Listening to the Body, Not the Mind

Most of us listen to our minds all day long without hardly checking in with the body from the neck down. This overinvolvement with the mind and under-involvement with the rest of your body can have significant deleterious effects.

Listening to the Mind

First of all, the mind has about 60-80,000 thoughts a day and most of them are negative, repetitive, and useless. After having taught meditation for many years and hearing what people are thinking about, I will have to agree with these statistics. In fact, the most commonly reported thoughts that people tell me they notice are their to-do lists. These reports show me that we are way too focused on “doing” and not nearly enough on “being.” And while this might sound simple, all you really have to do is write yourself a list every day. Then your mind would be freed up for better things.

Second, the mind is often telling us to override the signals of the body that tell us when it’s time to eat, rest, move, play, connect, and create. You push too hard, play too little, and connect with too much technology and not enough humankind.

The body, however, is giving us information all of the time about how to take care of many important aspects of our lives. Here are a few:

Listening to the Body

  1. Listen to Your Belly – I have asked thousands of people if they check in with their bellies to see whether they are hungry before they eat, and I often get vacant stares. Because of our daily schedules, many of us have been trained to eat at certain times of the day. And, because of the tyranny of the diet culture, many people have trained themselves not to listen to hunger signals to the point that they never feel physically hungry. Regardless of the reasons why you don’t listen to belly, starting a practice of listening and responding to your belly is a great way to practice self-love. Feeding the body when it has physical hunger and not overfeeding it when you do eat will help you have more energy and less fatigue. It can also be beneficial to notice how much you feed the body when it’s not hungry at all, but because of stress, boredom, lonliness, and sadness. This is when you practice listening to the heart.
  2. Listen to the Heart – A beautiful practice to do everyday is to stop, place your hands over your heart, and ask yourself what are you feeling. Knowing what you’re feeling and naming it accurately is one of the best ways to start processing your emotions. Think about it. What does a therapist or best friend say when you visit them? They often ask “What are you feeling?” So, you can be your own therapist or own best friend by doing the same thing. Research indicates that “when you can name it, you can tame it.” Accurately identifying and acknowledging feelings is called affect labeling and can help you decrease distress.
  3. Listen to Your Hunger – How often do you stop and ask yourself what you really want to eat? Or, do you just eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and oftentimes dinner? When you give yourself what you want to eat on a regular basis, you benefit in many ways. When you eat what you want, you often eat less of it because you were satisfied. Think about the many times you ate something because you thought it was better for you (e.g. a salad) and forego something more satisfying (e.g. the bowl of hot soup). But you found yourself getting hungry again shortly afterward. When you give yourself what you you really want and savor it, you can have a pleasurable experience every day with food. Food becomes a joy instead of drudgery.
  4. Listen to your Whole Body – You body tells you when it wants to rest, move, connect, meditate, do yoga, play, and so much more. When your body is fatigued, it can be for many different reasons. You might be pushing it to do to much or you might be engaged in activities that are not in alignment with who you are. You might need rest? Or you might need to consider what it is you are doing or not doing that would serve you? When your body is over-anxious or restless, you could find it hard to focus and attend to tasks at hand. You could practice with techniques (e.g. meditation, yoga, breathing exercises) that give you more ability to concentrate. Listening to your whole body can tell you many things. When your body feels depleted, you might need more or less engagement with activity. Walking, for instance, can give you energy sometimes. And, sometimes the body just needs to rest.

While the mind is not “bad,” it is often misguided. Stopping to listen to the body for moments throughout your day or in time set aside for meditation will give you lots of information about how to take care of it better. Try these tips and, if you want more, check out my new book, Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love your Body, and Live with Joy. You will find FIFTY small bite-sized chapters with savoring practices that can change your life.