June 2017

Can You Hear Me Now? A wakeup call from your body

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Believe it or not, the most complex information-processing system on the planet is not your smart phone, computer or notebook. It’s your body. Yet many of us are too busy juggling our lives to tune into its wisdom. When we slow down and listen, our bodies are constantly sending signals: More of this, please; less of that. And when we learn to pay attention, many illnesses and injuries can be avoided. It’s when we rush around and ignore its subtle hints that the body throws a tantrum.

Next thing you know, you’re down for the count, forced to stop and do what is necessary to make your body healthy and happy again. Sometimes it requires a visit to the doctor, testing, bed rest, medication or even surgery, which often means that life as you know it comes to a screeching halt. If only you had listened….

Unless you are a direct descendent of Buddha or one of those highly-attuned fitness gurus or energy healers, you are probably wondering just how the heck you are supposed to go about “listening to your body.” Chances are you are getting some static interference and mixed signals. Stillness is required, and unfortunately some of us wait until we’re sick to be still.

Personally, when I exercise too much (or not enough), slack off on hydration, don’t eat well, or cut my sleep short, my body sends warning signs such as back pain, anxiety, headaches, foggy thinking, and gastrointestinal disturbances. Like yellow caution signals, this amazing machine of mine that works on autopilot, for the most part, begins whispering sweet somethings in my ear: Slow down, drink more water/less wine; eat more veggies/less ice cream; stretch more/sit less; breathe! Seems like common sense, right? And it is.

But how many times, have you tried to outsmart your body by rationalizing bad habits, talking yourself out of going to the gym, or into having that extra cocktail? The waters get murky when the mind and body are out of sync.

According to Dr. James Gordon, Harvard educated psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, it’s important to note that the mind is not synonymous with the brain. “The mind consists of mental states such as thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and images. The brain is the hardware that allows us to experience these mental states,” he said. “The brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and indeed, all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have, share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.”

Awareness of the mind-body connection is certainly not a new idea, but science is finally bridging the gap. “Health and illness don’t happen in a vacuum,” said psychotherapist Andy Roman of the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach Florida. “Hidden pain, especially of the emotional and mental flavors, drives us to do whatever it takes to keep us pain-free—hence addictive, unhealthy habits and patterns,” he said. “It takes more than intellectual insight, more than a ‘program’ or ‘system,’ to make lasting positive changes. When it comes to getting well, focusing on ‘what’s eating you’ can be just as important as what you eat.”

Mind-body practices such as meditation, prayer, guided imagery, tai chi, qui gong, yoga and other techniques focus on becoming more conscious of mental states and using this increased awareness to guide us in a healthier direction. Such practices can be helpful for many conditions because they encourage relaxation, improve coping skills, reduce tension and pain, and lessen the need for medication.

Listen up
Listening to your body and making the mind-body connection does not mean you become paranoid and run to the ER every time you sneeze. It means tuning into your own intuition and deep knowing of what is best for you. Ideally, we would be tuned in all the time, but here are four times when paying attention is especially critical:

• When burning the candle at both ends. In a world that values productivity, many of us feel compelled to push through, often with an extra dose of caffeine and willpower. Over time, the added stress can put your health in jeopardy and even increase your odds of having an accident. At the very least, you may be feeling irritable, anxious and ready to snap someone’s head off. Is this any way to live? While it may be difficult to take a step back or trim down your to-do list, your body is sending you a signal. Ignore it, and say bye-bye to efficiency and production, because you will eventually be flat on your back.

• When in pain. Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. The “no-pain, no gain” mentality is often taken out of context, causing athletes and gym enthusiasts to over-train. Warning: Pushing too hard is a path to injury and long-term damage to your body. Pain is your body saying, “Woah!” On the flip side, the body is meant to move, and exercise might be exactly what your body is begging for. A certain amount of muscle soreness can be expected when you workout, especially if you are trying something new. Your body will tell you if it’s the good kind of pain or the bad sort.

• When fatigued. Worn out? Tired all the time? This may be your body’s way of telling you to pay attention to your diet. Sluggishness, frequent illnesses, unexpected weight changes or frequent junk food cravings are sure signs that you aren’t eating right. While nutrition is a complex and tricky topic, it’s a safe bet that more fruits and vegetables won’t hurt and might help. Because your body said so.

• When you just know. It’s easy to ignore our intuition in lieu of a quick Google search. But sometimes the body knows best. If you have a gut feeling something is not right, trust that instinctive wisdom and follow the trail. Make some notes of your symptoms, see your primary care physician, and listen to your body before it says, “I told you so!” 

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