The topic of listening to one’s body is one that is very dear to me – I could go on about it for hours, and once I get going, I often exhaust my friends with hour-long rants about the subject. From now on, I thought I might try writing instead of talking about it.
I haven’t written about listening to one’s body in depth before due to the inexhaustible nature of the subject, and as I had no idea where to begin, where to stop, or what my point would be – besides the fact that all of us, regardless of personality or body type, have a natural capacity for listening to our bodies. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, but the ability is inherent. Listening to one’s body is nowhere near as complicated as, for example, following one’s intuition.
I am convinced that the reason we think we don’t know how to listen to our bodies lies, first of all, in Western medicine and government-sanctioned food pyramid culture. This mentality attempts to squeeze all bodies into a single category, and to regulate both our diets and our exercise choices externally, without consideration for individuality. I may be over-simplifying the matter a little, but you get my point. Secondly, the fault lies in sedentary work, immobility, and nutrient-deficient diets, which I see as the main culprits.
A person tapping away at a keyboard, shoulders turned inward and their back hunched for eight hours a day, cannot help but to be blocked up. Sedentary work is quite simply unnatural. I discovered this for myself some years ago when I went from an active standing job to sitting in an office: after the first week, my shins were cramping so badly I couldn’t walk. I was finally shown a sitting posture by the company physician, which allowed blood flow to the legs and feet. People with sitting jobs especially should exercise daily – I don’t mean sweating at a cardio class every day, but engaging in a gentle, body-opening practice, like yoga.
Interestingly enough, after I began practicing yoga, I’ve become very sensitive to the sensations and messages of my body. Sensing blockages, stiffness, and pain has become easier – at best I become aware of them before they actually manifest – and I can find ways of relieving stiffness immediately. Sedentary workers and exercise phobics become immune to blockages and stiffness, and only seem to become aware of the problem after sustaining actual injury or once they are in significant pain. Even then, it is often only the symptoms, rather than the cause, that get treated.
It’s been four weeks since I last did yoga. I think that’s my longest break since I started practicing. A maximum of four days off is optimal for me; any longer than that and my body starts telling me that my energy flow is blocked. The last month has forced my body into an entirely new rhythm, however. I’m sleeping more than usual – approximately ten hours every night – and yet I still find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. My body feels tired and just the thought of doing my yoga practice seems impossible. I find myself too restless for it in the hours before noon; on the other hand, it feels like there is something inside me, keeping my body still and telling it to rest.
For some days now I’ve been feeling strong energy blockages in different parts of my body. They began manifesting a few days ago as pain in my lower back, between my shoulder blades, and in the backs of my thighs. I’ve noticed that I get annoyed more easily and seemingly without cause, that I no longer feel a strong connection to my inner being, and to top it all off, I feel almost wistful about the lapse in my yoga practice. I know that it’s only a matter of days until the feeling becomes unbearable, at which point I will grab my mat and do a light evening practice; there is a calm energy to late summer nights, without the awaiting early-morning wake-up calls. If I were to continue this yoga break, I would, with time, probably become immune to the aches, the stiffness, and the superficial irritability of my mind.
There are many aspects to listening to one’s body, as we can feel more or less anything with our bodies. By listening to your body’s needs, you may find a diet that is specifically suited for you, as well as many other things. I’ll see if I can write down my thoughts about those things, as well.
For now I think my point is simply that, although the rants of your yogi or fitness enthusiast friends on the topic of listening to one’s body may leave you feeling confused, you too have been blessed with this amazing ability. You could start out by trying a regular sleeping schedule, going for a short walk and doing a bit of gentle yoga – whichever type of yoga you prefer – daily. As with most things, the secret to this, too, lies in taking small steps. Be patient.
Helsinki’s yoga studios offer an excellent selection of classes. If you’re interested in Ashtanga, I recommend Rööperin Aamujooga, Moola, or Helsingin Astangajoogakoulu. For those of you looking for more gentle types of yoga, I would recommend Pihasali.
Photos Dorit Salutskij
Yoga tops gifted by Wellicious
Translation Katja Nikula