How to reconnect with your body
Your body holds infinite wisdom and insight, pointing to what needs attention in your life. But how well do you hear its messages and answer its calls?
It is through your body that you can understand what needs attention in your life. Your body can alert you that you’re moving towards burnout, it can protect you from becoming sick and it can show you when you’re living out of alignment with your true calling. Your body sends you signals each day. How well do you notice and hear your body’s messages?
Exhaustion, illness, anxiety, stress and tension are all messages from your body that something needs your attention. Perhaps you have an underlying health condition, maybe you aren’t speaking your truth, or you could be in the wrong job or working too hard.
Your body speaks to you in three ways: first as a whisper, then a shout, which, if left unanswered, is followed by a shutting down. For many people, tuning in and listening to their body’s wisdom can be a challenge. Do you listen to the whispers of your body? Or do you wait until your body sends you very clear signals, through an illness, a health scare or burnout, before you pay attention?
In my 20s, I experienced my own health challenges when I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition. Looking back, I can see that my body was cycling through burnout crashes, but I just kept pushing through to achieve my goals at university. Being chronically sick for seven years showed me why it’s essential to listen when your body is sending you warning signs.
Despite having experienced my own health challenges in the past, and knowing what I need in order to be healthy and to thrive, at times I can still find it hard to honour my body’s messages. Only this year I went through another period of exhaustion and burnout and it got me thinking, “Why can it be so hard to connect and listen to our body’s wisdom?”
The struggle to stay connected
Slowing down long enough to notice your body’s sensations and tuning into the messages it’s sharing with you can bring you face to face with resistance. You may not want to hear what your body is telling you; sometimes your body’s wisdom is to slow down when you want to speed up, to say No when you want to say Yes or to make changes that challenge the status quo.
When you can face the resistance you’re feeling, you are better positioned to move through it and create an aligned life that’s more joyful and easeful.
You can create a life where you’re not pushing yourself to the limits and ignoring the important messages your body is sending you.
Stress and pressure
When you’re under stress, your brain is wired to focus on immediate challenges. This can mean you become disconnected from your body and stop noticing the signals it is sending you. Coming back to a state of calm by activating your parasympathetic nervous system can help you reconnect with how your body is feeling. Long, deep inhalations and exhalations is the quickest way to get out of your mind and back into your body.
Being under constant stress may have led you to normalise your experiences. Daily headaches may be your norm, five hours’ sleep might be your daily routine and dragging yourself through the day is no longer a rare occurrence. It’s essential you know when you’re stressed so you can intervene early, as stress increases inflammation in the body, which can lead to serious illnesses and diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
Societal expectations and judgement
Do you struggle to slow down? Does rest feel lazy? While you may know you need to listen to your body, we often house a critical voice in our heads that says, “You should be doing more,” or “Keep going, keep pushing!”
In her book Untamed, Glennon Doyle talks about the challenges she’s faced on her journey to listening to her body. She says she grew up believing “resting is laziness, and laziness is disrespectful. Worthiness and goodness are earned with hustle.” Realising this was not serving her or her relationships, she chose to shift this belief. “Hard work is important. So are play, and non-productivity. My worth is tied not to my productivity but to my existence. I am worthy of rest,” she writes.
In our hustle-obsessed culture that values pushing through above all else, it can be challenging to live a conscious life, to rest when you need it, to enjoy guilt-free relaxation and to respect your body’s limits. Shifting away from a hustle mindset, however, will allow you to better hear and honour your body’s needs and wisdom.
Personality and passion
Being totally absorbed and passionate about the work you do can also become an obstacle to body connection. Do you find it hard to get out of your head and into your body? Do you value thinking over feeling? Do you regularly override your body’s signals to stop, often pushing past what’s good for you?
I definitely fall into this category. I am prone to overwork because I love what I do. I love being in my head more than my body. I love learning, researching, writing and exploring ideas. It can be really hard to tear myself away from my creative projects, even when my body is telling me it’s time. Too often I push through and keep working despite a headache brewing, my shoulders becoming tense or feeling tired.
Neuroscience research has found that an overworked brain is a less effective brain, while time out fuels creativity, productivity and wellbeing. While you may feel driven to work hard and have a strong desire to fulfil your purpose, you do your best work when you create more spaciousness and regularly take time to rest and reset.
Building your body intelligence
According to body awareness expert Thea O’Connor, “Body intelligence involves the ability to connect with our body’s sensations or cues; listen to them and respond in a way that enhances our overall function and quality of life.”
In her blog post, “10 ways to listen to your body”, she writes “A great way to cultivate awareness of internal signals from our body, also known as our ‘interoceptive awareness’, is to start with the really small stuff, every day.” She offers a great tip: “Develop a simple daily ritual that grounds you in your body and gives you a moment to check in. You could, for example, take a moment on waking, then again at lunch time, and/or at night time to do a simple Body Scan.”
Building my body awareness has been an important part in restoring my energy and health. I’ve started listening to my body again and changed my daily routines. It has meant sleeping in more, resting when my body needs it, going for slow walks rather than doing intense gym workouts, spending more time preparing nourishing food, meditating and returning to yin and restorative yoga.
Each morning I start my day by asking, “How am I feeling today?” This question allows me to start the day with body awareness. Some days I feel deep gratitude and lightness and I go through my day noticing all the little things that make my life truly wonderful. Other days I feel tired and stressed. On those days, I show up differently and move through the day more slowly and with more self-compassion.
Responding with self-compassion
On the difficult days when my body and mind may be struggling, I ask, “How can I make this easier?” and I look for the path of least resistance. I’ve noticed doing things the easy way can trigger guilt and shame. The conditioned voice in my head often tells me that “Easy is lazy” and “You should be working harder.” I do my best to make space for that voice, but to first and foremost honour my body.
Building my body awareness has been about more than just adding more body-based practices into my week. It’s been about changing my whole relationship with my body. Instead of trying to override my body’s messages, I am now actively asking my body for guidance and developing a trust that my body knows best.
When I hit a difficult part of my day and I want to just push through, I am turning to my body for the answers. I ask my body, “What do you need right now?” While my brain says, “You’re tired, you need more coffee!” when I ask my body it says things like, “Jess, you really need to go and lie down for 15 minutes” or “You need fresh air and a gentle stroll around the block.”
The voice of my body is always more caring, nurturing and gentle than the voice of my mind. The voice of my mind is often a hard taskmaster. Your body invites you to develop more self-compassion, self-love and self-acceptance. As I’ve followed the wisdom of my body, I feel better, more restored and more creative.
You can also use your body’s wisdom to make more aligned choices in your life that better support your health and happiness. In her blog post, “3 ways to build trust in your body”, O’Connor says, “The next time you have a decision to make that you are uncertain about: Come to stillness, pose your question to yourself, then choose one option. Notice what visceral response you feel in your body, to that choice. If you feel stressed or uneasy, what is that telling you? If you feel excited and expanded, what does that indicate? Learning to recognise ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in your body is a powerful life skill with many applications.”
Reconnecting with your body begins with awareness and permission: permission to slow down and honour your body’s wisdom, without guilt or shame. While you could wait for this permission to come from outside yourself, the only permission you really need is your own.
It’s OK to live and work with more ease, joy and spaciousness; in fact it’s what you need to thrive. Each time you choose to reconnect and honour your body, you’re choosing a new response and a new belief around work, rest and your sense of self-worth — you are actively rewiring your brain. As you reconnect with your body, you will access a gateway to deeper wisdom, pleasure, joy and more easeful living.
9 ways to reconnect with your body
- Daily check-in: Ask yourself each morning: “How am I feeling today?” And “What do I need right now?”
- Body mindfulness: Create regular routines that allow you to pause and connect with your body, like yoga, walking, tai chi or stretching.
- Deep breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing will help you to switch from your mind into your body, activating your calming parasympathetic nervous system. Take 10 long deep breaths to check in and reset during your day.
- Connecting to your senses: Incorporate more sensory experiences into your day: have a massage, a long hot bath, diffuse your favourite oils, walk in nature and feel the sun on your face.
- Decreasing stimulation: Limit the amount of stimulation you experience throughout your day. Go for a walk without your phone, spend 10 minutes each day in silence or keep a journal.
- Daily body scan: Take five minutes a day to do a body scan meditation, so you can notice and release points of tension and pain and bring your awareness back into your body.
- Designing your ideal day: What would your day look like if you were tuning in to your body and taking care of yourself? Would you start your day with a walk in nature? Would you go to bed earlier? Would you meditate daily?
- Affirmation: Choose an anchor statement to come back to when you feel the pressure to ignore your body’s message. “I am worthy of rest,” “I honour my body’s wisdom,” “It’s OK to stop,” “I am allowing my body to thrive.”
- Support: Once you understand what your body is telling you, ask for what you need at work, at home and in your relationships. Come back to your affirmation anchor and share your needs confidently.