The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health defines listening to your body as “body awareness” and as follows: “Body awareness involves an attentional focus on and awareness of internal body sensations. Body awareness, as we define it here, is the subjective, phenomenological aspect of proprioception and interoception that enters conscious awareness, and is modifiable by mental processes including attention, interpretation, appraisal, beliefs, memories, conditioning, attitudes and affect". I just call it listening to your body.
Our physical bodies communicate with us every day through stimulus responses that either feel good or feel bad. Despite the relativity of what is good and what is bad for each individual, these responses are acutely accurate - simply because each individual is different and thus is going to process all stimuli differently. Our physical bodies respond to everything in our environments from the tangible to the intangible whether we are aware of it or not. And there is growing proof that the more we can learn to listen to and heed our bodies’ messages, the healthier we become in all ways.
Mindfulness is one form of listing to your body. Jon Kabat-Zinn, is the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and defines mindfulness as “The practice of paying attention “on purpose” in the present moment nonjudgmentally”. Mindfulness can increase your health and well-being. For instance, by deliberately noticing your body’s responses to eating, you are more likely to decrease the amount of food you consume in addition to consuming those foods with greater nutritional benefits. Similarly, by deliberately noticing your body’s responses to exercise, in particular over-use, you are more likely to decrease your risk of long-term injury. Basically, you can apply the positive benefits of mindfulness to anything and everything you do.
Somatic psychotherapy is another form of listening to your body using the aid of a trained therapist. Psychotherapy has often applied the use of traditional talk therapy to effectively address many mental and emotional health challenges. However, somatic psychotherapy is known to quickly address deep emotional issues not revealed through talk therapy, simply by paying attention to the communication of the body. Somatic psychotherapy points to an individual’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) as being the primary “holder” of past trauma, emotional issues and psychological issues. Some or all of these issues may hold clues in their physical concerns such as sexual dysfunction, hormonal issues, digestive issues and tension held in specific parts of the body.
Epigenetics research (the study of biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off) shows that we are not trapped by our genetic history and that in fact, it is the cells’ response to environmental conditions that turn on or turn off physical conditions in the body. By listening to our physical body and how it reacts to our environment, we can pay better attention to the limiting thoughts and beliefs we have about life and thus change them to match the quality of life we desire. It doesn’t matter if circumstances outside ourselves change, it only matters that we hold (within our cellular structure) the thoughts, beliefs and emotions about the life we desire to live. This switches off the genes that would otherwise deter us as well as switches on the genes that match our desire.
Still unsure if you should practice listening to your body? Here are some case studies to motivate you:
- A 2014 literature review of 47 trials in 3,515 participants suggests that mindfulness meditation programs show moderate evidence of improving anxiety and depression. (NCCIH.NIH.gov)
- In a small, NCCIH-funded study, 54 adults with chronic insomnia learned mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a form of MBSR specially adapted to deal with insomnia (mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia, or MBTI), or a self-monitoring program. Both meditation-based programs aided sleep, with MBTI providing a significantly greater reduction in insomnia severity compared with MBSR. (NCCIH.NIH.gov)
- Qualitative studies represent a growing body of evidence that body awareness-enhancing therapies such as yoga, tai-chi, body-oriented psychotherapies, and massage to name a few may provide psychological and pain-related benefits for patients suffering from a variety of conditions. (NCBI.NIM.NIH.gov)
- Results from a 2013 NCCIH-supported study involving 49 adults suggest that 8 weeks of mindfulness training may reduce stress-induced inflammation better than a health program that includes physical activity, education about diet, and music therapy. (NCCIH.NIH.gov)
- In another 2016 NCCIH-funded study, adults aged 20 to 70 who had chronic low-back pain received either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or usual care. The MBSR and CBT participants had a similar level of improvement, and it was greater than those who got usual care, including long after the training ended. The researchers found that participants in the MBSR and CBT groups had greater improvement in functional limitation and back pain at 26 and 52 weeks compared with those who had usual care. There were no significant differences in outcomes between MBSR and CBT. (NCCIH.NIH.gov)
- A 2014 research review suggested that mind and body practices, including meditation, reduce chemical identifiers of inflammation and show promise in helping to regulate the immune system. (NCCIH.NIH.gov)
These are just a few of the case studies that support this theory. Listening to your body gives you empowerment over your health and well being. Being empowered, in and of itself, fuels your sense of contentment and we all want that. So why not start listening today?
Pamela Dussault Runtagh, RMT is a Core Shamanic Practitioner, Pachakuti Mesa Tradition (R) Shaman Initiate and the founder of the REAP Healing Method, a body-awareness based healing method accredited by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. She is also a Pscho-Spiritual Counselor and Mentor, Instructor and Workshop Facilitator at Passage To Inner Joy.