How to Trust Your Body

This whole article is quite lovely, with good resources and exercises to try. One quote I particularly like:

“Trusting myself is, first and foremost, a visceral experience, less like adopting a new set of beliefs and more like a trust fall into the inner landscape of my heart, lungs, abdomen and gut. Each moment, interaction, relationship becomes a unique experience informed and guided by how my body receives it, not by the grand unifying way I’ve figured out how to live.”

For most of us, culture, upbringing, schooling and work have trained us to listen more outwardly than inwardly, and often to override even the most basic signals our body gives us. If we’ve experienced significant illness, injury, or trauma, we may have unconsciously stopped listening to aspects of our bodily experience. That was useful for a time, but now it’s denying us access to information that can help us live our present-day lives.

When we feel tired, hungry, or our muscles are tight from unnaturally long hours of sitting or standing, we’re trained to push through, to wait to eat or to move. It’s not always bad to be able to wait to satisfy needs, but when it becomes a regular way of life, we tend to lose the ability to hear what our body is telling us.

And when we lose that ability, we also lose trust in ourselves. A big part of trust in any relationship is good communication; the habit of not listening to our insides breeds mistrust in our own relationship with ourselves. And that fosters lack of confidence which then engenders anxiety. You get the picture; it’s a good idea to get this cycle going in the other direction.

You can practice listening and building trust in very simple ways.

If you notice feeling tired, commit to pausing to see what your body wants rather than just plowing through. It may be to get some fresh air, do ten push ups or a few minutes of yoga, have a glass of water or a snack.

If you’ve done a couple of those things and you’re still tired, allow yourself some rest. Lie down for 20 minutes if you can. If you can’t do that, can you push away from work and breathe deeply for ten breaths to bring some more oxygen into your system?

Whatever you choose to do, let your body know that you hear what it’s telling you and that you’ll prioritize more rest (or movement) in the coming days. Make sure to make good on your promise — that’s an essential part of building trust. In other words, let your body know you’re listening and responding in a way that you may not have been before.

Another simple way to practice is to pause and ask yourself “what’s my felt sense in this moment?” Imagine you’re walking home after meeting a friend for dinner. It may be your habit to go back over conversations and think analytically about “how it went.” Try instead to ask yourself, “Right now, what’s the felt sense in my body?”

Felt sense is anything you notice in your body right in that moment — “My stomach feels full. I feel a little tightness in my chest. There’s a heaviness behind my eyes, I’m not sure if it’s tired or sad.” Felt sense could be an overall feeling of fatigue or a sense of buzzing energy, it doesn’t have to be very specific. Asking and answering this felt sense question several times a day will develop a vocabulary for your mind and body to converse in.

Refrain from going into explaining or speculating and simply validate your experience just as it is. “Oh, I see, this is how it is to be me right in this moment.” That’s all you need to do.

If some very noticeably uncomfortable felt sense comes up, you can say, “wow, that tightness in my shoulder is really strong right now,” and you can ask “what might feel good for that I wonder?” You don’t need to do something for every uncomfortable felt sense because they change all the time. But sometimes a clear answer will come back and then it’s good to listen — “standing under a hot shower as soon as I get home” or “cup of tea and a heating pad” or “a half hour to write in my journal.”

Sometimes the answer that comes back is less clear — a random memory or image comes to you. Maybe it’s an image of you swimming last summer. That may hold a piece of what your insides want but it doesn’t need to be interpreted literally right in that moment. You can say to yourself, “something in me wants how it felt to be swimming last summer.” If you let that image ride along with you for some hours or days, you will naturally be drawn to things that may give your body that feeling.

Practicing simple ways to listen to and trust your body will give you access to new sources of information. You may notice a particular kind of work makes your legs feel restless, that interactions with a certain person makes your stomach clench, or that tightness in your jaw is an early sign that you’ve been ruminating unnecessarily.

You don’t need to stop or avoid everything that makes your body uncomfortable, but it’s all information about what feeds you and what doesn’t, and that can clarify choices about how to spend your time and energy where you have the flexibility to choose. A short piece of work with a coach or therapist can help you get the hang of it.

Over time, listening and responding more sensitively to your inner landscape will open up more of that landscape for you to explore. And that becomes the basis of a trusting relationship that will be hugely helpful in navigating all parts of your life.