“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes a matter of opportunity”
The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health define 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 wellbeing.
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
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
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.
- In a small, NCCIH-funded study, 54 adults with chronic insomnia learned mindfulnessbased
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.