Horse trainers who attune to and listen to the communication from the horses they train are known as horse whisperers. I have recently become more attuned to and able to listen to my own body. I like to think that I am becoming my own body whisperer.
Listening to your body isn’t a new idea, but for many of us it’s difficult to translate the idea into reality. What exactly does it mean to listen to your body? How does a body speak?
Pushing Through Pain
One of the clear ways that my body has spoken for many years is through pain. When work, family, and house were my priorities I didn’t know how to slow down enough to actually listen to my body. For a long timeI lived with body as enemy as I muddled through severe pain and fatigue.
It was a revelation to me one day when we were out shopping together as a family when I became irate and short-fused. When Jon asked me what was going on I didn’t immediately know. After pausing and sensing inside my body I blurted out, “I’m tired and in pain and I need to go home.” I had not realized how I ignored pain and fatigue and attempted to push through no matter what.
Unfortunately that little spark of illumination did not change how I lived my life or dealt with pain. I continued to feel that I had to push through and get things done no matter how I felt. It is only with hindsight that I recognize that day’s outburst as the clear signal it was.
Becoming a Body Whisperer
Fast forward many years, I’m now retired and doing what I love—photography. I still have health challenges and pain. But FINALLY I am learning new ways to be aware and present with my body instead of pushing it beyond it’s capabilities.
A few years ago I got serious about making my meditation practice a regular daily practice. And in the past year I’ve begun doing the same with my yoga practice. Both practices are helping me become more aware of my body.
Last summer when I met with my yoga teacher to get advice on setting up my at home yoga practice, she asked me to refresh her memory about my health and any pain issues. When she heard my story, she immediately suggested that I needed to back off from even the gentle yoga class and yoga poses I wanted to do. Instead she suggested that I practice something called restorative yoga.
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” — Aadil Palkhivala
It took hearing what she had to say about how she practiced only restorative yoga for almost a year after having a heart attack, to get me to listen and pause long enough to let the idea of allowing rather than pushing to sink in. I realized for all of my life I’ve attempted to push through pain, wanting to overcome it instead of make friends with it. I decided then and there to commit to doing at least six months of restorative yoga practice.
As I began doing more restorative yoga I began noticing more and more subtle sensations in my body. I can now feel more clearly which parts of my body are relaxed and which parts are tense. I’ve learned that if something in my restorative yoga practice causes pain or discomfort I need to make adjustments until the pose is comfortable and I can feel my body relax into it. I am making friends with the parts of me which cause the most pain and limitation. There is such freedom from letting go of judgment and embracing acceptance, listening, and self-compassion.
Whilst our culture promotes a never ending amount of doing, Restorative Yoga is the radical, counter-cultural experience of simply being…
When every joint is beautifully supported, the body receives this as a message of kindness and responds – ahhh … I am safe to soften, safe to relax. — Neal Ghoshal,
Recently I changed my eating patterns, eliminating some foods that I believe cause inflammation in my body. After 2-3 weeks, when I “cheated” and ate a tiny amount of something I had been eliminating I immediately noticed, “That doesn’t feel good in my stomach.” Once I had that awareness it was easy to say, “I’m not going to eat that again.” My eating choices are evolving naturally through paying attention to what feels good and what does not.
It seems so simple but it’s taken me over half a lifetime to learn to be kind to myself and to actually listen to my body instead of simply trying to make it be different.
After a couple months of doing restorative yoga I began noticing that on days when I used to say I was “feeling lazy” and I “should get busy,” what was really going on was that I wasn’t feeling well and I needed to rest. I began paying more attention how I felt and what I did each day and realized that when I feel good I naturally want to move my body, do things around the house, and get out and exercise. What a revelation!
“Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move.” — Osho
Thinking of all of those years I spent pushing my body to become what I wanted it to become I feel deep compassion for anyone who struggles with pain and fatigue.
Your body is not the enemy!
My body tells me every day what it needs and how to thrive. I may not be able to do everything I want to do. But I am finding my life deepen and become richer as I learn to become my own body whisperer.
Deep listening to and respecting our bodies is far too often not the norm in our culture. It requires a kind of self-compassion many of us did not learn or experience in our childhood or even in adulthood. Think of the slogans we often hear like, “No pain, no gain,” or Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It.”
Embodied awareness is the opposite of those slogans. It’s a kind of self-compassion in the physical realm.
The idea of our need to practice self-compassion is beginning to take hold and spread. There are many compassionate yoga and meditation teachers who can help you on your journey if you desire to learn to become more self-compassionate. Tara Brach, Kristin Neff, Pema Chodran, and Brene Brown are teachers I like and respect.
My wish for you today is that you learn how to become your own body whisperer and that you learn self-compassion. It can make such a positive difference in your life!
May you walk in beauty.
Note: Photos in today’s post are from a photo shoot I did with a friend who makes pottery. I love the beauty of the clay and her hands as she shapes the clay into a bowl.