Lately, in addition to going to Pilates classes at my gym, I’ve been doing cardio kickboxing and TRX, which are pretty intense (and very fun). They get my heart rate up, and I can feel the negative energy, thoughts and ruminations just ooze out of me.
For me, exercise is also a great myth-buster. That’s because ever since I was little, my automatic assumption has been that I’m weak and can’t do A, B or X.
With a few exceptions, I’m not sure that I’ve really ever thought to myself, “Oh, yea, I can totally do this.” It’s been more like a hestitant, “Umm, OK, I’ll give a try, but don’t expect something spectacular.”
But when I exercise, I feel strong and capable.
Exercise challenges my own self-destructive assumptions and helps me see myself in a different, even more accurate, light.
But I’ve realized that adding these classes to my weekly routine has also left my body a bit more sore and tired. (Case in point: Last night I fell asleep at 10:30 p.m., and slept for nine hours straight!)
If this had been my college years I would’ve ignored my body, told myself to suck it up and exercised through the exhaustion.
I would’ve woken up before sunrise to run to the one-room gym at my apartment complex, get on the elliptical, and pretend that I actually liked what I was doing. (In reality, it was a frantic attempt to be thin and fit in.)
But today not only do I engage in exercise that makes me happy, but I take breaks. I no longer treat my body as an accessory, afterthought or annoyance. I don’t treat its cues as meaningless murmurs to shoo away.
In essence, I’ve become a better listener.
Listening to our bodies is a pivotal part of practicing self-care, building a more positive body image and supporting our physical health. That’s why, today, I wanted to share several suggestions for sharpening your listening skills.
I know the below tips might seem like common sense, and in a way, they are. But I think we can all use a reminder once in a while. And, if you like structure as much as I do, it can help to see a few steps spelled out.
Pay attention, and check in with yourself. Start consciously paying more attention to your body. For instance, you might ask yourself how you’re feeling every hour. I’m in the midst of writing an article on managing ADHD, and one of the experts, Stephanie Sarkis, recommended that readers simply ask themselves whether they’re thirsty, hungry or tired throughout the day. Do the same by also zeroing in on your muscles. Consider if you’re sore, tense or even in pain.
Use your five senses to pay better attention to yourself in general. Listen for the sounds of a grumbling stomach. Look at your body to see if you’ve developed any bruises or new moles. Really taste your food to see if you even like it.
Accept it. I know that it’s upsetting, for instance, when you want to do something but your body doesn’t seem to be cooperating. If there’s a day that I really want to work out but I’m super tired, I get cranky. Or if I can’t finish a certain exercise, I feel a wave of disappointment wash over me.
But then I remember that this isn’t some battle or attack. It just is what it is. Denying your hunger or getting angry at your exhaustion only clouds your mind and heightens your negative feelings — and it might prevent you from responding to your needs.
Acceptance helps you move on and figure out what you need. Denial and anger keep you locked in a cycle of negativity (thoughts and actions).
Determine what you need and act on it. For instance, if you feel the early rumbles of hunger, grab a snack (or meal). If your body is especially sore, skip your intense workout (like I did this morning), and do something gentle, such as stretching or taking a walk, or just rest. If you notice a weird mole on your body, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
Listening to your body isn’t always easy or straightforward. And sometimes it can feel like an art form. But remember that listening is a process, and some days, you miss your own cues. Other days, you don’t.
And don’t forget, too, that you deserve to listen and honor your body.
How do you listen to your body?