How to Listen to Your Body and Give It What It Needs

“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.’” ~Nayyirah Waheed

For more than half my life, I took care of my body “by the numbers.” Every day, I walked a certain number of steps, no matter how sore, sick, or tired I was. I worked a certain number of hours, often going without sleep in order to finish my work and check off all the numbered items on my to-do list, no matter how my body begged for rest.

For weeks I’d follow a strict diet, counting points or calories or carbs, ignoring hunger pains and my growling stomach. But when the diet was over, I’d stuff myself on sweets and junk food until I felt sick and ashamed. At the same time, I struggled to see a certain number on the scale and to fit into a certain dress size.

Not only was I miserable physically, but when I didn’t meet these “number goals,” I felt like a failure, and told myself there was something wrong with me.

Maybe some of this sounds familiar to you. Maybe you’re exercising though pain, working beyond exhaustion, and eating in ways that leave you feeling tired, bloated, or sick.

Maybe, like me, you’re blaming your body for not being strong enough, thin enough, tough enough, or just plain not good enough.

But here’s the truth: None of this is your body’s fault.

Whether you know it or not, your body is speaking to you all day long. It’s telling you on an ongoing basis what it needs to keep you healthy, comfortable, and happy.

The trouble is that we’ve all been taught to ignore what our bodies are telling us in order to please the people around us. From our earliest days we were told when and what to eat. We’re told how we should look, act, and live in order to fit in. And, over the years, we’ve learned to judge ourselves and our lives “by the numbers.”

But what if you decided to stop letting those numbers run your life and started listening to your body instead? What if you could trust that your body has a deep wisdom you can rely on to keep you healthy and strong?

Here are some techniques you can use to connect with your body in a way that helps you feel, hear, and then honor its needs. Try them all and see what works for you.

Listening to Your Body

1. Respect it.

Begin by thinking about and speaking to your body with love and respect. If you’re not sure how to do that, try repeating this.

Dear Body:

I love you exactly the way you are.
I thank you for all the things you’ve done for me throughout my life.
I respect you for all the things you do for me daily.
I honor you for having the wisdom to know how to heal.
I trust you to take care of me, and I will take care of you.
I promise I will always listen to you and give you what you ask for to heal and thrive.
My beloved body, I will speak to you with love and care for you as long as we’re together.

Thank you.

Commit to replacing any negative thoughts you have about your body with thoughts of gratitude for how well your body works and how many ways it serves you throughout your day. If you’d like, pick the body part you like best, and resolve to replace any negative thoughts about your body with a positive thought about what you like about your nose or your hands or your teeth.

2. Connect body and mind.

The easiest way to connect your body and mind is to use a combination of your breath and your sense of touch. Begin by putting your hand over your heart. Notice how your heart beats under your palm, and how your chest rises and falls with each breath you take. Now close your eyes and draw a deep breath into your belly. Hold it a moment, then exhale slowly.

As you continue to breathe deeply and rhythmically, bring your focus to the sound of your inhale and the sound of your exhale. Breathe in and breathe out as you continue to relax.

Now, tune into your body and what it’s telling you.

Is it tense? Relaxed? Tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Jittery? Notice if there’s a part that’s holding tension. Is that part tight or stiff? Does any part of you feel achy or anxious? Take a moment and really listen. You may be surprised at what you learn about what’s really going on inside you.

3. Ask what your body needs in the moment.

Now ask your body what it needs to feel better right away. When it answers, be ready to honor that need.

  • If your body is feeling anxious, try this breathing technique. Pull your shoulders all the way up to your ears, then exhale with a whoosh and repeat until you feel calmer.
  • If you’re hungry, grab a quick, healthy snack.
  • If you’re thirsty, drink some water.
  • If you’re restless, take a break and go for a short walk.
  • If you’re achy or stiff, stretch or try a few yoga poses.
  • If you’re tired, take a nap if you can. If not, try taking a two-minute vacation. Close your eyes and imagine yourself relaxing in a beautiful, peaceful place. Let your worries and exhaustion go for those two minutes while you soak up the feeling of calm relaxation.

4. Ask what your body needs to stay healthy in the future.

Next take some time and ask your body what it needs on a long-term basis to heal and thrive in the future.

  • Do you need to go back to the gym?
  • Do you need to stop eating at night?
  • Do you need to replace your mattress to get a better night’s sleep?
  • Do you need to ask for help at work, or at home?
  • Do you need to schedule a massage?
  • Do you need to forgive yourself or someone else?
  • Do you need to start speaking up for yourself?

Pick the one thing you know your body needs right now to help it heal. Decide on one small step you could take right now to make long-term healthy changes. Commit to taking that step. Then commit to taking another small step tomorrow, and the day after that, until it becomes a healthy habit.

5. Stop living “by the numbers.”

Resolve to stop letting numbers run your life. Instead, commit to allowing your body to be your guide to good health and peace of mind. No more fear of failing, because you can’t get this wrong. Your body always knows what it needs.

Remind yourself how important you are, not only to yourself but also to the people around you. What you think and feel matters. Your body matters. And when you honor that body by treating it with love and respect, it will respond in kind.

As Jim Rohn says, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

About Wendy Leeds

Wendy Leeds is a psychotherapist with both a professional and a personal interest in helping women deal with their anxiety. As a three-time cancer survivor, she is an expert on what it’s like to live with anxiety and how to ease it. Her book, Calm & Sense: A Woman's Guide to Living Anxiety-Free, is available on Amazon, B&N and in fine bookstores everywhere. You can hear her podcast Anxiety Connection on all podcast platforms and find her on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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