Fitness instructors often say, “Listen to your body,” but what does that actually mean? How can you listen to your body as you’re recovering from an injury? What signs are most important if you’re new to exercise; how can you tune in when you’ve been dissociating from your body for years? How can you cut through the noise when you’ve listened to competing voices telling you how you should and shouldn’t take care of your body?
Below are 4 simple strategies to help you listen to what your body is trying to tell you. They key here is to simply observe and acknowledge how you feel and then to respond to each observation in ways that help you feel better.
1.Scan through your body from head to toe – You can do this in any seated or lying position that is comfortable for you. Get comfortable enough to hold this position for several minutes. Make simple movements with each joint: ankle circles, curling and extending your toes, rolling your wrists in both directions and shrugging your shoulders are just a few of the movements you can make during this scan. Notice how each joint feels, moves and sounds and make adjustments for pace and repetitions based on how you feel.
2.Notice your breath – Notice where in your body can you feel your breath. Notice the quality of your breath. The exhale may feel hot through your mouth while the inhale feels cool through your nostrils. When you sense an area of tension in your body, image that you can breathe into that space to release the tension.
3.Get grounded – Take a scan of each part of your body that is making contact with whatever surfaces supports you. If you’re sitting, that might be your sits bones on the ground, your palms face down on your lap and your back against a wall. From standing, that might be your back side against a wall and the soles of your feet on the ground. Slowly explore gentle movements like rocking, swaying and twisting and notice the pressure underneath each of these touch points.
4.Notice areas of tension – As a force of habit, tension starts to creep back into our bodies without us noticing it. Grinding teeth, a furrowed brow, pursed lips, clenched buttocks and tightness in our stomachs, for example. For each sensation that you notice use these as signals to move in different ways – slow, bouncy, soft, etc. – and then allow yourself to release the tension that you’re holding. The next time you start to grind your teeth or feel tightness in your stomach, take notice and ask yourself what you need in the moment.
Our bodies often speak to us in subtle ways and if we ignore the signs, we’re at risk of illness and injury. Listening to your body and heeding its signs are the first steps to knowing what you need to feel your best. You are the expert on you. No matter how much you like your training, enjoy your group exercise class or benefit from your dietitian’s advice, the final decision on what is best for you can only be made by you. And you have to listen to find out what that is…tune in and take care.