The first question I ask clients after exchanging pleasantries is, “How is your body feeling?” For some people, this is a truly difficult question to answer. Many of us are out of touch with our bodies. Some people have been raised to believe that the body is a limitation to overcome – that pain or discomfort in an area is weakness and not something to share. For people with chronic pain or trouble areas, getting through the day means staying out of touch with the body so they can function.
Thinking about that crick in your neck can make you more aware of it, just like thinking about the bug bite you got this afternoon makes your leg itch. In some ways, bringing attention to a part of the body that’s not feeling up to snuff just makes the discomfort, pain, soreness, achiness (etc.) more apparent, and sometimes, makes it feel worse.
But I’m here to tell you that the body sends those signals for a reason. Discomfort, pain, tension, achiness, soreness: 0ur bodies register these sensations because they are important. They are signs saying, “Take care,” or “Proceed with Caution,” or “Stop. Do Not Cross.” They are road signs the body puts in front of us telling us to watch out. Pay Attention!
You know the joke about the patient who says to the doctor, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” And the doctor says, “Well then, stop doing that.” You get the idea.
The body wants to protect itself and keep healthy, and learning to listen to those signals from the body is one way to gather information keep from making things worse. It doesn’t make you weak to know that lifting something heavy today is going to hurt. And it doesn’t make you a bad person when you decide to put off housecleaning because your back doesn’t feel right. The first step to listening to the body is to do a body scan – take a mental inventory to see how your body feels.
So here’s an easy way to scan yourself. I usually do this after I move around a little bit in the morning, once I get home and before I fall asleep. It’s quick and easy, and it creates an internal dialogue that keeps you consciously aware of what the body is saying.
Sit or lie down. Slowly scan your body from your head down to your toes. Start at the head, “How does my head feel? How does my face and jaw feel? How does my neck feel?” As you ask yourself these questions, think about if that part of you feels sore, tired, achy, weak, strong, flexible, painful, tense, etc. Make a mental note.
Continue down the arms, checking in with the upper arms, forearms, wrists, palms and fingers (check in one limb at a time). Next, do the torso, starting at the upper chest down to the tummy, down into your lower abdomen. With the torso, ask yourself if you’re feeling bloated or full, if your back is bothering you or if your upper and midback feel tight. Next, check the hips, upper legs, calves, feet and toes.
Once you’re finished, think a little about what you have on the agenda for the day, and listen to what your body is saying. If you’ve pulled your back out playing weekend warrior, making a mega run to Costco to load up on heavy bulk items is something to put off for a few days. If your neck and shoulders are hurting, make sure to take breaks every 30-45 minutes when you’re on the computer or phone.
The hints the body sends are common sense – if you’re listening. So my advice today is this: take 30 seconds right now to scan down your body and see how things feel. When you’re stuck in traffic, waiting in line to pick up your children or when you sit back in your chair before you start on the next task, do a body scan. Use that information to inform your activity.
Shh. . . Be very quiet. Your body is trying to tell you something. Just listen.