The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
One of the greatest things I’ve learned on my wellness journey is how to listen to my body. Before, my body was the last thing I thought about during the day — especially since it didn’t fit within the conventional beauty standards — but, now I see it as a vehicle for my life.
My body is no longer a complete mystery to me — well, mostly — which has paved the way for me to take better care of myself.
For most of my adolescent life, my body was not a priority to me. Either I ignored it or I hid it under hoodies and long pants, especially when it started changing as I got older. I was thin (aka “skinny fat”) as a teenager, so I never felt pressured to do much besides exist.
But, by not cultivating a relationship with my body — even a neutral one — when I got into my 20s and my metabolism changed and I started gaining weight and I didn’t have any athletic ability and I developed food sensitivities and IBS, I was lost.
I was in desperate need of connection with my physical being so I could continue in my life in a healthy and meaningful way. But, as someone who wasn’t an athlete — nor had any interest in being one, I didn’t really know where to start.
But since forming a relationship with my body, I’ve learned a number of things about myself and how I can keep connected with each part of myself.
In my experience, when I take care of my entire being — my physical, mental, spiritual, emotional being — I come into my best self. But to take care of myself fully, I have to tune into the signals my body is sending.
I read an article recently that put into words my exact thoughts:
Now I know when my body needs a rest or when I need to move or when I need to hydrate or when I need a snack to keep my blood sugar levels.
Spend time with your body
The first step on my listening journey was to actually spend quality time with my physical self.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I’m not an active person. I’m short and flat-footed and not coordinated at all. Gym class was my hell on earth. But, as I grew older, I knew I needed to be more active for the sake of my health — I just needed to find the activity that worked best for me.
And I discovered yoga.
If you want a wonderful practice to balance your mind and body, yoga is miraculous. Of course, in this context, I’m speaking of the physical Asana practise, though there are a number of spiritual branches that completes yoga. Yoga asana allowed me to get to know my physical body in a mindful and meaningful way while focusing on the quality of movement and how the poses felt instead of working up a sweat or burning off those pesky calories.
Yoga isn’t a cure-all and I’m not here to convert you, but it’s a great jumping-off point. The focus on breathing, mindful movement, and the connection with your body is the key to starting a better relationship with it. As long as you’re moving mindfully and with intention, you’re doing it right.
How does it feel?
Take stock of how you feel while moving. Any discomfort? Does moving in a certain way feel good? Bad? Scan your body and notice how you feel.
As you continue to notice different sensations, you will start doing it without having to think about it and adjust accordingly. When I do yoga, I now know what modifications I need to do for the comfort of my body. For example, the traditional child’s pose puts too much pressure on my stomach, so I will go into an extended child’s pose instead.
Days will be different. Energy levels will fluctuate, muscles will be sore, things that were easy yesterday might be more difficult. But that’s life. And that’s what it means to be in your body. Listen and modify your movement as needed.
Also notice how the food you’re eating makes you feel.
That’s how I figured out I was sensitive to dairy. Honestly, drinking milk always made me feel a little “icky,” even as a kid, but as an adult, I started listening to the discomfort and cut milk out of my diet. Now I know enough to manage my dairy intake and prevent gas, bloating, etc.
This has also been crucial in helping control my IBS. By understanding which foods trigger symptoms, I can manage my diet properly. This extra care means I can live happy and healthy as much as possible.
But, you don’t have to have something like IBS to watch how certain foods make you feel. If something makes you feel bad when you eat it, cut it out — within reason, of course.
Strive for balance, high diversity, and nutritional food that nourishes you completely.
It’s never going to be perfect
There are so many reasons why there might be a strained relationship between you and your body. Chronic conditions, eating disorders, etc. There are too many reasons to mention, but they’re all valid.
I’m speaking from a place of able-bodied and white, so that comes with a butt tonne of privilege. And I cannot speak for disabled and non-white bodies, but I believe that everyone’s wellbeing, on a completely individual level, involves having a relationship with our bodies.
There’s something healing about taking time to mend or grow the relationship, whatever that means to you; knowing full well that the journey isn’t going to be a straight line.
Even now, I’ve been struggling with how my body looks when I see it in the mirror. My yoga practice is still strong and I’ve been more physically active lately — after a somewhat sedentary winter — but I still can’t shake the feeling of inadequacy.
I know these feelings will ebb and flow. If I focus on how my body feels, instead of how it looks — and it’s been feeling pretty good — then eventually the feeling of being not enough or too much will dissipate. They may never go away completely, but I can keep my energies on what serves me instead of what doesn’t.
We are all on our own journeys, but we cannot ignore this vital part of our being — the physicality of ourselves — whatever that means to us individually. The journey might be rough, it might be fraught, mine certainly was, but it’s so worth it.
Our well-being is not a solid structure. You cannot construct wellness out of concrete. It’s an ever-changing, morphing, and fluid path. What your wellness looks like now might not be what it looks like later down the line, so we adjust and adapt to continue on the path as we need to.
And this is an important step.