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The human body is an amazing creation. It works without needing our input as to what to do. The heart beats, the lungs pump, the lymph nodes do their thing, the evacuation process works. The body runs better than a well-oiled machine. And it's smart too! It knows what it needs when it needs it. The only glitch in the process is, you guessed it, us.
While the body knows what it needs for its health and well-being, we don't always give it what it needs. I've found, through personal trials and tribulations, that when I listen to my body and give it what it needs, I feel much better and am much healthier.
Ouch, That Hurts!
Let me give you some examples. Many years ago, as a student in college, I loved pistachios. Now let me clarify... this was "loved" in the same way some of us love a particular food... in other words, I ate way too many of them at one sitting. Yummy! Except my body did not agree. After several sessions like this, I realized that the next day I always had a headache, a pistachio hangover, if you will. So I realized that my body was telling me that pistachios did not work well in my system.(Years later, when I discovered The Blood-Type Diet books, I learned that pistachios are on the "avoid" list for my blood-type.)
Same thing with wheat. I used to get migraines every day. Luckily an insightful acupuncturist suggested I try to avoid eating any wheat for 3 weeks and see if my migraine headaches went away. Well, it only took 3 days, and they disappeared. Apparently, eating a whole wheat sandwich every day for lunch triggered a headache each afternoon. Not being sure (yea, right!) that wheat was the culprit, after about 10 days being headache-free, I decided to test it and eat another sandwich, and the headache returned.
Now those are two examples of loud, very loud, and clear instances when the body was talking to me.
Here are two other situations where my body clearly let me know that something I was doing was not good for me. The first is when I tried smoking at the age of 13. I got nauseated, got a headache, and it tasted horrible. Luckily for me, I got the message and that was the end of my "smoking career". Another popular item I could not tolerate was alcohol. As a teenager, I would vomit when I had a few drinks. Point taken! My body was rejecting this toxic substance.
Are You Paying Attention?
Thankfully, with the years, I've learned to pay closer attention to my body's messages before it had to hit me over the head with a 2X4 headache or physically throwing out the toxins from my body. I've noticed that just by holding a food or drink, if I pay attention, I can sense when that food is not good for me. Sometimes it's a sour feeling in my stomach, sometimes it's a quick jab in the forehead, sometimes its a queezy feeling. If I pay close attention, I get the message before eating the food and thus avoid the repercussions.
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I'm certain that every one has this internal warning system. We simply need to learn to stop and listen and pay attention to what our body is telling us.
Sometimes other people can assist us in interpreting our body's messages. For a few months, my husband had been experiencing itchy eyes. At his medical checkup, the doctor suggested that it might be an air-borne allergy. So we started using an air filter in his office and in the bedroom, and that has much improved the situation. Listen to your body's messages and if you can't figure out what it's telling you, other people may have information or insights that will guide you to a solution.
It's Nap Time!
Another situation where I've found listening to my body is very important is rest. Whether it's 7 pm or 10 pm, if I'm tired, I will go to bed, even if it's not my "official bed time" (which is "before midnight").
Taking short naps when I feel tired is another great way to avoid exhaustion or even getting sick. I know that not everyone has the luxury of working from home and thus can't take naps whenever they feel like it. However, you can always take mini-recharge sessions even if you have to use bathroom breaks to do so. Get into the bathroom stall, sit down, close your eyes, and focus on deep breathing for a few minutes. Sometimes 2 minutes of focused belly breathing can be just as good as a short nap. If that's all you can do, it's definitely better than nothing.
Our body needs "time-outs" and in our modern society, we've sometimes gotten into a go-go-go modality that seems to think that more things to do is better. However as many great thinkers, inventors, and creators have shown, great insights and inventions are born in moments of silence and rest. So if you find yourself nodding off, or your eyes just feel heavy, or you just feel tired, take a few minutes and rest... whether that's at your desk, in the bathroom, on the couch, or in bed. And taking a rest means closed eyes, no phone, no screen, no audio book, no outside stimulation. Just stop and rest. Just breathe and relax.
I find that if I just lay down and let my body rest, it lets me know (by waking up) when I've had enough rest... sometimes it's 5 minutes, sometimes 20, sometimes more. I know that if I nap for a long period of time, it's because my body needed it.
Now the trick is to get up when you wake up... whether it's been 5 minutes or 20. If you get up when your body wakes you up, then you will feel refreshed and recharged. If you insist on staying down (as I sometimes do) and go back to sleep, you may find that you will wake up groggy.
By the way, this same principle applies to getting up in the morning. If you wake up 30 or 20 minutes before your alarm clock, your body is telling you that it's had enough sleep... time to rise and shine (unless of course you've just spent the night being an insomniac, then that's a different situation).
Feed Me, I'm Hungry
Same thing about eating. Eat when you're hungry. It doesn't have to be at noon, or 6 pm, or whatever other time you have assigned as meal time. Your body knows when it is hungry or thirsty.
The body has certain "tells". For example, I find my eyes get dry when I'm thirsty. Makes sense when you think about it. Pay attention to your body and discover what your tells are.
A common tell is that when you're hungry, your stomach grumbles. OK, that's an obvious one that everyone knows about, but the point is that our body has other ways of letting us know what it needs. We always have the choice to pay attention to the messages and listen to its good advice!
Aches and Pains
Aches and pains are also messages from your body. Some rather obvious as in, you walked a 35-mile marathon and your legs hurt. OK, it's clearly time to get off your feet and rest. But other aches and pains are also the body's way ot letting you know something needs attention.
Since the body doesn't speak English (or whatever language you speak), it uses itself to send messages. A back ache, a headache, sore shoulders, sore throat, achy legs, inflamed lymph nodes, etc., all come bearing a message of "something needs attention here".
Our body is such a magnificient composition and when we learn to work with it, instead of against it, we can be much healthier and happier. Try it today! Treat your body like a friend that is subtly sending you messages as to what is best for you. Maybe your friend doesn't come out and verbally say "that's not good for you", but maybe you reach for that candy bar and it slips from your hands and falls on the floor. Your body saying, "nope, I don't want that"!
Sometimes it's just a feeling, a hunch. Listen to it! Your body innate intelligence has your best interests at heart.
Do It Now!
In his book, Wisdom from an Empty Mind, Jacob Liberman states:
...when something enters our awareness, that's the moment to take care of it. Don't pay that bill tomorrow, take out the trash later, or make the bed when you get back. When you see it, do it! Don't prioritize anything -- life has already done that for you.
Take care of what's in front of you, and the universe will take care of you.
(Read this excerpt here: Living in the Moment and Being Spiritual Are The Same Thing)
The body will send us messages as needed. It will make us think about taking a bottle of water with us. Do it now! It will give us a flash of eating a salad. Do it now! It will remind us to take our vitamins. Do it now! It will let us know we need a nap. Do it now!
The problem with humans is that we rationalize, we procrastinate, we evaluate, we debate, etc. etc., sometimes ad infinitum. When we listen to our body (and our intuition), we are living in the moment. We take care of business as it comes up. Your eyes are feeling heavy? Close them for a few sections taking some deep breaths in the process. Your back aches? Stretch it, massage it, treat it kindly. Your head hurts? Ask yourself why. Don't rush to dull the pain by taking a pill, closing off the biofeedback loop that will keep you informed as to what is going on with your body.
Yes a pain killer might "get rid" of the headache or pain, but if we don't address the cause, if we don't listen to the message the body has sent us, it will have to keep sending it louder and harder until it knocks us to our knees. It's best to listen immediately to the messages our body (and our world) is sending us so that we truly practice preventative care. We can choose to take care of the source of the problem before it develops into a full-blown explosion of pain and disease.
Your body is an incredibly smart and efficient human-computer. Use its resources, use its input to create the output you want... health and happiness.
OK, I'm going to go lay back and take a nap now! But it's only 9 am? So what! I slept 6 hours last night, been up since 5:30 (because that's when I woke up feeling rested) and if my body wants me to rest now, it's going to get what it needs. And even if I'd had 8 hours of sleep, and had only gotten up an hour ago, if my body says it needs rest, then so it is. It may end up just being a short 5-minute recharge session. I don't know that ahead of time, but I trust that my body knows what it needs when it needs it.
It's Not Miller Time!
I'm finding that in this "coronavirus-time", I'm needing a lot more naps. Maybe I'm feeling the abundance of stress on the planet or maybe my body is practicing preventive medicine -- whatever the reason, when I feel "nappy", off I go for 5 minutes or more. Sometimes I don't actually sleep, I just lay down and do some deep diaphragmatic breathing and after a short time feel, OK, I'm good, time to get up.
The key is just to be flexible enough and pay attention to the messages your body is sending you -- without self-judgment, without criticism, and without jumping to conclusions. Just because you are tired doesn't mean something is wrong with you... it may simply be that your body needs rest in order to remain healthy. The innate wisdom of the body knows best!
And here's a treat for you: Get up and dance! It's good for the body and the soul!
About The Author
Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.
Creative Commons 3.0: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License. Attribute the author: Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com. Link back to the article: This article originally appeared on InnerSelf.com