeply – through your day, before your meals, in times of joy, in times of strife.**

You’ll have less bloating, better energy and feel more satisfied after your meals.

You’ll be connected to your body, be fully energized and stay anchored in the present moment. All essential ingredients for enjoying and assimilating your meals, your life, and moving more fully into vibrant health.

** When you sit down to a meal, before you make a difficult call, before you step into the big meeting or onto the stage: breathe in for a count of 7, hold for 7, exhale for 7. Do this 3 times. One minute to feeling more relaxed and grounded.

Take a deep breath and go ahead and tell us how it makes you feel right now. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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Why We Love Comfort Food + 3 Steps to Cut the Cravings

Mac & cheese
Rice pudding
Cream of chicken soup
Cookies
Asian noodles

What is it about certain foods that calm you under stress? That call your name when you’re feeling down? That make you feel better like nothing else can?

Is it possible to feel better without them?

For me, it’s always something creamy – pudding, ice cream, fettuccine alfredo. You might prefer chips & onion dip, or go for a bagel with melted cheese.

Looked at rationally, through my “professional” lens, most people I ask come up with some form of starchy carb, often accompanied by dairy. Inevitably, it’s something from the naughty list.

In times of strife, we don’t tend to crave the healthy choices. Nope. We want the sweet, fatty, starchy, salty, oily stuff that we so piously avoid on the good days.

“Bad” as they are, those choices make nutritional sense.

When you’re in stress mode, the hormonal cascade acts to draw more glucose into your blood. It’s the fuel necessary for you to flee from or fight with the tiger at hand. The liver will access that energy by tapping your small storage reserves, then by converting fat & protein to make more.

This is great if you’re dealing with a short-term situation (or going for a fat-burning power walk). Your body will rebalance in the hours following the episode.

But when the stress continues all day – when the tigers keep showing up in the form of traffic jams, computer glitches, unruly kids, etc. – the recovery doesn’t happen. Your body continues to use and need glucose to drive you through the ongoing crises, shunting this key nutrient away from your brain & nervous system. Read: your ability to think straight and stay emotionally calm goes out the window.

Step in the cravings:

The (starchy, refined) carbs are the quickest route to more glucose.

You want dairy because it’s full of the calcium to nourish & calm your nerves. Plus, when it’s main protein (casein) is broken down, it creates opiate-like compounds that keep you happy & ease your pain, just like endorphins during exercise. (There’s a reason your grandmother gave you warm milk before bed.) Cheese, with its relatively high protein content, is the biggest source of these casomorphins – a fact which makes cheese highly addictive.

Salt, sugar and fat stimulate the brain to release dopamine and other pleasure chemicals in the brain, making you feel better.

Unfortunately, sweet & salty also stimulate the adrenal glands, keeping them pumping out the stress hormones, which can set up a vicious cycle. Coffee, and anything you’ve got an underlying allergy to, also perpetuate the drama in the same way.

Beyond the nutrient factors, and possibly more influential in your choices, you quite likely have an emotional association to the comfort food of choice.

My mother’s a big one for offering snack to a child who’s out of sorts. (This is something I notice more from how she treats her grandchildren than from any conscious recollection from my own childhood.) She’s working from the innocent premise that the moodiness stems from low blood sugar. But even in the face of a child who’s hurt or needing emotional solace she’s not equipped to offer, out come the cookies.

It’s a case of the spoonful of sugar replacing the necessary medicine.

A client once told me how she can easily eat a large bag of chips in lieu of supper when she’s upset. I delved deeper into her story: it turns out that the only time she got anything resembling positive attention from a violent, alcoholic father, it was when he was on an upswing, and he’d bring home chips to have a party. There would be a brief window of laughter and hugs. For her, chips = love.

That’s powerful stuff.

I could ask you similar questions about your own cravings. Maybe not such an extreme case, but I’ve no doubt that you have an emotional connection, a fond memory of a loved one or a special time in your life, linked to what you want in times of strife.

Which becomes the key to moving past the craving for that food.

Before I go there, let me step back into the nutrition piece.

Reason #742 of why it’s important to be well nourished on a regular basis: Eating a solid breakfast and well-balanced meals throughout the day lays the foundation on which you build your health.

When you’re well fed – when your reserves are stocked up – you’re prepared to deal with a crisis if and when it comes up. And this can be anything: a car accident, a sick child or parent, a break-up, losing your job, getting a new job, a move, a death,…

In the midst of the turmoil, if you fall off the good eating wagon, for various understandable reasons, it won’t harm your in the long run, and you’ll recover more quickly.

You can nourish yourself in a similar way on an emotional level. Doing the inner work beforehand prepares you for the acute times as they happen…and they will happen.

It’s a 3-Step Process:

1. Get relaxed and tap into the person or memory that’s connected with the food.

What did/does this person mean to you?

What was she/he providing along with the food?

Hot buttered toast brings me back to my grandparents’ kitchen with the smell of fresh-baked bread coming out of the oven. This was a place where I felt appreciated and understood.

Or, What did the food convey that they could not?

Again, my mother’s cookies and ice cream replace the warm hug and words of encouragement a child needs after a disappointment or a fall.

2. Think of the last time you craved that food.

What was happening? How were you feeling?

What did you need, deep down?

How are those needs met by the feelings you associate with the comfort food?

Rather than pop some bread into the toaster, I might ask myself in what way do I need to be appreciated or understood in this current situation. Do I need loving arms and encouragement rather than a cookie.

3. Fill the void by fulfilling the underlying need.

Get help if you need it.

Talk to a friend.

Call the person in question, even if just to connect.

Who else do you know who can provide what’s missing?

How can YOU be the one to give you what you need?

That said, sometimes, a cookie’s just a cookie, and it’s ok to simply want it.

What do you crave when you’re upset? What do you think it’s doing for you emotionally? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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