Symptoms are the body’s cry for help. Disease and illness are not simply inconveniences, but valuable sources of information, representing our body’s primary way of telling the rational brain that something isn’t right. But instead of honoring the messages that our body sends us, we discount them. Or we take pill to silence them. Often when we get sick, injured or both, it’s because we have stopped listening to the signals our body has been sending us. Initially, these signs may start out as whispers, easy to ignore. But eventually, if we turn a deaf ear to their subtle signs and gentle suggestions long enough, the body is forced to speak up, and whispers turn into shouts. Not unlike a small child throwing a temper tantrum when he seeks attention, our bodies are forced to use more drastic measures to speak to us, often in the form of illness, fatigue or stress.
Our physical body possesses a profound intelligence and awareness that far exceeds our rational, thinking brain. Recognizing this, Albert Einstein wrote: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. Regrettably, we have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Indeed, much of today’s culture seems designed to discourage us from listening to our bodies and being in touch with how we feel at any given moment. Focused on the material rewards of the external world around us, we have become disconnected from the internal world of our bodies.
What’s the price of not listening? Maybe your back goes out. Or you come down with the flu. Still not listening? Chest pains. Ulcers. Depression. The signs become amplified until you finally have no choice but to pay attention. Symptoms, however subtle, can be a crucial barometer for disguised or hidden issues that may be become chronic or debilitating if left unattended. Many of the seemingly random colds and infections that plague us may actually be early warning signals begging us to change our ways. Ignoring them can ultimately lead to more dire consequences when our immune system loses its ability to fight back.
Detecting our body’s early warnings – both quiet and loud – requires increasing our sensitivity to the nuances of its messages. The art of listening to our body requires being in-tune with the small symptoms before they become full blown. Mindfulness is key. Being sensitive to the signals our body sends can help us respond earlier to health challenges and may even help reduce or prevent their development.
Listening to your body requires knowing what is healthy for you, what will fuel you, and what can injure or deplete you. It involves evaluating your energy level as well as the people in your life who either elevate it or bring it down. It's knowing what will challenge you and bring you to your edge, and what will push you over it. And it requires making choices – about what you eat, how much you move, and who you spend time with – to support and enhance your well-bring. Developing a better connection to the wisdom your body offers will help you on the path to living your truth.
Being attuned to our body’s intuition also requires abandoning the coping mechanisms that so many of us have developed over the years to help us ignore physical pain and emotional discomfort. We live in a culture that places a premium on the ability to tough out adversary. Too many of us – myself included – attach a kind of pride to being able to push through pain or illness. We knowingly ignore the clear physiological effects of chronic stress and eat a diet that leaves us sluggish and overweight. It’s only when serious illness strikes that we sit up and take notice. Ironically, it is often serious illness that finally teaches us to listen to our bodies.
Below are some subtle – and not so subtle – warning signals that your body may be sending you if it’s out of balance:
Have you been suffering with vague but intractable symptoms for months (or years) that your doctor can’t explain and tests can't reveal?
Do you feeling “off center” or detached? Unable to connect with others?
Do you feel “toxic” as if you have food poisoning or the flu (but without actual symptoms)?
Do you feel a knot or emptiness in the pit of your stomach? A lump in your throat?
Do you have chronic digestive and/or elimination issues?
Are you chronically tired?
If you’ve answered “yes” to several of these questions, it would be valuable for you to take an honest inventory of your health and life. Examine everything from your diet and exercise, your work and your alone time, and your relationships. Do you regularly give yourself the time and space you need to recharge? Do you surround yourself with positive people who support you? Do you have a creative outlet for the inevitable stresses of life? Your acupuncturist can help you hear your body’s wisdom more clearly as well as rebalance your energy to improve your health and well-being.