The Art of Listening to Your Body

“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.” ~Nayyirah Waheed

Your body is…well, where do we even start?

Your body is so much more than a tool you use to get things done. 

Your body is your life-long partner in crime. It is your home and your shelter. It is your nurse, protector, your strength, and (if you will listen to it) your extremely wise best friend. 

If you take care of your body, it will take care of you! It will teach you, inspire you, and guide you. But you have to learn how to trust it, listen to it, and respond to it. 

Building a robust, deep, and effective relationship with your body takes time and regular effort. But doing so pays huge dividends for your physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual wellness! 

And ignoring your body, living disconnected from it, takes an enormous toll on your daily wellness and health, as a disconnected body is much more prone to disease, less capable of managing and learning from stress, and far less likely to thrive.  

So, let’s talk about your body. Let’s talk about how to listen to your body—including when to listen, what tools to use to listen, and more. As a general rule, we’ll recommend this formula: Check in. Observe. Interpret. Respond. Repeat.

Step 1: Check In

You know that close friend that you haven’t called in a while? Yeah, that’s what your body is often like. 

We cannot maintain a healthy relationship with our bodies, let alone grow a healthy relationship with our bodies—unless we check in with them! Just like with our human friendships, a simple “How are you lately?” can keep you connected with and up-to-date with your body.

Top 4 Times to “Check in” With Your Body

#1: Just after waking and just before sleeping 

Some of the most subtle and valuable wisdom of your body is found during these times of day. Checking in with your body at the beginning and end of your days will not only help you maintain healthy and effective morning and nighttime routines, but also pay emotional and intuitive dividends! 

#2: Meal times

On busy days, it can be hard to take time to check in with our bodies—but everybody’s got to eat! And by adding a body check-in to your mealtime routine, you still check in with your body regularly, even on busy days. Checking in at meal times will also help you teach yourself to recognize your body’s hunger cues, eat more intuitively, and support your digestive health. 

#3: Transition times 

“Switching gears” takes energy. Transitions usually come with a little (or a lot) of extra stress! This stress doesn’t have to be all bad. It can be a window of opportunity! If we handle it well, we can use this window to learn much about ourselves and set ourselves up for future success! But, if we handle it poorly, if we rush through it, we could hurt or blind ourselves to our body’s cues. 

Whether it is a daily transition, like gearing up for work or getting home from school, or a bigger transition, like moving into a new home, changing jobs, seasons, or relationship dynamics, it’s important to “slow down at the corners”, look right and left, and check in with your body so that you be in tune with it as you navigate the changes. 

#4: Symptom times

Sometimes your body will just call out to you for your attention—with a headache, tummy troubles, turbulent emotions, a cloudy brain, or some other symptom. Learn to respect the body’s call for communication. When you notice an odd symptom, stop and check in because your body could have important things to tell you!

Step 2: Observe

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  – Carl Jung

Knowing when to check in with your body is important. But it’s also not enough. Once you’ve made the decision to check in with your body, you need to know how to communicate with and observe your body. Otherwise your “check-in” may be shallow and a waste of time. 

There are several prime methods for observing your body, its state, and what it may be trying to tell you. The method you pick may depend on 1) how much time you have, 2) how deep you want to go, 3) what situation you are dealing with, and 4) which methods you like best.

Key to almost ALL body-connection and observation methods is time, space, and silence

It will be hard to listen, to hear what your body is trying to say if you are surrounded by noise. It will be hard to focus on your body if you are in the wrong space. And, as it often takes a while to connect with your body, you won’t accomplish much if you don’t put in at least a little time. 

Consider where you could go to most effectively check in with your body. A quiet place where you can be alone, even if it’s just the bathroom, is usually ideal.

Here are some of the top methods we recommend: 

Regular iTOVi Scans

iTOVi Scans are a great way to practice listening to your body! Sit down, reflect briefly on your physical and emotional state, and then scan! 

Once the scan is done, pay particular attention to your top-response products, their premium-content descriptions, and any emotional or body system categories you see repeated on the first page of your scan report. 

For added benefits in body observation and attunement, try scanning yourself every day at the same time of day (i.e. right before breakfast, during your 2 p.m. break, etc). This will help you get a feel for your body’s patterns and when they deviate. 

Body-Focused Meditation

Body-focused meditations are powerful! And you can choose the style! 

Lying down for a Body Scan Meditation is a popular method. But you may also choose: 

  • Mindfulness Meditation (with a focus on your body and interoceptive feelings)
  • Moving Meditation
  • Chakra Meditation

(See instructions for different types of meditation at the bottom of this article)

You can even choose to meditate with your favorite essential oil and/or with a relaxing background audio of waves, sound bowls, binaural beats, or pure, simple silence!

Body-Connection Massage

Tension left over from physical or emotional stress often gets stored in your muscles and joints. And sometimes the only way to fully release that stress is to explore your body, find the tension, and then use a massage and some conscious work to release it!

Go slowly, either with your hands or a massage tool, as you explore the muscles and trigger points in your body for hidden tension. Be gentle, yet firm. If you pay attention, you’ll find the sore and stiff parts of your body that have been waiting for your attention. 

Once you find these spots, patiently and mindfully massage them, paying attention to the feelings and thoughts that float into your mind as you do.

If you’re not sure how to appropriately massage a certain muscle, take a little time to look it up and learn how to massage it properly.

Also, if you choose to use this method, make sure to stay hydrated! Massages can deplete your internal water supply…and the point is to support your body not stress it out more with dehydration!

Bonus points if you incorporate some anti-inflammatory, soothing, grounding, or emotionally-supportive oils into your massage!

The FCAS Model

This method is easy and quick—so it may be ideal for you if you only have time for a short check-in with your body. It’s also great for transition times of day!

The FCAS Model has a simple premise: Over the course of a day, your body naturally flows between four states and it needs to spend an appropriate amount of time in each state to be healthy! The four states are: 

  • Feed: When your body needs to regain energy and stability, usually either by eating, sleeping, or socially recharging (spending time with people for extroverts or spending time alone for introverts). Being tired, hungry, or otherwise “low-energy” is often a sign of needing to “Feed”. 
  • Cleanse: When your body needs to regain energy and stability by releasing tension. This often involves reducing your energy output and relaxing mentally or physically (or both), engaging in whatever usually low- to moderate-energy output activities you find de-stressing. Feeling tired, strained, or overstimulated is often a sign of needing to “Cleanse”.
  • Absorb: When your body is seeking growth and stimulation. Feeling bored is the classic sign of needing to “Absorb”. This state is often, but not always, more about mental activity than physical activity. Taking time to be in this state usually looks like a healthy exercise in curiosity—learning about things, people, or places or seeking out novel experiences.
  • Stretch: When your body is seeking growth and stimulation. Feeling restless is the classic sign of needing to “Stretch”. Taking time to be in this state often, but not always, looks like doing something physically-active, such as completing household tasks, playing sports, being actively creative (not just thinking creative thoughts), testing our abilities, and more. 

To use this model, simply stop and ask yourself which of these four states your body is currently reaching for.

Body Expression

Sometimes we learn what our body is feeling not by holding still and putting it “under a microscope”—but by allowing it to do what it wants and express itself!

As such, some people get in touch with their body through methods like journaling, intuitive art exercises, or intuitive dance exercises (see instructions for these activities at the bottom of this article). Find a way to let your body speak! And be an attentive audience member. 

Step 3: Interpret

It takes practice to learn how to interpret your body’s signals correctly. 

We often hope to get something “concrete”—a specific action item, a hidden emotion, or awareness of a specific unresolved need—out of our “conversations” with our bodies. 

And sometimes we do get that! It’s very cool and exciting to discover these things through various body-connection exercises. And it can be very fulfilling to follow through on such concrete body messages.

But sometimes, we don’t get anything concrete. We may feel general feelings and feel generally more connected to our bodies afterward…but that’s it. 

And that’s okay!

It’s good to spend quality time with our bodies, to practice connecting with them, and develop a friendly, listening relationship with them, even if we don’t immediately get anything more concrete out of the interaction. 

So if you struggle with the “interpretation” part of listening to your body, keep at it! You’ll get better at reading and listening to your body with practice. And then, when your body does have something important to say, you’ll be ready to hear and interpret it correctly!

Step 4: Respond

Once your body has expressed a need, desire, or important thought to you, don’t leave it hanging! 

If your body says it is tired, rest (or find another appropriate way to restore your energy)! If it is anxious, soothe it! If it wants to “talk to you” about something—a certain memory, fear for the future, thought or perception pattern, etc—go with it!

You’re not just learning how to listen to your body but to honor what it tells you. Not doing so may teach your body that you are a fair-weather friend or a flake! And then it may not “talk” to you as much.

As you follow your body’s cues, over time it will teach you how to maintain a good balance and relationship with both work and rest. It will help you find where you need boundaries, what you are missing emotionally, and more!

In time, It may even start asking you for things more spontaneously! Telling you to seek out certain supports, confront or remove yourself from certain stressors, gravitate towards certain types of exercise, develop parts of yourself, and more! It will provide you with wisdom in all sorts of situations, so start building trust now!

Conclusion

It’s never too late to start benefiting from having a close, attuned relationship with your body! But, like any relationship, you have to make time and put in an effort with it to make it thrive! 

Still, with just a little time and diligent effort, you can learn to hear your body, trust your body, and make it a habit to “check in” with it at critical junctures.  

The work is well worth it. 

So get ready for one of the most rewarding relationships in your life! 

And be sure to check back with the iTOVi Blog from time to time to find more great ways to take care of your body, know your body, love your body, and live your best life!

Helpful Exercises

Body Scan Meditation (10 min.)

Set a timer for the amount of time you want to spend in focused, unbroken meditation. Find a quiet place where you can lie down comfortably and not be disturbed. Lie down on your back with your legs straight and arms to the sides. Try to release any tension you are holding in your body. Then, starting at your feet, turn your attention to one part of your body at a time. Take a few seconds to mentally “be” with each body part, feeling any tension it is holding and then relaxing that body part. Then move on to the next part of your body, moving your consciousness slowly upwards towards your head. 

Once finished, take 1-5 minutes to lie still and try to be present with your entire, now-relaxed body. You may wish to get a drink of water before returning to your normal activities. 

For beginners, try using this order: Left foot, left ankle, left calf, left knee, left thigh, left buttock, right foot, right ankle, right calf, right knee, right thigh, right buttock, pelvis, abdomen/stomach, spine, ribcage, heart, collar bones/upper chest, right hand, right wrist, right forearm, right elbow, right upper arm, right shoulder, left hand, left wrist, left, forward, left elbow, left upper arm, left shoulder, neck, jaw, face, left side of the head, right side of the head, back of the head, top of the head. 

Mindfulness Meditation (10-20 min)

Select a quiet, private place to meditate. Remove distracting stimuli as best you can and set up any aromatherapy, music, candles, or other helpful sensory cues you want to use to enhance your meditation. Set a timer for the amount of time you want to spend in focused, unbroken meditation. Sit in an upright, comfortable meditation position. Close your eyes or simply let your gaze fall and rest on a point ahead of you. Breathe in, slowly and deeply, through your nose, hold for a moment, then let the air slowly out of your mouth. Continue to breathe this way, making sure to stay present with your body, its interoceptive sensations, and the rise and fall of each breath. Any thoughts or external sensory disruptions that come (i.e. a sound from outside, a gust of air, etc), notice them, and then gently return your attention back to your breath. 

Moving Meditation (5-20 min.)

Choose your movement—whether it be at slow, deliberate walking, shifting through yoga poses, or gliding through tai chi movements, let it be something that you can feel comfortable doing. Choose a place where you’ll have enough room to move and find some movement-friendly clothes you can wear. Wearing either thin shoes or going barefoot usually works best. Set a timer for the amount of time you want to spend in focused, unbroken meditation.

Take a moment to take in the space around you—its dimensions, coloring, feel, etc—and then bring that attention to your body, to your breath, your feet on the floor, any internal sensations, etc. As you begin moving, try to keep your conscious attention on your body as it moves—the feeling of your weight shifting, your limbs extending or retracting, the expanding of your lungs, etc. It’s okay to feel, express, and release feelings during this exercise too, just as long as you stay present. If your attention wanders, that’s ok. Acknowledge the interrupting thoughts, let them go, and then bring your attention back to your body, your space, and your movements.

Chakra Meditation (10-20 min.)

Select a quiet, private place to meditate. Remove distracting stimuli as best you can and set up any aromatherapy, music, candles, or other helpful sensory cues you want to use to enhance your meditation. Set a timer for the amount of time you want to spend in focused, unbroken meditation. Sit in an upright, comfortable meditation position. Close your eyes or simply let your gaze fall and rest on a point ahead of you. Breathe in, slowly and deeply, through your nose, hold for a moment, then let the air slowly out of your mouth. Continue to breathe this way, making sure to stay present with your body, its interoceptive sensations, and the rise and fall of each breath. 

When you feel ready, focus on one chakra at a time, beginning either at the root chakra or the crown chakra and working your way vertically through them in order. You may choose to think about  “unblocking”, cleansing, or otherwise relaxing your chakras one by one so that energy flows through them like a river. You may choose to visualize light coming into and feeding your chakras or you can visualize energy radiating out of them. Or you can simply ponder the associations of each chakra and how those ideas are present in your life. 

Traditionally, the chakras are:

1) The Crown Chakra; located at the crown of the head – Associated with divine connection (to either deity or the universe)

2) The Third Eye Chakra; located between the physical eyes – Associated with intuition, self-reflection, wisdom, and consciousness

3) The Throat Chakra; located in the throat – Associated with self-expression, creativity, communication, and personal truth

4) The Heart Chakra; located in the heart – Associated with love, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness

5) The Solar Plexus Chakra; located in the abdomen, above the belly button – Associated with inner strength, gut instinct, personality, identity, choice, and personal freedom.

6) The Sacral Chakra; located in the lower abdomen, below the belly button – Associated with emotions, willpower, sexuality, and creativity

7) The Root Chakra; located at the base of the spine/pelvic floor- Associated with safety, health, vitality, and basic needs

Go on An Outdoor Walk (10-20 min.)

For the allotted time, go on a walk. Try to walk where you can see as much of nature (growing plants, the open sky, landscape features) as possible. Try to savor the sight of them. Notice the weather as you walk.  Breathe deeply and try to notice the smells in the air. Try to let your spirit enjoy being in an open space.

Self-Massage Whenever Tension Is Held

Using your hands, a manual massage tool (like a TheraCane), or an electrical massage tool, take some time to seek out and ease muscle tension wherever it may be hiding in your body. 

Start with any muscles that are carrying obvious tension, and then carefully rub over your main muscle groups, looking for any points that reveal tenderness when they are tested. Give extra attention to any point you feel deserves it, trying, as you do, to be mindfully present with that muscle. Drink plenty of water afterwards and in the hours following.

Mental Conflict Exercise

When to Use This Exercise

Use this exercise whenever you recognize symptoms of mental conflict within you. Such symptoms may include:

  • A tense body (including jaw, shoulders, stomach, and hands)
  • Mentally rehearsing conflict (anticipated conflict, mulling over a recent conflict, imagining a real possible conflict or a fictional one)
  • Sublimation (venting intense feelings through physical action, this may include the impulse to over-do things such as over-exercise, over-work, or over-clean. It may also manifest as the impulse to energetically rend or unmake something with your hands.)
  • Aggressive thoughts, words, tone, or actions
  • Overly demanding, sarcastic, cynical, or negative communications
Directions

As soon as you recognize, from one of the above or similar symptoms listed above, that you are in a state of mental conflict, accept that you are in this state. Do not judge yourself for being in this state. 

Stop for a moment, take a breath, and, using the questions below, examine your feelings and circumstances to detect what may be driving this conflict within you. 

    • Am I afraid of anything right now? (i.e. afraid the work proposal I submitted will be rejected, afraid of coming into contact with X person, afraid that X event will go poorly, afraid that X thing will happen, etc)
    • Am I in any kind of physical OR emotional pain? (aching muscles, fatigue, feeling lonely or rejected, feeling guilty, grieving a loss, etc)
    • Am I feeling ashamed of anything? (unfulfilled task or promise, unfair actions, harsh words, violation of personal values, etc)

If you are in mental conflict, the driving source is probably fear, pain, or shame. Once you have identified which of these sources is driving your mental conflict (it may be more than one at a time), confront it! 

    • Fear. Acknowledge your fears. Consider how this fear came to be. Consider the situation as well as your own higher desires and values. Decide what you will do in the face of this fear (i.e. address it directly, press on past it, prepare against it, etc).
    • Pain. Acknowledge your pain. And, where appropriate, allow yourself to fully feel, process, and express it. Consider how this pain came to be/where it comes from. Consider the situation as well as your own higher desires and values. Decide what you will do in the face of this pain (i.e. ride it out, do something to lessen it, or identify a lesson to learn from it, etc).
    • Shame. Acknowledge the shame. Allow yourself to feel it for just a moment. Acknowledge the choices that led to it and how it came to be, including any recent events or desires involved. Consider your values and how they relate to your current shame. Recognize your desire to do better in the future and your power to do so. Decide what you will do differently in the future. Remember that your past mistakes do not define you or your future. 

Intuitive Art (10-20 min.)

Choose an artistic medium you are comfortable working with (visual mediums such as drawing, painting, and sculpture are easiest for this exercise, though you may choose to use another art form such as music, literature, dance, etc). With as little “plan” or premeditation as possible, just begin working with your medium to create something. Mindfully follow your instincts and try not to think too much ahead.  to what to do with it. Don’t stop working with your art for at least 10-20 minutes.

Expressive Art (5-20 min.)

Choose an artistic medium you are comfortable working with (visual mediums such as drawing, painting, and sculpture are easiest for this exercise, though you may choose to use another art method such as music, literature, dance, etc). With your artistic tools ready, choose some idea/thing/thought/feeling/etc that has meaning to you, that you’d like to explore more deeply, and/or that you’d like to express. Use your artistic medium to try and depict what you already understand about this  idea/thing/thought/feeling/etc and let your curiosity and artistic intuition help you explore and fill in what you don’t yet know about it. 

Stream of Consciousness Journaling (10-15 min.)

Find a comfortable place and means for writing (writing with a pen or pencil on paper is preferred to writing on a mobile device, but either will do). Set your timer for 10-15 minutes and then immediately begin writing. Write whatever comes to your mind in the moment. Do not worry if it is random, silly, goes on tangents, or doesn’t make much sense—just don’t stop writing. Don’t try to censor your thoughts. Just try to honestly follow them wherever they lead you. If your mind goes blank, write about how your mind is going blank. Keep writing until the timer ends.

Reflective Journaling (10-15 min.)

Find a comfortable place and means for writing. Try to make sure you will not be interrupted for the next 10-15 minutes at least. Read the provided prompt question or write down your own prompt or topic. Consider the prompt, and begin writing out your thoughts as they come to you. It’s just fine to elaborate and explore a little with your thoughts and with what you write, but try not to stray too far from the topic. And return to the center of it when you are ready. Do not move on from your central topic until you feel sure you have answered it thoroughly. Then you may move on to any tangential topics that have come to mind for you. Write until you either 1) are satisfied with the degree to which you have explored and expressed your thoughts, 2) need a brain break, or 3) get called away by more urgent responsibilities (make sure to come back and finish your reflection later!)

Class Ideas
  • Teach about the importance of listening to your body with this blog post and the “Check in. Observe. Interpret. Respond. Repeat.” method as a guide. 
  • Teach about stress management. Discuss what stress is biologically and why it happens. Discuss with your classmates how they recognize when they are stressed and what they can do about it. 
  • Teach about cycle-syncing. Teach about the four different phases of a woman’s cycle and how she can recognize and relate to her body in each phase. 
  • Invite class members body scan meditation and/or iTOVi scan themselves for two weeks at the same time of day every day. During your class, invite them to share what they learned about their body.
  • Teach one or more of the body-observation methods listed above. Explain the exercise, do it together, and brainstorm together how your classmates might incorporate the exercise(s) into their daily lives. 

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