You may have heard many, including several health “gurus” saying, “Listen to your body.” Now what do they mean by that? They mean: “Listen to what your body is telling you by the signals it is giving you.” This sounds rather simplistic, but what really is a signal and what can it tell you? In order to gain a better understanding of this concept, you need a very important skill (and a prerequisite), and that is: Awareness.
I have grown to realize that awareness is a conscious knowing of what is – not of what should be or ought to be. Children are born with keen awareness as their central nervous system is largely untainted (unless there is a physiological defect) and they have not been programmed yet by their family and society. As we grow older, we get slathered over by layers upon layers of considerations and conditioning, and we lose touch with that innate part of ourselves. The good news is that you can (re)train and (re)build your awareness (i.e., a conscious knowing of what is).
Bodily Signals – the simple and the complex
Before we begin exploring awareness, let us examine some well-known bodily signals! The most common signal that we can all relate to and rarely miss, is the sensation of hunger. The other is yawning and drooping eyelids when you feel sleepy. One other common cue is “butterflies in the stomach” when you get either nervous or excited. In these instances, the bodily signal is more or less moderate to strong, with an easily recognizable and widely accepted (root) cause.
However, there are other kinds of bodily cues that may be termed complex because they are either subtle, hence often missed or strong enough, yet not have an easily traceable (root) cause, hence likely to be misinterpreted or taken for granted. Some examples of such bodily signals are: a sudden craving for sweets; hunger pangs soon after finishing your “full meal”; tightness in your shoulders; cramps in your leg; brain fog; feeling of sudden anxiety; and many, many more. These signals are not necessarily all rooted in one specific cause, and often differ based on your unique context.
For instance, a sudden craving for sweets may be indicative of more than one specific cause (of which, only 3 are mentioned here): (i) lack of hydration in your system; (ii) overconsumption of other tastes (e.g., salty, sour, spicy, etc.), but not enough of the sweet tasting nutritious foods, hence your body is seeking to balance itself by creating a craving for the same; and (iii) lack of “sweet relationships” in your life, hence your body is looking to seek “sweetness” via sweet tasting food items, instead of reaching out to a loved one. Now, which is the correct interpretation – (i) or (ii) or (iii), or a combination of these? The answer depends on your unique context!
What is my Unique Context?
With keen awareness of your inner (that which is going on inside of you) and outer (that which is going on outside of you) environment at (almost) all times, you will have a conscious knowing of what is your unique context, and what that “complex” (and confusing) bodily signal is really trying to tell you. In the above example of a sudden sweet craving, say you exercised keen awareness and realized that you had not consumed hydrating foods or fluids for straight 8 hours, but had eaten nutritious sweet tasting foods, and enjoyed sweet company. So then, the interpretation of that “sweet craving” signal - per your unique context - would be, dehydration. If you chose to then take corrective action to rebalance yourself, then you would possibly rehydrate with the appropriate (nourishing) food and/or drink. Any other possible interpretation of this particular bodily signal, may not directly support your unique context (at least at this time).
As stated before, children are already born aware. They know when they are hungry and also know the exact moment when to stop eating. On the contrary, we adults have been conditioned to eat because it’s time, and also to never waste food. Kids know when they feel sleepy and they go to sleep, and no external influence can talk them out of it. What do we grown-ups do? Instead of taking a nap, we reach for the next cup of coffee to stay awake!
Most of us in our present day modern societies find ourselves rushing about, living mindlessly and often on autopilot, rarely ever pausing to check-in with ourselves on how we are doing or what we are feeling. No wonder we are losing touch with our inner being, and are ending up feeling like a victim of our circumstances. Going against our innate nature in this manner has resulted in skewing our perception of our bodily signals.
The first step to alleviating this “craziness”, is to become aware that this “craziness” exists! The good news is that there are several ways to help rebuild and retrain your faculty of awareness to help alleviate this situation. The three simplest and most accessible techniques are explained below with a few examples of how you could apply these ideas in your daily life:
i) Taking three slow and deep breaths a few times throughout the day, paying close attention to your in and out breaths, would introduce deliberate pauses in your (busy) day and put you in touch with your body (e.g., before, during and at the end of your meal or snack; when stopped at the traffic signal; upon waking up and before bed time; while in the shower; just before making a phone call; etc.).
ii) Being fully present for at least two minutes with a few select tasks (that you normally do in a jiffy) each day by eliminating all distractions (and judgments), allows you to truly experience the moment as it is (e.g., chewing your food 20-30 times before swallowing; picking one flower or fruit, and focusing on its texture, appearance, smell, and other (in)significant features; feeling each key on your keyboard as you type an email; focusing upon and feeling the ground beneath your feet as you walk; etc.).
iii) Offering gratitude silently at least three times a day for not only the obvious reasons, but also for reasons we often take for granted. This practice will instantaneously shift you into a positive, appreciative mood and help align your energies better, whereby your ability to tune-in and feel those (grateful) feelings, enhances (e.g., feeling grateful for: your family and friends who love you; mother earth for the fossil fuel that powers your car; the food on your plate; the oxygen that keeps you alive; the comfortable bed you sleep on; the heater that keeps you warm in winter; your mistakes and failures that help you learn; and anything else animate or inanimate that (remotely) touches your life).
Did you notice that in all the above-mentioned techniques, your focus and attention is being drawn inward (even when external objects are being used in some of the techniques)? This helps you to become aware and access your inner dimension (or inner environment), thereby aiding you over time (with sustained practice), to develop the ability to tune into your body, and hence be able to listen to its cues and also know its cause, giving you a good clue about your unique context (especially when the bodily signals are of the complex kind).
Once you find yourself cruising along with the above-suggested practices to rebuild and strengthen your faculty of awareness, you may choose to go deeper and increase the number of times that you practice these techniques. If you start loving the “side effects” of these practices, and would like to experience more, then you may add to the above list, a regular and consistent practice of one or more of the following: your favorite form of yoga/ meditation/ advanced breathing techniques such as, Pranayama/ tai chi/ any form of a peaceful martial art, such as aikido/ desired dance form/ or any other enjoyable and intentional movement that draws your attention inward – and that’s the key!
By drawing your attention inward, through a continued application of some of the above-mentioned techniques, is like having a light bulb, permanently turned on inside your body, allowing you to clearly see what is going on. Therefore, you will rarely be in the dark, and instead be able to stay in touch with yourself, knowing what, when, and why -your body is signaling you.
On the other side of awareness lies…
It is one thing to be able to listen to the bodily signal, and quite another thing to do something with the awareness of that signal!
Awareness creates choice. Once you become aware of the type of bodily signal (subtle or strong) you are receiving, then you have a choice of whether you: (a) acknowledge the signal, interpret it correctly based on your unique context, and then take the appropriate action step(s) to rebalance – as illustrated in the “sudden sweet craving” example, above; (b) ignore the signal altogether and go about business as usual; (c) acknowledge and interpret the signal, but not take the necessary action; or (d) take an action without correctly interpreting the signal.
Choice creates empowerment. You can now take full responsibility for your actions (or non-actions) and are no longer a victim of your circumstances, and need blame nobody for your experiences – pleasant or unpleasant!
Empowerment creates freedom. The only one holding you hostage, is you! I know, this can sound provocative to some, and I get it. However, just retrace your steps back and look at where we started this discussion: As you listen to your bodily signals, through a keen sense of awareness of your inner (and outer) environment, you will clearly understand what that signal is trying to tell you, as now you have a better understanding of your unique context. With this realization, you have the option to select your next action step, whereby you empower yourself to make your own choices, and hence experience true inner freedom. You are answerable to no one, but you!
As a child you have probably heard some authoritative voice saying, “Listen to me!” and you went ahead and did so. Today you are being told, “Listen to you”, and I hope and wish that you would do just that.
A keen awareness of your bodily signals can indeed serve as a wonderful tool (if used appropriately) for experiencing true inner freedom!
About the Author:
Nilanjana Krishnan is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, founder of “Wellness with Nilanjana, LLC,” and a published author. Her mission is to inspire and empower nurturers, like herself, to become inspiring role models – especially for children – by creating a life of their dreams through conscious living strategies, harmonizing their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Nilanjana uses a holistic approach, personalized for each client. You can learn more about her health coaching at www.WellnessWithNilanjana.com .
Nilanjana’s newest book, “Nutrition and Your Life – An Unconventional Practical Approach”, goes beyond conventional nutrition science to offer holistic perspectives and clear action steps to empower you to find your own individualized path toward a lifetime of wellbeing.
Her previous book, “I Know The Way – 81 fun ways to live the Tao” is a family friendly, experiential learning tool that includes fables, words of wisdom, and affirmations to help reinforce the deeper teachings.
Nilanjana has also graduated from the “Life Education Program” offered by the CwG Foundation, under the mentorship of Neale Donald Walsch, a contemporary spiritual teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is a student of great spiritual masters, including Paramhansa Yogananda. Her formal education includes a Bachelors degree in Electronics Engineering from Anna University in Chennai, India, and a Masters in Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University. She is also a certified Reiki energy-healing practitioner.
She lives in the Greater Seattle area with her husband and their two young boys. Nilanjana enjoys cooking, yoga, meditation, music, and dance-based fitness routines.
She can be contacted at HealthCoachNilanjana@gmail.com and also via www.facebook.com/nilanjana.krishnan.
Click the link below to learn more about her books: