My early conditioning taught me to shout and interrupt if I wanted to claim my right to speak.
But being the loudest doesn’t guarantee you’ll be heard.
Perhaps this is how I learned not to listen to my body. No matter what it did to get my attention, whether injury or illness — and there were plenty over the years, from chronic conditions to ski injuries to traumatic accidents — I pushed through. At least until a strong enough force would come to keep me from pushing through, by putting me in the hospital or sidelining me in some other way.
Eventually I learned that not listening to my body doesn’t work out so well for me.
But then I defaulted to the opposite extreme.
I “listened to my body” tell me that it was too tired to move, or in too much pain to exercise. I interpreted certain sensations as pains, and concluded that those sensations meant it was not good to move in that way. This led me to artificially limit my range of motion and develop compensation patterns, which then became habits.
This also doesn’t work out well.
A healthy relationship with the body requires listening to the body and dialoguing with it.
Listen to Your Body, Not Your Mind
“Listen to your body” often gets misunderstood used as an excuse for skipping a workout or practice when our bodies feel tired or tight.
That’s not listening to the body. That’s listening to the mind.
I used to suffer from chronic back pain. If I woke up with an aching back, I’d skip the gym. I believed I was listening to my body. I stopped doing that over 6 years ago, when I started my “Fitness First” ritual. I noticed my back pain, but decided to go to the gym anyway to do something. Invariably, my back would feel better once I started moving.
After this went on for a while, I realized that the voice telling me to take it easy because my back hurt, or because I was tired after not getting enough sleep or whatever other reason it gave me was not my body. It was my mind.
The mind may have noble intentions to keep you safe, but it doesn’t speak for the body.
The body is designed to move.
How do you know if you’re listening to the body or the mind?
The mind rationalizes. The body moves or doesn’t move.
The body offers sensation. The mind determines what it means. Sometimes sensation means something is wrong. But sometimes sensation simply means something is waking up.
What’s the difference between the “good sore” and the “bad sore” after a hard workout? It’s just the story you tell yourself about it.
A Nuanced Conversation
This is a dance, a nuanced conversation that plays out over time. Sometimes you know by trial and error. You have to be willing to experiment. Inevitably you’ll push too far at some point. But the human body has an amazing capacity to heal.
Obviously, consult with medical professionals or physical therapists or other members of your health team. Every body is different, and your mileage my vary.
The point is to listen to your body, not do what works for other people.
But when you’re listening, make sure you’re listening to your body, and not to your mind.