“So, what does your body want?”
My client had just spent 10 minutes telling me how frustrated she was with her body.
I had heard plenty in her description about what her mind wanted, but I hadn’t heard any acknowledgement of what her body wanted.
After I asked the question, my client stared at me blankly for about 10 seconds and said, “I have no idea how I would know that or figure it out.”
Her answer didn’t really surprise me.
I do a lot of couples counseling in my work as a coach. But the couples aren’t made up of 2 different individuals….the couple is the mind and the body of my client.
I often feel like a referee trying to mediate a dispute between two opposing teams.
The mind of the client is the more vocal one. The complaints sound something like this:
“I have so many things that I need to take care of, and I’m just so tired that my body won’t let me do them.”
“My stupid knee keeps hurting no matter what I do.”
“Sometimes I just wish my body would just stop hurting. It’s so annoying having to pay attention to it all the time.”
By the time most of my clients come to see me, their minds are somewhere between seriously frustrated and ABSOLUTELY DONE with their bodies.
The bodies of my clients would be happy to talk (aside from just hurting) and work things out but they don’t ever get the chance. Their needs are not heard…they just get told what to do like a disobedient child.
As a result, the bodies of my clients start acting out (aka hurting more) to get their attention.
If their bodies ever got a chance to really voice their concerns, I think they would say:
“Why do you keep forcing me to do things that hurt?”
“Why don’t you notice all of the good things I do?”
“Why don’t you ever ask me what I want instead of just telling me what to do all the time?”
A dispute between the mind and the body cannot be solved by listening to the mind alone. The opinions and preferences of the body must not only be recognized, but also respected.
We have within each of our bodies knowledge and wisdom that can only be accessed when we take the time to actually stop and listen.
In order to get stronger, both physically and emotionally, my clients have to work to establish a new relationship with their bodies; one that is a partnership rather than a dictatorship.
And to establish a partnership, the needs of the body have to be recognized as valid and worthy, not just background noise to be ignored when those needs don’t match up with the agenda of the mind.
There are three key steps to creating a healthy partnership with your body. Here they are:
1. Acknowledge where you are.
I think of this step as similar to entering your starting address on a GPS. You first have to know where you are in order to be able to get the step by step directions to where you want to go.
Before working with me, many of my clients tried to skip this step, because they didn’t like where they were. They were tired of hurting and frustrated by slow or no progress.
But skipping this step often leads to making decisions from where you want to be, rather than where you are. And more often than not, that makes things worse.
Acknowledging where you are right now helps you to get clear on what the very best next step is for you. And that takes you one step closer to your goal.
2. Ask your body the question, “What do YOU want?”
I think the main reason we don’t ask what our body wants when it comes to physical activity is that we don’t understand how our bodies can communicate with us about it.
We are familiar with the concept that our bodies can communicate with us about certain things, like the food we want for dinner. We call these communications “cravings”.
I define a craving as the combination of a thought in our head plus a gut feeling that the thought is the “right” thing. It is the gut feeling that gets our attention and lets us know that’s the choice our body wants us to make. Without that gut feeling, the thought is just a random idea that floats across our mind.
We ask our bodies what type of food it’s craving because we expect to get an answer. But food is not the only topic about which our bodies will express a preference.
In a recent blog , I wrote about how our bodies often signal problems in our lives like the “check engine light” on our cars. This is because of a phenomenon Martha Beck calls the Body Compass. Like a compass will always find true north, our bodies will always point us in the direction that is best for us.
We find the best choice for ourselves by checking in with our bodies, and paying attention to how we feel inside when we think about a particular option or options. An option that is right for us will feel good inside, often freeing. An option that is bad for us will feel bad or constricting.
The next time your body is tired or achy or sore, I challenge you to pause before going on with your normally scheduled activity. Take the time to ask your body what it wants. Give it at least two choices, close your eyes and identify the choice that feels the most freeing to your body. Then, move on to step #3.
3. Follow your body’s guidance and see what happens.
For many of my clients, the idea that they could trust their body to be right about what they need most at any given moment is shocking. Most feel like their bodies have failed them by not allowing them to do activities they want to or feel they should do.
I challenged a client of mine several months ago to actively listen to her body for a week, and follow through on whatever her body wanted. I asked her to think of herself like a researcher exploring a new idea/method, and to write down her results.
She was skeptical and went into this experiment with heavy researcher-bias, expecting (and half hoping) this idea would fail.
At the end of the week, she reported back. Much to her surprise, this experiment made her feel better. She said, “It feels so strange that I am starting to do this more naturally now…..I took a break when I was hurting and I actually felt better. I can’t believe this works!”
If you have ever felt a conflict between what your mind wanted to do, and what your body would LET you do, I encourage you to use these steps to create a more positive and less adversarial relationship between mind and body. Using the steps of: (1) acknowledging where you are; (2) asking your body what it wants; and (3) following your body’s guidance can help create a healthy partnership between your mind and body, and lessen the stress that is created whenever the mind and body have a standoff.
Have you checked in with your body today? If so, did you follow its guidance? Tell us what happened in the comments below!