When you have a bruised body image, you’re probably used to ignoring your body. Or maybe your body image is OK, but you’re too swamped to give self-care much thought. Either way, you might not pay much, if any, attention to your body. In fact, you might be unsure what listening to your body even looks, sounds or feels like.
That’s why I’m thrilled to share this guest post by Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado. Below, she shares several practical, straightforward strategies to tune into our bodies. I also love how she describes the process of learning to listen to our bodies.
Next week, she’ll share how we can actually decipher what our bodies are trying to tell us.
Learn more about Ashley Eder at her website www.ashleyeder.com.
(You might remember that Ashley has guest-posted on Weightless before. She wrote this must-read spot-on post about the eerie overlap between dieting and parenthood.)
Learning to read and respond to your body’s cues is a lot like learning a new language: it takes practice and persistence to gain fluency. That’s why it’s a great idea to make a regular practice out of studying your personal somatic clues, so that you will have your “language skills” in place when something bigger comes up.
One way to create this connection to your body is by doing a regular body scan. A body scan can be as formal or informal as you’d like. It can be something you do in a group (like a yoga or meditation class), from an audio recording, or self- led.
A body scan is a practice of checking in with your body as a whole, then slowly and mindfully moving your awareness from one end of your body to the other (feet to head to wake yourself up, head to feet to ground yourself).
One body part at a time, you scan for sensation, temperature, patterns of tension or relaxation, and any other physical feelings that might show up. An important part of this practice is a non-judgmental attitude; let go of the goal to relax or reach any other specific state, and just start to get a sense of what your body feels like on a day-to-day basis.
Some people who feel like a formal meditation practice is too much to build into their busy lives might try putting in a “mini-meditation”–in this case, doing a brief body scan for patterns of tension or sensation at set points throughout the day, such as when they are stopped in traffic or refilling their water bottles.
The questions you ask yourself as you study your body are: what am I feeling physically, where am I feeling it, and how am I responding to that sensation?
The “goal” (I use the word goal loosely because this is more an exploration than anything else) is to be able to identify what your body feels like in various body parts and as a whole, and release judgments about that being good or bad as well as expectations that it should be different.
Having a formal or informal practice of dropping into your physical experience gives you a baseline reading of how your body responds when things really are okay, as well as a fluency in reading and responding when things feel different. Subtle body cues about emotional states in particular act like a personal signature.
It is different for each of us, and we have to gather that information through paying attention to our bodies over time. The key to accumulating this knowledge about ourselves is to regularly stop and inquire, (what is happening in my body right now?) and treating the answer with curiosity and openness.
Let it lead you into even more questions and answers, instead of judgment or an attempt to change it. Not trying to change it means accepting that this is your habit right now, and this is what your body does. It doesn’t mean you don’t get to respond. You might make a decision about what you find.
For example, if you notice that your back feels hunched over, you might note that it’s a kind of hunch that is almost like a collapse, and your head feels really heavy, like it’s weighed down. Then you may decide to straighten up and drop your shoulders, or you may lean forward and rest your head on a table.
First you notice that your body is hunching, then you pay close attention to the hunch and describe it without judgment, and finally you ask yourself if there is anything about that that you would like to shift in this moment, if possible.
Learning to speak your body’s language is a building block to responding to its needs, especially to the subtle ones. By paying attention in a deliberate, non- judgmental way, on a regular basis, you develop the skills to recognize how your body feels, and whether it’s trying to tell you something about your current experience.