Things I've learned
The body has its own language, and it always tells the truth. It can't lie! So it's really useful to learn how to listen closely to it.
While the language of the mind uses words and images, the language of the body uses sensations and feelings. There is a load of activity happening in the body at every moment: breath moving in and out, heart beating, blood flowing, digestive system processing, etc. We can train ourselves with techniques of Yoga to tune in with those sensations, and after a while we can feel the very subtle movements. That's when things get really interesting. But even the more surface level stuff is hugely useful to observe too. In fact, for practical application of self-love and self-care, the surface level stuff is probably the most useful for figuring out our day-to-day needs.
By surface level I mean the more obvious sensations that we can easily pick up on, like feeling tired or sleepy, feeling tense or in pain, feeling nauseous or bloated, having shallow or restricted breathing, etc. Even our toilet-related sensations are great for telling us how we are. It's all useful information! And we typically don't make best use of it to become experts in our own health.
These simple signals usually tell us that we need to take some simple action, but we are not trained to hear them straight away, or to know how to respond to them well.
For example, the body will tell us when we need to take a break and rest, or when we need to move/exercise, or eat better, or interact more or less with certain people, or have a laugh and forget about things for a bit, etc, etc. We just have to learn how to understand its language.
Learning a new Language
At first it's a process of trial and error, to figure out what the body needs, but before we are able to do that, we have to learn how to tune in first. It takes some time and practice to build up the skill of listening to the body, and that's where learning asanas (yoga postures) should begin. We don't need to do any fancy postures to develop this skill. In fact, going for the more challenging postures can be counter-productive, because there's too much to concentrate on with them. Systematic practice of body awareness during gentle, simple asanas is what allows this skill to develop, and become integrated, so that we can then use it off the mat and during the day. And over time it then becomes part of our normal awareness.
Mind Vs Body
Most of the time our attention is with the mind, and whatever it happens to be on about. But the mind is brilliant at self-deception, so it's not an ideal place to put so much emphasis on. It's very convincing! For example, the mind might tell you to keep pushing at something, like work or exercise, because you need to do/be/look a certain way. Or it might tell you to avoid something, like work or exercise, because it might be acting in accordance with an old and hidden self-belief that you don't deserve to be successful. It's been programmed by you at an earlier time to do that, when it seemed to be the right solution to one difficulty or another. But later on when it becomes an unhealthy thing to keep doing, the mind doesn't know that and continues to operate with its old programming.
The reasons for the mind behaving in the way that it does are many, and those reasons are usually not obvious to us without some training in self-awareness.
The mind doesn't mean to deceive us like this! But it makes it hard for us to tell what's good for us and what's not. And when the mind does or wants something, but the body needs another, that's when diseases manifest. There's a huge body of scientific research on this, showing how mental and emotional disturbances causes various physical diseases and ailments. I've referenced a selection of these research studies on my website, if you want to take a look. The good news is that with a bit of disciplined self-study, it's possible to re-programme the mind directly, and I'll talk a lot more on this in later blog posts. What's very useful in this process, though, is the body. It's much more reliable than the mind. It is really the best friend that we could ever hope for, because it is totally trustworthy in telling us about what's actually going on with us. It just can't lie about what we need!
Irritable Mind Syndrome
The body can also provide handy news bulletins about mental and emotional states. The acute states or the chronic ones. It's especially responsive to stress. But again, we're not trained to understand the link. It took me ten years, age 16 to 26, to realise that irritable bowel syndrome is really irritable mind syndrome. Think about how much space in your body that your digestive system takes up. It's a lot! So when people get irritated and stressed, digestive systems get irritated too. When I had "chronic IBS", it's not that I was having a particularly stressful time, but I didn't know how to manage stress, so it had all been building up under the surface, in my tummy. My poor tummy was crying out to me for a full decade before I properly understood that the illness had nothing to do with food. Talk about learning the hard way. But it was all worth it in the end, because now I know how to listen to my body. Trusting my gut is a real thing, and I recommend it to everyone!
A Reliable Friend
In a world where we have way too much external and often conflicting information about how we should eat/exercise/sleep to be healthy, I have found that things get a lot less confusing when I just take direction from my body and figure out myself what it's asking for, moment to moment.
If you have any body language stories, I'd love to hear them. If anyone would like to train in self-awareness and start making friends with their body, let me know. Maybe have a think about starting self-study. My 6-month Self-study course starts in September, and is open to all ages.