I hear the phrase “listen to your body” thrown around pretty often lately. It’s a slightly enigmatic concept though, and the truth is most people don’t really understand what it means or why they should do it.
“Listening to your body” actually just refers to learning how to tune into the way your body talks to you
“Listening to your body” is the skill of being able to tune into the way your body talks to you. You’re constantly receiving messages from your body in various forms like hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, lust, sickness, emotions, and the desire to find a bathroom. Some messages feel good, and some are uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that the message itself is actually good or bad. Your body’s messages to you are always neutral; they’re just information being sent to you by your body. (And in fact by judging those messages as good or bad, it’s actually much harder to hear them!)
In our culture we have such an aversion to feeling uncomfortable that our first impulse upon is often to suppress or ignore uncomfortable feelings as quickly as possible. (Think about how we reach for food the moment we’re hungry, try to quickly cheer up a sad friend, or binge on Netflix to distract from our anxiety and loneliness!) Unfortunately, when you get in the habit of automatically suppressing your body’s messages, you miss out on what those message were here to tell you.
Like I said, all of our body’s messages are neutral. They’re just information, and each message has a specific purpose and job.
Let’s take appendicitis for example. If you suddenly experienced severe abdominal pain and a high fever, you might go to the doctor and you get diagnosed with appendicitis. You would probably get treated with either antibiotics or surgery. In this case, the discomfort of your pain and fever were your body’s message to you that something was wrong. It was your appendix’s way of saying “Hey, I’m infected; help!”
But what if instead of finding out what the pain and fever meant, you just ignored it? What if you just took a bunch of painkillers and fever-reducers to suppress the message, and carried on as usual? Most likely, despite “feeling better,” the infection would continue to get worse until you found yourself dealing with a potentially life-threatening ruptured appendix. In a case like this one, listening to your body could actually save your life.
Unfortunately, people rarely seek out solutions for messages that are less loud-and-clear. Society has us convinced that it’s normal for our bodies to feel broken and shitty most of the time. Most people live with chronic fatigue, headaches, low back pain, anxiety, and/or poor digestion. They suppress and ignore their body’s messages as best they can, never stopping to explore what the message is there to teach them.
Here’s the truth: humans are meant to feel far more vibrant and wonderful than most people feel nowadays. But you simply cannot achieve optimal levels of energy and health without learning how to listen to, and interpret, your body’s messages to you.
Some messages are easy, like appendicitis. Some may take years of exploration, healing, and inner detective work. But the benefits extend far beyond what you’ll find in fitness magazines. Here are some less expected ways your life improves when you learn to listen to your body:
1. Feel less crazy around food
Many women have completely screwed up hunger and fullness signals, thanks to years or decades of intermittent yo-yo dieting. Many of my clients have spent their entire adult lives suppressing and ignoring their body’s messages around food in an effort to lose weight, and they come to me completely unaware of what it actually feels like to be hungry or full.
As you might imagine, being able to hear your body when it says “I’m hungry” and “I’m full” makes it a helluva lot easier to know when to eat and when to stop. It also makes it easier to know what to eat. Imagine knowing the difference between real cravings and emotional/boredom cravings, and being able to consciously decide which ones you’ll act on!
Doing the work (and yes, trust me, this one often takes a lot of work) to hear and understand your body’s messages around food and eating will make it easier to lose and keep off weight, remove guilt from the eating equation, and erase chronic stress around food. Instead of trying to adhere to random set of rules and restrictions, it becomes mind-blowingly simple: what will make my body feel good?
2. Less pain
Many people sit at desks all day, and move only during their workouts. It’s impossible to completely undo the physical stress of a lifestyle like that, but by listening to your body, you can keep the damage to a minimum. Lower back pain isn’t always a lifetime sentence, for example. It’s often just a message that something needs to be explored and adjusted. Often that means changing the way you sit, stand, move, sleep, breathe, or train.
Also, you’ll be less likely to get injured as you increase awareness and start to explore yourself. You’ll move better, get stronger, and become more unbreakable as you listen to how your body feels in each posture, movement, and position.
It’s important to mention here that our society will try to convince you that everyone has chronic pain, and that it’s totally normal to feel broken from your mid twenties on. I challenge you to not accept that, because it’s simply not true.
3. Better workouts
Learn the difference between “good pain,” and “bad pain,” and you’ll know when to safely push yourself at the gym, and when to dial it down a notch.
What does it feel like when your body is craving rest, versus when it’s craving a workout? What does it feel like for your glutes to be firing and functioning properly in a squat, versus your low back or hip flexors to be doing most of the work?
Tuning into your body gives you better information to work with, which leads to better overall durability, as well as stronger muscle contractions. This means better, faster, and safer results at the gym.
4. Better health
Your body tells you when you need to slow down and relax, often in the form of subtle signals like tiredness and flareups of old chronic issues. If you ignore those messages, it’ll send louder messages in the form of sickness, injury, panic attacks, or mysterious and seemingly random physical symptoms.
By paying attention to your body’s messages, you can avoid a lot of those health issues by catching them early and figuring out what you need, re-balancing, and bringing yourself back up to 100%. That can include anything from getting more sleep, prioritizing alone time or intimate bonding, remembering how to truly relax, or practicing better self-care.
Beyond avoiding sickness though, learning how to tune into your body will also give you the information you need to elevate your day-to-day health from “I feel fine” to “I feel amazing.”
5. More pleasure
One of the side effects of habitually suppressing the body’s uncomfortable messages is that you also automatically suppress a lot of the pleasurable messages! Learning how to tune back into pleasure will helps you identify and pursue more of what feels good for you, bringing more immediate joy and gratification into your life! This applies to movement, sex, friendship, hobbies, and pretty much everything else.
Plus, the brain will strengthen any neural pathways you make it travel down frequently. That means the more you practice tuning into your pleasure messages, the louder and stronger those messages get. (Aka: you’ll be able to experience more frequent and intense pleasure.)
6. Sharpen your emotional intelligence
Emotions are physical. We feel them in our bodies, so habitually tuning out your body’s signals means you also tune out your emotions! That makes for some seriously confusing adulting. (What do I want to do with my life? Who do I want to date? WHO AM I?!)
Don’t put your brain in charge of shit it’s not qualified to do. It’ll do the best it can, but being in touch with your emotional landscape is crucial if you want to be able to make informed decisions that help you build a rich, fulfilling, authentic, and joyful life.
Being in touch with your emotional landscape is crucial if you want to be able to make informed decisions that help you build a rich, fulfilling, authentic, and joyful life.
Start thinking about your emotions. Where in your body do you feel sadness? How about anger? Joy? What does each emotion feel like? Is it cold, warm, soft, or hard? Does it have a color or texture? Is it tight and small, or big and open? Does it move around or sit very still? Get to know your emotions as physical experiences, and then start noticing when each one shows up.
This will offer you some CIA level intelligence when it comes to what you need and what’s going on for you. Maybe your brain doesn’t know you’re mad yet, but the cold tightening feeling in your belly when you see your partner says otherwise. Access to this data will truly transform your life.
7. Stronger intuition
Much like emotions, your intuition shows up physically; that’s why we call it a “gut feeling.” Learning exactly what your intuition feels like will allow you to identify and trust it quickly and effectively. If something feels “off” to you about a person or situation, but you’re not in tune with your body’s signals, you may confuse your body’s “get out of here” signal with anxiety, even indigestion!
8. Increase your autonomy
The brain will strengthen whatever neural pathways you frequently use, meaning the more you listen to your body’s messages, the louder those messages become. You want those messages to be loud AF, because that means you never again need to listen to anyone else who tries to tell you what’s best for you.
Your body is the be-all, end-all when it comes to knowing what’s right for you. Dr. Oz and fear-mongering fitness magazines have no power over you, if you’re listening to and trusting your body. If some celebrity starts an “only eat blue foods” trend for example, you won’t have to blindly fall prey. You can simply use your body’s messages to inform you. Do you feel good when you eat red, brown, yellow, and green food? Yes? Great, then this diet trend probably isn’t for you.
9. More self-trust
The louder your body’s messages get, the better of a job you can do of asking questions, exploring, and addressing whatever you uncover. With practice listening and responding to your body’s messages, you’ll very likely feel more energized, empowered, stronger, happier, hotter, and healthier. With all of those things comes trust in yourself.
This is huge, because self-trust is the enemy of anxiety and insecurity. Knowing that I did this lets you relax into yourself, trusting that you and your body are always on the same team, and that the answers are always inside you.
I’m passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies, and learning to listen to your body is a crucial step. If you struggle with how to listen to your body, you most likely also struggle to listen to your emotions. The two are forever interconnected, since emotions are physical (you feel them in your body), and when we block one out we tend to block out the other.
That’s why I created Make Friends With Your Feelings
— a 10 week e-course designed to help you tune in, recognize and welcome your emotions, and ultimately, dial the volume way up on how your body talks to you. Learn more