‘Listen to your body’ is a phrase that is often repeated in holistic health circles. But what is the good of listening when you might not be speaking the same language? It would be about as useful as listening patiently to somebody chattering away in French, and not understanding a word.
It is important to get to know how to ‘translate’ your body’s signs and signals, and to work out the best way to react to them.
For example, how often have you reached for a coffee and something sweet when you experienced that slump in energy mid-afternoon? Your body is trying to tell you that it is tired and needs to rest – so you respond by feeding it stimulants, thereby forcing it to use even more of its dwindling energy.
This inevitably leads to an even bigger energy loss later on when the effects of the sugar and caffeine start to wear off.
Of course, the optimal response to a feeling of tiredness would ideally be to get some sleep. But, in this fast-paced world we live in, sleep is not always an immediate option unfortunately. However, perhaps you can figure out some kind of compromise – perhaps by taking a short ‘power-nap’. Or better still, plan ahead to prevent it happening again, by making sure you’re getting enough sleep at night.
Many people experience this drop in energy after their lunch because their body is hard at work using all its resources to digest a heavy meal. So another solution to the mid-afternoon slump could be to eat a lighter lunch.
One of the key areas in which we ‘speak a foreign language’ to our bodies is in our eating patterns.
The only time we should really eat is when we are physically hungry.
This might seem a ridiculously simple concept, but in actual fact people eat for many other reasons: for example boredom, stress, comfort, or even because of addictions to certain foods. And sadly, the big food corporations know all too well how to increase the addictive qualities of the processed foods they market to us.
Is it any wonder so many people struggle so much with digestive problems and weight-gain?
If only we could simply eat when we are hungry, and stop when we are full, we could easily combat most of these problems.
So how do we do this? Here are a few ways to start to understand what your body is trying to tell you:
1. Be Mindful
There’s a lot of buzz around the word ‘mindfulness’ at the moment. Put simply, it just means to focus on the thing that you are actually doing at the time. Let’s take an everyday task like brushing your teeth. While doing this, think ONLY about brushing your teeth. If your mind starts to wander off, gently bring it back to the act of brushing your teeth.
Sound simple? Wait till you try it… it’s a little trickier than you would think… but keep going and it will get easier.
You can practice mindfulness with anything you do. Driving your car, walking the dog, eating your meals, etc. All you need to do is keep bringing your mind back to the one task you are doing. No distractions, no multitasking – simply doing one thing at a time, and THINKING about one thing at a time.
By practising mindfulness you can start to be more aware of your body’s signals and interpret them from a logical perspective, rather than reacting in ways that may not be healthful.
2. Take up Yoga
Yoga helps us to connect our mind and body in a really deep way. It lets us slow down and appreciate our bodies. By aligning our movement and our breathing we give ourselves the space to enjoy our body and listen to what it has to say.
3. Check in with yourself
Make time throughout the day to stop what you’re doing and check in with yourself. This might mean setting an hourly reminder on your phone. Each hour, take a few moments to come away from whatever you’re immersed in, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself what it is you need right now. Maybe you need a glass of water, or to get up from your desk and give yourself a good stretch.
By watching out for the signs and signals your body sends you throughout the day (and believe me, they become easier and easier to recognise once you start to be more alert to them) you can begin a journey to better health and a brighter future.
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Lisa Murphy is a hypnotherapist & counsellor based in Glasgow, who specialises in anxiety, self-esteem, weight-loss and healthy eating.