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Understanding What Your Body Wants, Part 1

Last week I had the honor of sharing a guest post on strategies for listening to our bodies by Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado. For instance, she suggested doing a brief body scan throughout the day, so you can check for issues like tension.

Once you learn how to tune into your body, you need to decode its cues. So another important question arises: How do you know what your body’s trying to tell you?

In part one of her post, Ashley reveals two valuable ways we can interpret our body’s sensations. Stay tuned tomorrow for two more ideas.

Learn more about Ashley Eder at her website

Understanding what your body wants based on physical sensation can be challenging. Sure, there are some easy clues like a growling stomach at dinnertime or a big yawn at the end of the day, but most signs are more subtle and need more exploration before yielding a course of action. Here are some tips to help you interpret your body sensations once you become aware of them:

Look for a memory

Once you are aware of body sensations you have the option of deepening them, which means purposely intensifying it so that you can gather more information. Let’s say you’ve noticed a dull ache in your stomach and are curious about it. Imagine dulling the surrounding sensation and amplifying the dull ache.

What else do you notice about the ache? Is there a movement to it, like a pulsing or wave, or is it still? Does it have a temperature? Is it changing size or shape?

Asking yourself exploratory questions about the body sensation helps you mindfully engage with it. From that place of mindfulness, see what else emerges.

One way memories are stored is in our bodies. Are there memories that go with this sensation? Be open to them, even if they don’t seem to make sense.

If the memories are painful, try engaging with them in the same way you do the sensations–mindful separation, the place where you can study the experience without being swept away by it. Perhaps pretend you are watching the memory on a movie screen, or through a window.

Let’s say, when studying this dull ache in your stomach, you become aware of having a similar feeling during your parents’ divorce when you were young. Try gently inviting the memories of their divorce to be with you, and allow yourself to feel now whatever emotions show up with this memory.

Stay with the body sensations and note how they change as you feel your feelings. Let this dual awareness help you maintain your mindful stance of paying attention, non-judgmentally, from moment-to-moment.

Some people will find that letting the memory move through their awareness will actually lessen the intensity or resolve the sensation of the dull ache.

See what feelings are there

Sometimes the sensation will deepen into an emotional experience. By witnessing the way the emotional experience arises and moves through your body, you can be with it without being consumed by it.

Allow the emotion to continue moving in you by staying with the physical sensations that accompany it. Please remember that the emotion doesn’t have to make cognitive sense in that moment in order for it to be valid.

Watch for the emotion to change as you track it (this may include intensifying, and that’s okay too).

Imagine you notice a tightening along the sides of your neck, almost like a constriction which pulls your throat up toward your chin. Paying attention to it closely, you observe that there is a repetition to this sensation, like a series of waves moving upward. You notice that as you track this sensation, you start to feel sadness, and the movement in your neck turns into crying.

Feel this grief. Allow yourself to cry. It’s okay not to know why you feel sad. If you ignore fatigue and resist sleep, the tiredness will continue to get in your way.

Likewise, crying when your body asks you to, even when there is “no good reason,” lets your body process this emotion and move on. You can directly express your feelings instead of pushing them down or away with distracting thoughts about your body, dieting or disordered eating behaviors.

How do you make sense of your body’s signals? 

Mara, of, and I are collaborating on a brand-new, empowering project called The Self-Love Series. Every month we’ll interview a different person about what self-love means to them and how they practice it every day. The goal is to inspire all of us to better understand self-love, and embody it to lead our most satisfying, fulfilling lives. Mara kicked off the series on her blog with this interview with the amazing Tara Sophia Mohr.

Understanding What Your Body Wants, Part 1



APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Understanding What Your Body Wants, Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 22 Apr 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Apr 2014
Published on All rights reserved.