Why Wednesdays? – Why “Listen To Your Body” Is More Than Just a Platitude

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  I have completed series on the topics of running, creativity, and food.  Now, I’m being a bit random and discussing whatever strikes me at the time!

 

Listen to your body.

Listen. .  .  . to your BODY.

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

I hear (i.e. read/see) this command often.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve been hearing it for years, but didn’t really pay much attention to it.  I used to think it was just a silly expression.  Something that felt good and wise to say – easy advice for all sorts of circumstances.  What did it mean, really??

Of all of the many things I have learned in the last couple of years, the value of this advice is one of the most powerful.

I tend to be a cerebrally-inclined person. Historically, I sit up residence in my head, sometimes to the detriment of my other parts.  I’m analytical.  I spend a lot of time pondering things.  I toss around ideas and apply solid logic when solving puzzles and problems.  With this natural inclination towards being a bit too intellectual, it’s easy for me to flat out ignore my body (the whole rest of me), despite the fact that it’s constantly talking to me.

It’s true.  Our bodies are chatty things.  I’ve become very aware of this since I started heeding the advice that I need to listen to it.  Something I’ve been working on actively is to use my brain to actually pay attention to what my body has to say and it’s been an incredibly insightful process.  Now that I’ve made wellness, nutrition, and physical activity part of my life, it’s become even more important.  As a runner, I need to recognize the difference between a niggle and an actual injury, between a desire to eat from boredom and a real hunger that needs to be tended to, or between simply feeling tired because it’s been a long day and feeling worn down because I’ve been pushing too hard.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

I personally believe many of us function in our world in sort of a survival mode.  We’re often just trying to get by, get through, get over.  We rush from one place to the next, we down caffeine to wake us up; we take pills to lull us to sleep; we zone out with the television as a distraction, and so on.  In so many ways, it is the American way.  I am personally hugely susceptible to all of this and it takes a real conscious effort to slow down and be present in and aware of each moment, each task, and . . myself – my body.  It is a practice that I am constantly working on (to some success, I’m happy to say).

Here are some of the insights that I’ve had so far:

1)      What and when I eat has direct impacts on my mood and mental functioning. – Seriously, if I don’t sufficiently nourish my body, I’m a mess.  Cranky, scatterbrained, dizzy – it is not pretty.  I know not to push breakfast too late in the day and that if I’m going to be running around for a few hours, I need to carry a healthy snack with me.

2)      Sleep may be my nemesis, but it is important.  – I’m a bit of an insomniac and I used to think that this wasn’t a very big deal.  I now notice that when I have a particularly bad night of sleep, I have loads of ill effects – copious amounts of hunger, increased stress levels, random body aches.  Blech.

3)      My anxiety/stress and my body pains have a symbiotic relationship.  – As I’ve mentioned before, I do carry anxiety with me often.  I also have disruptive and persistent (albeit non-serious) physical issues, such as Raynaud’s Disorder, migraines and tendinitis in my hands/wrists.  It’s become strikingly clear that when one of these is elevated, the others are triggered, too.  It’s a good reminder of how interconnected all parts of us are.  It’s unbelievable how an increase in stress can immediately bring on my Raynaud’s and how working through serious pain in my hands can make my tension escalate.

4)      Doctors are not necessarily the experts, despite how much they try to act like they are. – Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not anti-doctors.  They’re great.  Sometimes.  However, it’s become very apparent that they don’t always ask all the necessary questions, gather the pertinent information, and listen to what you have to say.  What YOU have to say – the one person who is pretty much guaranteed to be the ultimate expert with what is going in your body.  I’m working hard on being a better advocate for myself at medical appointments and not always taking an initial diagnosis or dismissal as the final word.

5)     My body actually knows (better than my brain) when I need to push and when I need to rest.  – For me, my default is to push.  I’m not much for rest and relaxation and when I first started running this was detrimental.  Like so many new runners, I over-trained, didn’t recover properly, and ended up with fatigued, weakened muscles and injury.  I have really learned to listen for signs that my body needs some rest – and I provide it (no matter how much my brain may protest).  For instance, when the niggle in my left knee becomes too loud, I need to address it.  When my periformis becomes super painful, I know I’m not spending enough time stretching and strengthening my hips and glutes.

This is really a very condensed list of lessons learned on this matter, but I hope it gives you some idea.  Listening to all the chatter my body puts out is still something I’m constantly reminding myself to do, but the pay-off so far has been invaluable.

I would love to hear how others do with this.  Are you a natural at it or do you struggle, too?  What have you learned along the way?  If you’re also a runner, do you feel that training has helped you tune into your body’s signals better?

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Last Week’s Entry:   Why Libraries Are Worth Saving?

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence – #2

A Note About This Feature: Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about. Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

For most of my life, I didn’t have much respect for food. I grew up on a diet made primarily of fast food, microwaveable meals, and processed junk food. Without getting too much into the details, I was essentially raised in a single-parent household and my mom was busy. She worked. She went to school for a few years in addition to work. Every once in a while she would cook on a weekend or a holiday, but it wasn’t the norm, so we did what we needed to. When your food comes in a cardboard box or is handed to you through a window, it’s easy not to have much respect for it.

I ate it. I enjoyed it. I craved it. But, I didn’t really think about it much.

I didn’t think about its nutritional content (or lack thereof) or its cost. I certainly didn’t think about where it came from or what it took to make or produce my food. As far as I was concerned, if The Hamburglar wasn’t trying to steal away my Happy Meal, all was well.

As I’ve grown, this has changed dramatically, especially in the last couple of years.

Coffee Pickers in Timor-Leste

I work with individuals living in poverty. Good people who take their $200 of ‘food stamps’ each month and do what they can to ensure they won’t starve until the 1st of the next month rolls around and they get their next $200. That inevitably makes me consider the cost of food.

Now that I’m an active runner, I notice how even subtle changes in my diet impact the way my body feels and works and moves. Eat the ‘wrong’ thing and my body feels sluggish. Eat the ‘right’ thing and I have the energy and strength I need to run as far as I choose. That certainly makes me think about nutritional value.

I stay well- informed on world events and social issues, so I read all too often about the abuse and maltreatment of crop pickers and dangerous conditions in food production plants. So that definitely leads me to ponder the ethics of food production.

And, tending to be the introspective-type, I frequently consider my personal relationship with food and food-related issues, which is a complex relationship to say the least. My grandfather was, essentially, a farmer for many years. He worked hard, every day, to produce crops that raked in money for those he worked for, though he certainly never saw huge paychecks himself. He tended and toiled and understood food in ways that I likely never will. I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture plan) during crop-producing months and sometimes I think about him when I unpack my goodies. Vegetables that were actually watered and touched and picked and packed by people who cared about what they were producing. Sometimes I get excited about this and think I will start a balcony herb garden! I must have some ‘green’ genes in me passed on by my grandfather, surely! Right?!

Then I remember the last three times that I did try to start a balcony herb garden. I recall the shriveled herbs, dirty pots, and withered plants creating an eyesore on my balcony and mocking me with my urban farming failures. And as I remember them, I have all that much more respect for the skill and patience that it takes to grow something beautiful and bountiful.

When being introspective, I also think about how I eat differently these days. Like, literally, how I consume my food. You see, I used to generally eat one of two ways. I all too often ate on-the-go. I can’t even begin to count up the thousands of meals I have eaten in my car. Alternatively, even when I actually ate at home or somewhere similar, it was usually while multitasking to the point that I barely even noticed what I was eating at all. I ate while working, studying, cleaning, you name it. There was pretty much zero connection between the behavior of eating and the experience of it. Now, though probably busier than ever, I slow down to eat. I take my lunch break away from my desk. I eat dinner with others in my household. When I eat at a restaurant, I take the time to enjoy the experience of it. Changing this approach to eating has given me an appreciation for the ways that food connects me to others. The conversations shared over a meal are some of my favorite and the act of sharing a personally prepared meal with others feels comforting and intimate in a way that few other acts do. Plus, as someone with a bit of social anxiety disorder, I have found that strangers can always talk about food – and it tends to be a bit more interesting then discussing the weather.

photo credit: stijn via photopin cc

photo credit: stijn via photopin cc

Food is a common, shared denominator, a linking factor in all of our lives and it nourishes us (or hurts us) in innumerable ways. The relationships that it builds, the work it takes, the care it demands, the desire it elicits and the frustration it can bring are more powerful than we often acknowledge. I have certainly been guilty of taking it all for granted in the past, though I’m trying a bit of a different strategy these days, one with much more respect for the food on my table, the people behind it, and those that I share it with.

Happy eating.

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#1 – Why I Eat . . . Thoughtfully