How many of us know how to connect with and listen to our body’s signals and messages to us? Most of us didn’t really learn how to do this anywhere. In fact, we were likely taught the opposite–how to ignore and disregard our bodies: to keep going when we’re tired, to push through the pain to get it done, to always be productive and go after the next thing.
After undergoing emergency open-heart surgery that saved my life and while going through the recovery process, I finally learned how to listen to and honor my body. In actuality, it was because I didn’t know how to do that sooner that I got to the place of needing emergency open-heart surgery. I wasn’t understanding my body’s signals that led to my body’s illness.
In the past, when I wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t allow myself to rest without feeling guilty, like I shouldn’t be taking the time off. And guess what happened when I felt guilty for resting when my body needed it? I created more stress because I was feeling guilty about resting and thinking I should be doing something else!
Resting when our bodies need it can be a hostile cycle if we’re not aware of what’s going on in our minds during the time. Part of us knows that we need rest and another part of us thinks about all the other things we “should” be doing but aren’t. So while we’re resting, there’s cognitive dissonance–we’re not at peace with our decision to rest.
And also, it may be uncomfortable to be with ourselves and all of our thoughts! The thoughts we can avoid when we’re busy doing all the other things we do.
One way to be at peace with resting and caring for ourselves is to be compassionate with ourselves, to accept that we need to rest, and to consciously choose to rest: “I am choosing to rest and care for myself. There is nothing else I need to do right now. This is important and resting will allow me to do the things I want to do later.” This may help to decrease cognitive dissonance.
This relates to more than just resting. It relates to what we choose to eat, drink, and do with our bodies, as well.
As for being left alone with ourselves and our thoughts, it could be helpful to just notice what comes up when it’s just us and our thoughts. (This could be the topic of a whole other email!)
So, instead of ignoring my body’s messages, I learned to slow down and check-in with my body, to familiarize myself with its signals. I learned to ask the questions: “At what cost?” and “What can I do to take care of myself in this moment?”
And when the answer came, I gave myself permission to listen to and honor it. It could mean deciding to sleep in instead of going to the gym, or remembering to breathe deeply, or drinking some water, or choosing to eat (or not eat) something, or canceling evening plans after an unexpectedly tiring day at work.
A realization that I came to while learning to listen to and honor my body more, was that by not listening to my body, I was disrespecting and disregarding myself.
Self-care became a way to show myself respect and love, to regard myself with attention. How often do we expect love, respect, and attention from others when we might not even be giving these things to ourselves?
In the past, I thought that by pushing past my body’s needs, I was “being responsible” and getting things done that I thought I needed to do. But by not taking care of my body, that was actually being irresponsible. I see that now, but I didn’t see it in the past–likely because many of our social messages told me the opposite.
When we begin connecting to our body even more, we learn how to regard our body with attention, to listen to what our body needs. Then we can honor it by supporting it in a healthy, caring, respectful way.
Your turn: What can you do today to start connecting to your body more? Are you open to asking yourself the questions: “At what cost?” and “What can I do to take care of myself in this moment?” What might happen if you decided to give care and attention to yourself, to slow down and check-in with your body first?
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What’s on your mind? It can be powerful to learn from each other and our common struggles when it comes to our practice of self-care–or just being a human being. If you have something you’re struggling with and would like some perspective, share it here. Your issue may be chosen and addressed in the next post–it’ll be totally anonymous.