Clearing Your Bodily Awareness

You have a doctor inside you. For a great deal of health issues, your body is capable of telling you what is wrong and how to correct it. It is only capable of doing this however when the things that cloud your bodily awareness, your bodily perception can communicate to you through symptoms and sensations.

So what clouds your ability to “hear” the messages your body is sending you? Firstly, it is your lack of listening. In a prior post, I discussed how in North America, overwhelmingly we don’t use internal cues to stop eating. So, the first step is starting to listen and using internal cues, paying close attention to how you feel.

Unfortunately, most people have behaviors and ingest toxins that don’t allow them to sense what is going on in their bodies. A whole book could be written on this topic, especially how various cultures have tackled this subject. There is a deep wisdom in the body that is open to all of us to reclaim.

Alcohol, drugs, sugar, lack of proper sleep and rest, abnormal exposure to light, emotional stress, dehydration and even abnormal preoccupation with the past or some future event are just some of the factors that cloud your perception of what is going on in your body.

You task is to avoid getting bogged down in the details of science and learn to listen to the wisdom of the body. The Taoists have remarkable exercises where you actually work on each of the organs of your body and through work can learn to understand the signals of your organs. When it comes to longevity and learning how to listen to your body, the Taoist writings on health are by far the most advanced..

But you don’t need to be a Taoist master to learn to start listening. Just start listening. Pay attention to your body, your posture, how you feel, where you feel it, and what your body is telling you. Acknowledge that your body has an intelligence of its own, an amazing ability to adapt and try to achieve balance. It’s a miraculous creation. Most of what we complain about is an adaptation to some imbalance. In that knowledge, you can realize what your body wants for optimal health, balance. Now go and listen.

Image above by Benjamin Balázs

Internal vs External Cues

Last week, I stopped at a rest stop on the Florida Turnpike driving back to Miami from a diabetes convention.    I learned so much about the love and heroic measures taken by parents with kids with Type 1 Diabetes to make sure their kids feel as normal and are as healthy as possible. I was hyper-focused on this remarkable aspect of parenting and love in general.  I was also encouraged that they often go above and beyond the recommendations of their doctors.   In fact one of the organizations slogans was, “We aren’t going to wait . . “  Love is a great fuel to break barriers, isn’t it?

The rest stop was packed to the gills.   And while I am still shocked when I see what types of poisons people eat on a regular basis, one particular parent / child combo stood out to me.   The dad was clinically morbidly obese as was his son eating food together watching something on his father’s cell phone.   Here were 2 with statistically significant risk for a shortened life with chronic illness, not just eating deadly food, but they were doing it unconsciously, as their minds were being consumed by what they were watching.

In the 1960’s Stanley Schachter and his team, studied college students in France and Chicago to determine what cues they had to when to stop eating.   Remember that this is before youtube and smartphones, so its probably worse now.   The French students were more likely to use internal cues, like stopping when they felt full (how novel :)), when they were leaving room for desert and the students from Chicago more likely to use external cues, such as stopping eating when the TV show was over (yes, really), when they run out of a beverage, or when they think what they’ve eaten is normal!!

I could be wrong but I see people more and more disconnected from the sensations of their bodies.  This general appreciation and connection with the body can occur on a more and more subtle level with time.  This in fact, is a never-ending process with these miraculous bodies we have.  There is a lot of value in yoga or qigong when it comes to gaining more and more awareness of our bodies.   But you don’t even need to do those if you don’t want to.  It just means that you pay attention more and more to how you feel by mentally checking in with your bodies and extending your awareness to around 3 days ongoing.    It can take up to 3 days post stress or subtle food sensitivity to feel its impact on your body.  I will likely write another post on this subject.

We have access to much more knowledge about our bodies than we think.  It is why you must become your own authority on your health, not just by learning knowledge but by feeling and understanding the sensations of your body.   You must extend your time horizon of observation as mentioned above, slow down, and start listening.  Your body actually does want you to know what’s best for it and remarkably, when you start listening beyond its superficial cries for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, it is also telling you how to discipline it for optimal use.   Pay attention!

The 4 Dimensions of Fitness

There are 4 basic dimensions of fitness.   

1.  Moving where you are out of breath 
2.  Low intensity but longer duration movement  
3.  Lifting heavy things  
4.  Flexibility.  

You can assess most exercise regimens against these 4 dimensions.   

Walking of course, would fall into the second dimension.   Yoga, depending on the type could fall into all categories as sometimes lifting yourself is lifting something heavy.  Qigong could also fit into all 4 depending on the type. Martial arts would be 1, 3, and 4 but could be all 4.  

On top of these criteria is the time duration.   For 1 – most recent research says that things like marathons actually cause some actual heart damage. It is not recommended, it is extreme from a biological perspective.   Safe upper limit on time duration is probably no more than 20 min.   For 2 – the minimum I would say is 30 min, a goal of getting to one hour of walking is advisable.   For dimension 3 – bodyweight exercises and calisthenics count and are a great way to start  For 4 – this is often neglected, but there are many resources online to enhance your flexibility, its advisable to see if you can incorporate with the other dimensions in some way.

Ideally, you would get in all of the above dimensions in some way during one week  Dimension 1 is not for everyone however and I recommend if starting out, you just focus on dimension 2 and work up to being able to walk for one hour at a time. .  If you can do that, you could try to ramp up the incline for example on the treadmill.  Take it easy – your body appreciates any movement.   Of course, get your doctors advice if you have any heart issues

Flexibility does not mean you need to be a yogi and pull your legs over your head 🙂 it can just be working on full range of motion in the daily range of movement.    This is another reason I like QiGong as a recommendation and practice.   There are lots of resources online.  

And with all that which one is the most important?  By far it is walking!  If you don’t have time or feel like you have the energy.   Go take a walk for 30 minutes, that is the best thing you could ever do for yourself.

Some of the ideas above adapted from the writings of Mark Sisson.