Surrendering to the Wisdom of your Body


Recently on a social media platform, someone in a group I'm a member of asked a general question to the group about raising her health levels. 

She wasn't asking about weight loss, but a deeper improvement to her overall health. She struggled with diets, having strong physical responses to change of any kind, and she didn't want to think any more about listening to her body because, in her words, "I have a problematic relationship with my body".

This sent red flags flying for me. Good health, robust health, requires a very deep connection with our body, close listening and respect for what our body wants.

I responded to this woman by explaining one of the foundations of my approach to coaching those living with chronic pain conditions: the body is reflecting what's happening on the inside - our thinking, our emotions and our spirit.

I felt this woman had likely experienced her body as a source of mistrust. It had left her vulnerable and open to traumatic experience. This is often the case with people who've had childhood sexual abuse or other physical abuse and trauma. It's easy to transfer our mistrust of the perpetrator of those experiences onto our body.

When we separate from our body, because we feel it's unsafe, or it's betrayed us, we create a huge amount of internal tension. We were never meant to be separated from our body - indeed, we can never really be separated from it. The separation we create in situations like this is actually a shutting off of communication and connection, which forces the body into stress.

Our core purpose in life is about our Spirit

My coaching practice is built on the concept that, while we are alive, our Spirit is inextricably linked to our body. Once we die, they separate. The body becomes purely physical matter that biodegrades back to the earth. Where the Spirit goes - that's a personal belief. But even if you don't believe much in the way of spiritual things, this theory still holds. Something leaves the body when a person dies. That is what I call the Spirit. 

I believe that our Spirit's purpose in this life is to express itself fully, through the body we've been given. 

So, the measure to which we are not giving full expression to that Spirit is the measure to which our body will be under pressure. If we're not expressing our Spirit, we're pulling the body away from its purpose. This is usually a result of the culture we've learned from family, community, education, religion, peers etc. All those "we don't do that" or "good people do this" or "in this family, we are these kind of people, not those" beliefs we naturally take on as we grow up almost always leave us with conflict between our Spirit's true essence and our mind's demands of us. 

But experience also instills beliefs. Abuse, trauma and painful experiences can all "teach us" to do or not do things to keep us safe and avoid these things happening again. Where those experiences have been about our body, the lesson can be to stay as disconnected from it, unconscious of it, as possible. Because the body holds the pain, the grief, the fear, the shame, the humiliation, the horror - it's all held there until we processes it properly.

The body, then, gets pulled between the Spirit, yearing for expression, and the mind, trying to follow the cultural teachings and the learning about safety we've aquired as we've lived.

The Spirit pulling in one direction, and our mind in another. The body is caught between them, built to follow the Spirit but subject to the decisions of the mind.

Back to health - why body connection is essential to health.

The longer we live with our body pulled between the deep yearnings of our Spirit and the dictates of our socialised, fearful brain, it slowly breaks down. In more physiological terms, this pulling of our body in different directions puts us into a state of stress - the fight or flight response. 

While it may scare us, following the yearning of our Spirit is the only way to achieve deep, true peace. While we pull away from what our Spirit wants, we create some level of stress.

The longer we live in line with socialisation and fear, the longer the body is under the stress that will, sooner or later, begin to affect our health. 

So if you're uneasy listening to your body, or connecting deeply to it, there's a good chance you're also not connected to your Spirit, not listening deeply to the yearning that you're here on earth to pursue - the expression of your Spirit. Because there's one thing I know about our Spirit that's almost universally true - it will be calling us to things that break with our socialisation in some way, things that cause some people in our lives to dislike or challenge or reject us, things that will scare us, things we think we can't do.

I believe this is by design - it causes us to grow, to find our own truth and to discover the real juice of life. That's what's best for us, ultimately. 

How to connect to your body to improve your health

In my response to the woman on social media, I explained that connecting to her body would be hard, if she's had painful and traumatic experiences for which she blames her body. Her disconnection is a coping mechanism because, at the time, the feelings were too big, too hard, too un-cope-with-able. But she will have to deal with them. She will have to feel them. She will have to speak them to a compassionate witness (this is an important step). 

This process is hard. Very hard. If it wasn't hard, we'd have done it already. 

And this is where a good therapist can be very, very helpful. A good therapist provides a safe space for breaking down the separation and feeling the emotions trapped in your body. 

As these emotions get felt, they get released. The body can relax a little with every bout of emotion-feeling. It will likely take a lot of those bouts. We take it slow and steady because it's hard. It's exhausting. And we likely need to keep dealing with the rest of life while we're releasing these emotions.

But as we do, we can reconnect to our body and slowly, we can begin to listen, feeling what the body needs to heal. 

In 2020, I expereinced a run of very stressful things, which sent my fight or flight response racing for an exteneded run of months. This flared up my chronic health conditions, leading to weight gain, exhaustion, adrenal over-work, hormonal issues and other symptoms. It feels like a casscade of out-of-control body reactions. 

Our emotional state profoundly affects how our body copes. It can be hard not to get depressed and feel hopeless about it. 

But while I absolutely believe in getting medical help and actively seeking the alternative and complimentary treatments that are right for you, the core path back to health is always to listen to the wisdom of the body. Trust that it's doing what it's doing in order to protect you, to survive and to return you to health.

Five Daily Tips for Better Body Connection

1. Be Still. 

Just stop. Stop moving, watching, checking, doing, talking, planning, rushing. Sit still. Think about something still...or if you can, think of nothing at all. I love a simple, five minute meditation, such as closing your eyes, relaxing your face, then smiling a little. Really feel the smile. Then smile with your whole face. Then smile with your heart. Then spread that smile feeling all through your body. Ahhh...beautiful.

2. End the Day with Acknowledgement and Gratitude for your Body

As  you get into bed, lie down and slowly think about your body, from your feet up to the top of your head. With each part of your body, feel into it, notice how it feels. Give compassion if it's hurting and give it gratitude for how it's served and supported you through the day. 

3. Change One Food/Beverage Choice to be Healthier

Often diets can be more stress-inducing than is worth the health benefits they may deliver. I believe in micro-actions. Try changing one thing each day to be a bit more healthy. Choose a glass of water over soft drink. A non-caffenated drink over another coffee. Fruit over an unhealthy sweet snack or dessert. Reduce your meat intake by a quarter, replace with extra green veg. Choose brown rice over white. Try just the inner parts of your sandwich, removing the bread. Any small step is enough to begin changes that can truly help your health. For extra credit - ask your body what it would prefer to consume, just once a day. Feel into your gut for the answer, not your tongue, which may still prefer the sweet flavours.

4. Stretch.

This doesn't mean a 90 minute class or new gym membership. No equipment necessary or personal trainers. Just do a slight, gentle stretch in the morning and evening. Hold a bench and bend at your hips to a right angle. If you can go down further, great. But 90 degrees is enough if it's stretching the back of your legs. Stretch your arms above your head. This is a great, easy stretch. Put a foot up on a step, chair or something higher if you need to, to get a stretch. Explore what your body feels like stretching.

5. Walk Outside.

Again, this doesn't have to be long, and only do what feels achievable without raising stress too much. If your body can only walk to the corner and back, that's fine. If you can walk for an hour, go for it. The more nature you can get into your walk, the better, such as parks, woodlands, by water etc.

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