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How to Listen to Your Body (and Become Happy Again)

Happy Jumping Woman

“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos—the trees, the clouds, everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s embarrassing, isn’t it?

You don’t want to make a fuss about tiny health annoyances.

But you feel lethargic for no apparent reason. You get constipated, especially when you travel. You have difficulty sleeping.  And your hormones are all over the place.  You hold onto that niggly five or ten pounds like your life depends on it.

Sound familiar? I’ve been there too.

I was working at a dream job and living on the French Riveria. I was paid a lot of money to help Fortune 500 Companies with their IT strategies.

I worked in cities like Paris, Dublin, London, and Manchester during the week, staying in luxury hotels and flying to my home in Nice on weekends. We partied like rock stars on the beaches, and in exclusive clubs and glamorous villas. At twenty-nine, I was a management-level executive on the cusp of becoming a partner.

Meanwhile, my body wasnt happy. I was chronically tired. I slept poorly. And despite daily exercise and yoga, I couldnt figure out my weight gain.  

I tried the radical Master Cleanse—drinking lemon juice and maple syrup for a week. But the extra weight would creep back.

My hormones went crazy. When I stopped birth control pills, my menstrual cycles stopped. I wasn’t sure if that was the reason for my blotchy skin and depression. And the worst part was my mood. I wasn’t happy, despite all the glitzy outside trappings.

The One Thing Most People Never Learn To Do

Then I did something most people never learn to do: I listened.

I felt great after practicing yoga. I took a baby step: I practiced more yoga and eventually attended teacher training sessions. Fast-forward a couple years….

I quit my job, packed my belongings, and moved to a yoga retreat center in Thailand. The move felt natural and organic.

I lived simply in a tiny bungalow and taught yoga retreats to tourists. And my health improved. I was sleeping well. My periods eventually returned. I felt better and better, and my sparkle returned too.

The first and most important step is to stop and listen. Your body and mind are intimately connected. Listen to your body and you'll learn a ton. Start with tiny steps and you’ll reach your pot of gold quicker than you'd expect.

You can do this.

You’d think doing so would be impossible, but it’s not. I'll tell you how.

But first, let’s look at three core principles that could save you.

Don’t Make This Monumental Mistake

Most people ignore their small but annoying health issues. Nothing about your health is inconsequential. Everything matters. Your digestion. Your ability to lose belly fat. Your bowel movements.

You’re not alone if you want to run screaming and bury your head in the sand. How about changing your mindset?

Rather than categorizing what is wrong with you, notice how your body throws you clues. For example, you aren’t going to the bathroom every day. Usually for a very simple reason—lack of dietary fiber. Try adding an apple and ground flax to your breakfast and see what happens.

The Alarming Truth About Stress

It can make or break your healthiest intentions. When we perceive danger, stress is our body’s natural response.

For cave people, stress came when a lion was about to pounce; we needed to run like lightning.

Under stress, we optimize our resources for survival and shutdown non-essential functions. Translation? Your digestion grinds to a halt, your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) convert to cortisol, and your blood sugar skyrockets.

This is okay now and then. Are you in a state of constant, low-grade stress? Imagine the havoc and inner turmoil.

A few condition-linked stresses include IBS, constipation, weight gain, insomnia, high blood sugar, and hormone irregularities—for women, missed or absent periods, severe PMS, and fertility issues. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Your body and mind are like the matrix.

The Western approach to medicine is to examine each problem separately, so you end up with a different specialist for each malady.

In Eastern medicines, your body is a united whole rather than a constellation of unrelated parts. Your insomnia may be the result of high stress. Or your constipation and weight gain may be due to a complete absence of fiber in your diet.

Now let’s talk about what you need to do.

But first, I must introduce you to your personal, world-class health advocate. And it’s not your doctor, your chiropractor, or even your yoga teacher.

It’s you.

1. What silence can teach you about listening.

Set aside time to listen to your own deepest wishes. I searched for answers outside of myself, looking for rigid rules and diets. I used food to shut off my thoughts. It was hard, but I gradually let my truths surface. I know you can do it too. Decide on a time, and set aside ten minutes each day. Breathe deeply and listen.

How are you feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally?

Have a journal nearby to jot down any thoughts. Notice what pops into your head. Bring yourself back to your breath if you start to get lost in thoughts.

2. What would happen if you followed your passions right now?

You can do this right now in tiny steps. Make time to do the things you love.

How do you most want to spend each day? Write a list of your priorities and brainstorm easy solutions.

Exercise: wake up twenty minutes earlier. Do a series of sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, squats, etc.

Time with your children: say no to superfluous activities—committees, boards, etc.

More creative time: schedule your time on weekends for writing, painting, or whatever you love.

Treat it like a priority appointment.

When I worked at a corporate job, I’d wake early to practice yoga at home before work. I didn’t miss the sleep, and I was much more productive and happier during the day. I couldn’t control the rest of the day, but I relished my sacred morning ritual.

3. Say goodbye to your job if it makes you unhappy.

Right now, maybe you need it to support your family. No problem. Make sure you limit your working hours. Make the rest count.

Turn off your TV and put away your iPhone. Spend engaged time with your family. Thinking about work takes you away from important leisure activities.

Your people will always be important—your children, parents, siblings, friends, and your tribe. Don’t sweat the little things. Cultures with high longevity emphasize personal relationships, support networks, and family. The elders are the big shots, not the richest in the village.

4. How to glow from the inside out.

We are genetically wired to thrive on a whole-foods diet. A rule of thumb: the more processed the food, the less you should eat.

Most of the diets that actually work—paleo, low-carb, and vegan—all have whole foods at their base. They vary in content, but all encourage vegetables, fruits, and good-quality protein sources.

Return to those niggly health issues. Take an honest look at your diet. What could you do better? What things would you be willing to change?

I used to systematically overeat healthy foods. My diet was great, but I used foods, even healthy ones, to quell my inner unhappiness. I hated my job. I felt lonely and isolated.

Start with one change per month. Not more. Drink a glass of water with your meals and skip sugary drinks.Or eat a salad with your lunch or dinner.

5. Here’s a little-known secret about your mind.

How do you feel after eating a plate of fried foods? Or a big meal in a restaurant followed by dessert? I feel fuzzy and sluggish.

What about after eating a bowl of candy? Like a space cadet? Sugar spikes our blood sugar and makes concentration impossible.

Want to keep your mind clear and alert? Choose fresh vegetables and fruits, high-quality animal products, legumes like lentils and beans, healthy fats from nuts and seeds, and high-quality cold-pressed oils.

Why Most People Fail Miserably

Simply put, they don’t prioritize their own health. Don't fall down that rabbit hole.

Your job is not to put everyone else’s health above your own.

Your job is not to make excuses about what you should be doing but aren’t.

Your job is to be your most enthusiastic health advocate. You must fight tooth and nail to make stellar choices for your health.

Your good intentions are worthless if you never take action. I’ve been there too. I’ve ignored my body. It was a mistake.

Start making tiny changes, like having oatmeal and an apple for breakfast. Notice how much better you feel. You’ll be chomping at the bit to do more.

Living well makes you feel better and happier. But it requires a little courage and determination.

Start with one tiny step in the right direction. Take five minutes now and decide what your first step is.

You know you deserve a healthier life.

And more happiness.

Happy jumping woman image via Shutterstock

About Jessica Blanchard

Jessica Blanchard, registered dietitian and Ayurvedic practitioner, helps busy people re-energize with super simple food, yoga and wellness strategies that work. Grab your free 7-Day Plan and learn to eat, move and live better in 10 minutes a day.

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