Paying Attention to Our Bodies
Author Tina Welling had no idea that she had an underactive thyroid. She was experiencing all the symptoms, such as weakness and frequent infections. She was canceling meetings and outings with friends. Her work schedule was getting tougher and tougher to keep up with.
But she hadn’t noticed any of this — until a blood test showed her levels were off the charts. She’d become numb to her own body.
Many of us can relate to this. It may not be a diagnosis. But it may be other signs or reactions.
We just stop noticing our bodies. We become blind to our needs and yearnings. Or we convince ourselves that we’re too busy to respond, because we need to go somewhere or do something, and our bodies’ whispers or cries can wait. They can always wait.
And so they do. We do. And a disconnect inevitably develops.
After her diagnosis, Welling vowed to honor her body’s wisdom and take kinder care of herself, as she writes in her beautiful book Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature.
She shares this example:
“So here I am in my pajamas, at noon, asking my body, ‘What would you like now?’
I can’t believe it. My body wants a bubble bath.”
So she takes her bath.
She further writes:
“I feel the warm steam loosen my facial muscles. I drop my attention down below my face and into my chest and stomach, hips and feet. I feel myself fully embodied.
Suddenly, my eyes well up with tears, and my chest fills with a feeling of nostalgia. But this emotion doesn’t make sense. Nostalgia? I let go of the need for logic and allow the tears to flow, my chest to heave with this strange feeling.
Like returning to Grandma’s house, I am reinhabiting a place I haven’t been since childhood.”
Interestingly, Welling observes, the word nostalgia in Greek means “returning home.” She believes that many of us are homesick for our bodies.
I agree. We might be spending years experiencing this disconnect. There may be many reasons. A big one is that we deem ourselves unworthy. Why would I pay attention to a body I dislike or despise? A body that looks nothing like I want it to? A body that doesn’t weigh what I want it to?
In turn, over time, our bodies may feel like strangers. Or enemies.
Ideas for Paying Attention
Regardless of how you feel about your body today, play with paying closer attention to it. Set an alarm on your phone for every hour or two hours. Then when your alarm goes off, check in with yourself. Ask yourself: What am I feeling?
If that’s too much, check in with yourself in the morning or evening. Or start with checking in at random times throughout the day.
If you like, write down your sensations and reactions. Keep a record in a small notebook. As Welling writes in Writing Wild, “…the body offers information untainted by anything but actual experience. The body never lies.”
She shares this great suggestion in her book: “Write a paragraph or list describing a general awareness of comfort or discomfort in your body.” Focus on your sensations. For instance, you might write chilled, restless or achy. Or you might write warm, calm and centered or well-rested and energized. “Describe the most prominent sensation in detail.”
Open up the channels of communication. Let your body speak. Experiment with listening.
Listen like you would listen to your best friend or a child who’s breathlessly trying to tell you something they just discovered. Or listen like you’d listen to a long-lost friend or a person you’re just getting to know.