How well do you really know your body? How much attention do you pay to its subtle signals?
Amazing things can happen when you put your auto-pilot on pause ….
How often do you pay attention? Properly? For more than a minute or two? With no distractions – the TV on in the background, glancing at your mobile whilst you’re in a meeting or having a conversation, or your mind just goes wandering as you pretend to be paying attention?
And never mind paying attention to external issues, what about paying attention to yourself; to your spirit, mind and body?
Focus on your body.
Think about it. How often do you ignore a niggle in your lower back or shoulder? Do you ever actively examine how you move through a task? When you feel indescribably uncomfortable after a meal, do you simply put it down to eating too much? Mostly, we have so many demands on our attention that we simply move on, ignoring the signs that our body needs our attention!
Then listen to your body.
You’ll often hear the phrase “listen to your body” during the workouts on TheOptimal.me. So many people wander what Jannie’s on about …. Listen to your body – what does that even mean? How many of you can easily answer a “how does that feel?” question with the right adjectives? I bet not many.
My anti-aging learning journey has led me to so many interesting practises, and whilst integrated movement routines form the core of my daily movement activity, I started a weekly Feldenkrais session a year or so ago to learn more about how our body is totally integrated when we move … and how when body and mind work together, we really amplify our ability to move well.
What is Feldenkrais and how has it helped me?
Feldenkrais is not “exercise”. It’s ‘self-awareness through movement,’ essentially focusing on the minutia of how we move – how each joint and muscle works together. It’s challenged my notion of how my body can move even further.
Since lockdown I’ve been doing my class over Zoom, so I get a recording of my session. It’s both hilarious and genuinely fascinating; I look a bit like a newbie contortionist, but what’s intriguing is seeing how my body can move into positions I didn’t think possible! I have become aware of each and every muscle/joint/ tendon and how “softening” my body, rather than “holding” makes all the difference. Let me tell you, after 50 minutes I am exhausted – not because I’ve done any cardio work, but because my mind has been focused on every tiny movement in every part of my body. Paying attention is hard work!
Recognising the signals
Hypochondriacs are exceptionally aware of every aspect of their bodies – often unnecessarily or to the detriment of their mental health, but if they could achieve balance, they have the right idea! When my daughter was small, she kept telling me she “had bubbles in her blood”. I would roll my eyes at her vivid imagination. And then some time after, I had a sensation in my arm – and immediately I knew exactly what she’d been talking about. Her muscles were jumping because of a magnesium deficiency!
Your body is constantly sending signals to your brain; pain, pleasure and subtle warnings that manifest in peculiar ways. The trick is learning to “listen” and to recognise these signals. As we get older, to avoid injury and stress, our bodies need us to pay more attention, especially when we’re moving – whether during exercise or simply going about your day.
When body and mind are out of sync or not communicating effectively, the potential for injury increases significantly. So, it’s time to pay attention!
Let’s put this in context: Imagine a toddler about to cry. You’d immediately focus, trying to figure out everything you could to stop the floodgates; you wouldn’t wait for a full-blown tantrum and screaming blue murder to jump into action. So why wait for your body to throw a tantrum just to get your attention!?
Learn to hear your body’s whispers rather than waiting until you’re forced to hear its screams.
Be present in all things and be thankful for all things – Maya Angelou
I consciously work to apply the wisdom of the great Maya Angelou’s to my life – and that includes dealing with my body. I try to be mindful and aware of the signals it sends me as consistently as I can. “Paying attention” is an ongoing, conscious activity. At first it’s quite an effort and requires active engagement with your body and how it feels. The big upside is that it becomes easier to recognise the niggles, and to move in a way that makes them feel better. I believe it’s a life’s work – because our bodies and minds are ever-changing, responsive commodities that react to our environment and the world around us.
So get started with a mindful / awareness practise today, rather than tomorrow. In no time you’ll be a pro-listener, able to soften and adjust. Learn to hear the whispers, don’t wait to hear the screams.