Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Body Language

(picture featured on Tube555.blogspot.com)

Is it hard for you to listen to your body's cues as to whether or not it's hungry, tired or sad? For a lot of people, it may seem as if all of those things get mushed together and acted out through food--the one great solution. It's easy to do.

But too often we're eating when our hunger is for something else: we need soul stimulation, a sense of purpose; or we're exhausted from doing too much for others; or we're sad or lonely and want to mask our feelings with the sense of doing something. Learning the subtle difference between our body's hunger and our emotional hunger or fatigue takes courage and focus. It's part of how we become better partners to our bodies in the here and now, no matter how long we've ignored them.

We can begin to do it, but first we need to be open to the idea that we may not always translate our bodies' cues accurately. One exercise in my forthcoming book is to breakdown the physical cues in your body you get for a number of different thing. How does your body tell you, for example:

1) When you're actually hungry. There's probably a growling feeling in your stomach, a sense of weakness. You might get a slight headache.

2) When you're sad. It may feel like a kind of hunger, but pay closer attention. Do you feel choked up around your throat? Is there a sense of heaviness or anger in your chest? How is your breathing? Is it okay to feel what you feel?

3) When you're tired. Again, you may want to move toward food, but ask yourself how tiredness actually distinguishes itself in your body. Is there a slight ache in your legs or arms, a feeling of being heavy behind your eyelids? Do things feel overwhelming or is it hard to focus? Maybe you need a nap instead of a drink or a candy bar.

4) When you want to move. Sometimes we eat when what our bodies really want is to move. Do your legs feel restless? Is there a sense of pent-up energy wanting to be released? When we don't feel good about our bodies, we're more likely to ignore this one because we don't feel comfortable exercising or acting on it. But the simplest of activities can address this set of physical cues: putting on music and dancing around the living room, going for a walk, even getting outside where your body may feel some more breathing room.

Spend some time noticing the cues your body is actually giving you and see what it might be like to decipher them more specifically. Create a list like the one above and actually check with it the next time you open the cupboard or the refrigerator, especially if it's at the end of a long day. Ask what your body is really wanting right now.

Sometimes it helps to also give yourself a hunger scale, noticing if your hunger is really as urgent as you think. If a 5 is ravenous and in desperate need of food and a 0 is not really hungry, where is your body's hunger level really? Sometimes when we have to measure it this specifically, we may find that our body isn't hungry at all and it's our mind or emotions that want the food.

Like any partnership that's gone astray, we need to begin to really hear each other, making an effort to understand each other's language and signals. When you begin to do this, you help your body better communicate with you. It can feel, almost instantly, your effort to listen and a softening of the relationship can begin--one that initiates greater heart, kindness and mindfulness.

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