by Noelle Sterne
What does your body know? Plenty. Although some spiritual traditions minimize or “mortify” the body, it is a gift and a gateway.
Rather than subjugate, subdue, repress, or ignore the body, we need to learn to listen to it. This is an art and discipline not taught in our traditional educations. How often do we eat when we’re hungry and not because it’s clock-time for lunch, rest when we should and not push ourselves to one more to-do, yield to an inexplicable lust for broccoli?
As our body tells us what’s physically good for us, it also tells us when to listen to our Inner Voice (or any other term you prefer). Each of us is an integration of the individualized holy trinity of body-mind-spirit. When we accept our bodies as part of this trinity, we can use them to access our feelings and hear our Voice.
The collective cultural wisdom is often wiser than we are; our language reflects our body’s messages. Like you, I’ve had “a lump in my throat,” “cold feet,” “butterflies in my stomach,” and “a sinking feeling.”
In fact, our stomach and related organs give us amazing messages, and I don’t mean those annoying coffee-fudge-chocochip-walnut ice cream cravings. An article on the connection of the brain and stomach tells us:
The brain-gut connection has led to a relatively new field of science, neurogastroenterology, whose experts reverentially refer to the gut (comprised of the esophagus, intestines and stomach) as the “second brain.” Unglamorous as it may sound, the gut is a physical and emotional powerhouse. It’s estimated to contain more than 200 million neurons, more than the spinal cord has. (Maura Lynch, “Emotional Eating: The Brain-Stomach-Connection,” Elle, May 18, 2010, http://www.elle.com/beauty/health-fitness/emotional-eating-the-brain-stomach-connection-445031)
Our “gut feelings” are rooted in anatomy!
Your Body Is Telling You What’s Wrong
Our body tells us more, if we pay attention. Deepak Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success observes that “the universe” has given us a mechanism to guide us that “has to do with sensations in your body. . . . One is a sensation of comfort, the other is a sensation of discomfort.”
When someone asks you to do something and you really don’t want to, does an involuntary moan escape? A soft curse? Do you physically cringe, furrow your brows, clench your fists, or roll your eyes and hope they don’t notice? Now you know where headaches and indigestion come from.
With practice, I’ve learned to identify the emotions my body is signaling. When I’m pretending, the responses I’m most aware of are tightness in my chest or hollowness in my stomach. These sensations color every action and decision, and I can’t concentrate on anything else until I confront them.
When I’m asked out to dinner with people I’d rather spend five minutes with, I feel a sudden fatigue. My lip biting and forced smile tell me to make a (polite) excuse to decline. With other invitations from people I find fascinating, my underlying excitement and broad smile tell me yesyesyes, and what time and where? Attunement to such “small” things sensitizes you to the larger, more important ones—like whether to take this job, move to that state, or marry him or her.
Notice how you feel after you tell a friend he looks good when he looks more tired than you’ve ever seen him, after you cheerily agree to bake 12 dozen cookies for the fundraiser, or after you accept a weekend invitation at a lodge-full of carousers and limited bathrooms when you really want to stay home and cuddle with the mystery-movie marathon.
The body is our built-in, infallible “lie detector,” as life coach Martha Beck calls it (“4 Games to Play Before Saying Okay,” Redbook, November 2000). She also explains, “The body is an organic polygraph machine. When you lie, even unwittingly, it responds by producing reactions that range from dryness of mouth to increased blood pressure to red, blotchy skin” (“Keeping Your Center,” RealSimple, October 2000).
Why We Should Pay Attention to Our Bodies’ Signals
Maybe such symptoms are relatively minor. But denial of our real feelings and desires isn’t at all good for us, not only in the actions we’re forcing ourselves into, but in our bodies themselves. Journalist and essayist Barbara Graham says in “Tune Into Yourself” (O, The Oprah Magazine, October 2000), “Each time we ignore our inner voice, we shrink a little inside ourselves.”
Even the conservative medical community has (grudgingly and finally) come to recognize that stress, anxiety, resentment, and repressed anger all contribute not only to bodily tension but also to a host of physical diseases. Increasing research shows the connections between our emotions and physiological changes in our immune systems, enzymes, and hormones.
On the more purely spiritual plane, I’ve found invaluable spiritual guru Louise Hay’s list of relationships of body, mind, and soul. Her extensive chart of correspondences between negative emotions and physical maladies (and metaphysical prescriptions) has been reprinted and updated continuously since 1976 and translated into many languages throughout the world.
Derived from years of listening to clients and her own Inner Voice, Hay’s equations have been supported by mainstream medical and scientific research (see, among many, books by Doctors Herbert Benson, Larry Dossey, Bernie Seigel, and O. Carl Simonton). For example, in Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, stomach problems indicate “Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new.” Such emotions produce excess stomach acids and precipitate heartburn, ulcers, and other digestive problems.
The remedy? Not chugging a bottle of antacid or grabbing a little purple pill but affirming, in Hay’s words, “Life agrees with me. I assimilate the new every moment of every day. All is well.”
Your body is monumentally equipped to give you the messages you need the moment you ask. Here’s an exercise to help you “tune into” it:
- Sit quietly in a comfortable place and position, close your eyes, and place your attention on your body.
- Scan your body mentally, from toes to head.
- Where do you feel tense—jaw, hands, stomach? Is there a little throb over your eyes? Are your shoulders high? Is your chest tight? Does your stomach feel a little achy?
- Focus on the tense area. Ask it to tell you what’s bothering it.
- Allow images, feelings, words to float in. What comes to you?
- Chances are you’ve been hiding from something—information, feelings, realizations, action, inaction—and your body is responding.
- Act on what you hear or see mentally. This may mean taking a step, not taking one, accepting or rejecting something, apologizing, praising. You’ll know.
- Thank your body for talking to you.
- Take a few deep breaths, stretch, open your eyes, and go do what your Inner
Voice-body has told you.
Your Body Is Telling You What’s Right
I had a rather dramatic example of listening to my body and following its signals for required guidance. In my academic editing work, at the beginning of a recent project anxiety overtook me (don’t tell the client). My mind darted everywhere trying to figure out the least confusing place to begin. My chest tightened, migraine threatened, and stomach churned.
Unable to work, I followed the steps recommended here. As I breathed and asked, my chest opened and shoulders relaxed. The headache waves vanished and stomach quieted. Along with the bodily symptoms, all mental torments disappeared. My mind no longer whirled with frantic possibilities, weak attempts, frustrated trial-and-error shots, and self-denunciations about having taken on something I shouldn’t have.
I felt a lightness in my chest, a sense of everything dropping into place, like a toddler at play finally getting the round block into the round hole. My body, like the child, breathed “AH!” And a strong Inner Voice told me exactly where to begin
Your Body, Your Friend
When we think and act in ways that support and harmonize with our true feelings, our bodies relax. We feel a well-being, or better—we’re not even aware of our bodies.
If you feel discomfort in your body, and keep tuning into it, you’re led to your Voice. You get into the habit of pausing, asking, hearing, and listening. So whenever you have a bodily symptom or sense of uneasiness, stop, quiet down, and listen. You’ll continue to gain confidence in the connection between your body and your Inner Voice.
You’ll recognize that your body knows, and you’ll turn to it more often for its unerring messages and all the answers you need.
© 2017 Noelle Sterne
About the author:
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 400 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction. Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, InspireMeToday, SivanaSpirit, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. An academic editor and coach with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations. She publishes in several blogs for dissertation writers and contributes a monthly article to the Textbook and Academic Authors Association blog, Abstract. Her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) further aids doctoral candidates to award of their degrees. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com