We’ve all had the experience of not being listened to. Depending on the situation we might find it frustrating, or especially if it’s around our emotional pain, we may feel sad, or interpret it as meaning that what we’ve got say just isn’t important. If it happens to us repeatedly, we may even start to believe that we are not important.
We know that it’s important to pay attention to our children, and we know if we don’t there may be a temper tantrum, or all kinds of attention seeking behaviours, from the entertaining to the annoying, to the downright unpleasant. We understand that if this goes on for a prolonged period that the child may well develop emotional problems that still affect them alter in life. We know that if we don’t pay our partner attention, they may well end up leaving us.
What we may not realise is that most of us are guilty of hurting someone most of the time. Not our children or our partner, but ourselves, by not paying attention to our bodies. As a result, our bodies have all kinds of temper tantrums, manifesting as physical pain and also as all kinds of emotional issues. This will continue to be the case until we change our relationship with our body.
I’m not telling you to “be kind to your body”. I’m not suggesting that you change your diet or start exercising. This is about something much more fundamental; something at the root of many of our health problems and unhealthy behaviours.
Our body is a living, breathing organic being. In evolutionary terms, our bodies evolved thousands of years before our complex emotions and rational thoughts. Every cell of our body is an evolution of single celled organism that became started working with other cells and became more and more specialised, to eventually form the incredibly complex beings made from billions of cells that we are today.
Our bodies are constantly regenerating; They fight off disease, and repair when they are damaged; and not only do our bodies naturally want to be healthy and aligned, they have the mechanisms for that to happen.
Our bodies regulate our emotional health – think how you feel when you’re ill or in pain. We’ve no doubt been told “smile, you’ll feel better” – well scientific experiments have proved this to be true, as well as how our posture can affect our mood. We refer to our emotions as our feelings, because every emotion has a physical sensation – you can think of being broken-hearted, or having butterflies in your stomach. Psychotherapists, like Gay and Kathleen Hendricks, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder expert Dr Peter Levine, have shown how we can use these sensations to heal past traumas, and to develop greater emotional resilience.
Our body experiences hundreds of thousands of sensations every second. And each one of these sensations is either the cause or effect of a subconscious process. So, by being aware of the sensations, we are becoming aware of our subconscious processes – this is the principle behind the Vipassana style of meditation, as taught by the Buddha.
You may also have come across the concept of energy – the Chinese call it Chi, the Indians Prana, and other people life force; in its simplest form, every time you feel a sensation in the body, you are tuning into this energy.
By not paying attention to our bodies, we are actually inhibiting some of these natural emotional processing and physical realignment processes from happening – our brains require a level of awareness for these to take place. In simple terms – we need to feel our emotions for the wounds to heal, which is why repressing emotions is unhealthy.
By developing our capacity to pay attention to our bodies, therefore, we can directly influence our health on all levels – body, emotions, mind and spirit.
A large part of my work as a Shiatsu practitioner, rather than “fixing” someone, is actually to trigger my clients own natural processes: their bodies desire to be in alignment; to release tension; and to release old and no longer useful emotions and thought patterns.
In Mindfulness we use body focused meditations in order to start to develop these connections. And while Yoga does improve the state of your body through releasing tension, strengthening muscles, and improving alignment, the real depth of it is in listening to your body as you do so.
Just as in Buddha’s Vipassana practise, we are working directly on our subconscious programming as we do this;
and just as when we pay attention to a child or our partner, our bodies appreciate this level of attention too. As we listen to and accept their quirks and uniqueness; as we learn to hear their needs, they become more confident in themselves, cause us fewer problems, and start to give us more back.
So please, start to treat your body as the beautiful living being she or he is, giving them all the attention they crave. Start right now. Just notice whatever sensations you can feel in your body; as many as you can at the same time. Just notice and accept any aches and pains. Don’t try to fix them, or get rid of them – they are body trying to tell you something, craving attention!
Do this as often as you remember. Do it while you’re talking to your friends, and watching TV, until it becomes natural and doesn’t distract you.
It might feel slightly odd at first, but you’ll soon develop a sense that you’re inhabiting your body; a sense of connecting, and coming home.
Once you feel this level of connection with your body, you can start to generate feelings of gratitude and compassion towards your body. Thank her or him for the hard work it does getting your through life – even if your health means you can’t get out of bed, your body is working hard: breathing; digesting; keeping you alive.
Your body will thank you, and you’ll live a happier more fulfilled life as a result.