I have two older sisters, making me the youngest of three girls. From a young age, I’ve been more of an observer than a talker. It’s not that Beth and Laura are particularly loud or overbearing, I just imagine that at some point I decided to take the high road and let them carry the conversation.
And still to this day, when I come home and there’s TV blaring or music on, I instinctively ask for it to be turned down a little but. I guess I just need quiet-time more than most.
But I would argue that something ingenious happens when we indulge in some peace and quiet. First, you begin to notice things around you, both mundane and exciting. Second, you begin to notice things inside of you. Thoughts, feelings, sensations. They’ve been there all along, just biding their time to grab your attention, kind of like the youngest child. In the calm waves of a little peace and quiet, you can finally tune in and listen.
Listening to your body. It’s the basic of all basics. But I think that if we’re going to start the new year off strong, this is where the rubber hits the road. Like every great athlete, returning to the fundamentals over and over will pave the way to a win.
But what exactly, does this mean? Listen to your body. The concept of listening, we can do. All of us. Whether we get out of practice, well, that’s another story. But from the day we’re born, we know how to listen to our bodies. We got hungry, we sent out the message by crying. We got cold, more crying.
The hard part then (as adults of course) becomes the task of interpreting and honoring the message that we hear. This can be a challenge at first, but it becomes easier over time. Our emotions stem from sensations within our body. We feel something, we assign a meaning. Always in that order. So let’s make sure we’re saying the right things to ourselves.
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
We’ve all been there. We’re making a decision and when pressed for information to back said choice, the best we can do is mumble “I don’t know…I just…feel it.” Well, guess what, you’re in luck. Within the lining of our gut is an often overlooked network of neurons that is so extensive, some scientists have nicknamed it our ‘second brain.’ When we trust our gut and follow our intuition, there’s good reason to have faith in our decision. We’ve been taught to outsource advice or look for proof. But I urge you, trust yourself first, you always know what’s best when it comes to your health, well-being and happiness.
LET YOUR BODY SPEAK
In the evening, I’ve taken to meditation while laying down. It’s especially nice in the winter. I grab a blanket and settle in. Huge shocker– sometimes I fall asleep. I asked one of my teachers about this, worried that I was missing out by cutting the session short. But there’s good news. The body has a way of telling us what we need. If after 20 minutes of meditation I settle into rest mode, it’s all good. At first I needed peace, and by falling asleep, my body is just letting me know that it has shifted priorities.
Here’s another example. In the winter, my eyes get sore and itchy when I stare at the computer for more than 90 minutes. The quick fix may be to pop some eye drops in and power through, but I’m fairly certain my body wants me to get up, stare off into the distance and blink freely for five or ten minutes. Next time you feel something, treat it as a message. What’s the body trying to say? What’s your normal response and what might be an alternate response?
GET TO KNOW THE MESSAGES
I often ask my clients if they can identify the physical sensations of hunger. I’ll say, “If I was in your body, how might I know that it’s soon going to be time for some food.” We’ve become so conditioned to keep schedules and squeeze in meals on the go, you might be surprised how many blank stares I get in response. What does it actually feel like to need food? Can we identify the difference between stress in the body due to a helicopter boss versus tried and true hunger? Both situations may result in us reaching for a snack, though only the latter will be appeased by the choice. The holidays are a perfect time to experiment with these sensations and heighten our noticing of true hunger.
In his interview with Oprah, Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us that people can feel your presence when you’re truly listening. And there’s no other feeling like it, to actually be heard by someone. Imagine bringing that presence internally. Who better to treat with such respect and attentiveness, than yourself?
Megan Sanchez is the owner of UpSwing Health Coaching. She works one-on-one with busy professionals who want to revamp their lifestyle and prioritize self-care. Megan helps people develop habits that are built on super small, everyday commitments to nutrition, movement, and personal nourishment that feel good because your body tells you so, not because you’re following the latest trend. She loves both outdoor and urban adventures. She’s called DC home for 7 years.