Listen to Your Body
Knowing your body—its strengths, weaknesses, and genetic dispositions—and learning to listen and respond to its messages is a powerful tool available to everyone.
In the 1980s, Jim Fixx was thought to be America’s poster child for health and wellness. He is credited with helping start America’s fitness revolution by popularizing the sport of running and demonstrating the health benefits of regular jogging. However, he died of a heart attack while jogging at 52 years of age.
My father, who was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 49, struggled with weight, smoked, and didn’t jog a mile in his adult life. He died six months after Fixx, at age 59, at a ticket counter at Kennedy Airport in New York while arguing with airline personnel.
Both men created stress for themselves, despite knowing they had a genetic predisposition for heart problems. Intense physical exertion or choosing to get upset over a situation impossible to control creates stress which in turn gets us out of balance and doesn’t allow our bodies to heal themselves.
Neither apparently listened to what their bodies told them. Stress can contribute to many illnesses such as arthritis, high blood pressure, or heart problems.
Being able to avoid a cold, prevent a debilitating injury, or just knowing what is best for you to do at any given time are skills developed from taking time to focus and practice listening. You can do that in many ways. You can concentrate inwardly by pausing and taking a deep breath, take a quiet walk on the beach alone, sit quietly, meditate, or do yoga.
Make a daily practice of connecting with your body—because it has lots of things to say. Some signs your body is sending you can include: low energy, tense muscles, frequent headaches or colds, depression, high blood pressure, or insomnia. If you listen to your body, it will reveal why. It can be the food you are eating, the way you react to traffic, or your interaction with work, your family, or even watching the news.
We receive unique cues from our bodies. For example, I feel tightness above my eyes and feel dryness in my nostrils. There’s a slight throbbing in my forehead. A headache? I rarely get them, and I know I have a predisposition to sinus issues. When I check my sinus pressure points (which run under my eyebrows and along the sides of my nose) I know for sure—sinus.
For relief, I may invert (do a shoulder stand or head stand) or use a Neti pot. Part of my preventive action includes drinking lots of spring water, using saline spray daily, using a humidifier during the winter months, and getting rest. I haven’t had a sinus infection since 1993.
Something simple like waking up and noticing your fingers and ankles are a bit swollen may signal you to drink more water that day and cut out dairy, sugar, and starch to reduce the inflammation.
I’ve believed for a long time that staying well is a lot easier than getting well. As a young woman I witnessed several relatives who did everything their doctors advised yet they didn’t heal. I couldn’t understand why. Reading the 1984 bestseller, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay transformed my beliefs and my habits. “Our body is always talking to us. We just need to take the time to listen. Every cell within our body responds to every single thought we think and every word we speak.” Hay tells her story about how she was diagnosed with inoperable cervical cancer at a young age and given six months to live. Hay had other ideas. She lived to age 90.
We are designed to intrinsically know when something isn’t functioning properly. I often see people in the gym who rush so quickly through their exercise they miss the subtle signs that the movement they are doing isn’t good for them. A teacher once told me, “Your body whispers. If you don’t listen, then it shouts.”
Preventive care is the best health care. Don’t wait until it hurts so badly you can’t turn your head or lift your arm. The rest of your body is already compensating for the pain.
Being able to hear, understand, and respond to your inner guide also can help medical professionals better serve you. Being specific about what hurts and being able to communicate it to your doctor can give you more targeted health care.
Figuring out what your body needs is a process. Learning to listen to it is a choice. You never stop learning. Often, it’s trial and error. But it’s a fun journey that feels good and gives you some control. ▼
Pattie Cinelli is a wellness coach, yoga and Pilates teacher, and a health and wellness writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.