How to Listen to Your Body

Mindfulness and how to listen to your body

Listening to your body is an important part of a healthy mindset. It is advice given by many health care professionals. And it sounds like great advice. But what does it mean to listen to your body?  And how do you do this?

Let’s explore the mind-body connection and learn 12 tips for listening to your body.  These 12 tips will help you establish a healthy mindset, which is key to a healthy and happy life.

Listen to your body for a positive mind body connection

Outside Influences vs Internal Cues for Healthy Habits

Infants instinctively listen to their bodies.  They cry when they are hungry or need a diaper change.  Parents of newborns can attest that babies also sleep when they want, regardless of what a clock says.

Knowing what your body needs is innate.  We are born with this ability.

But as we grow older, outside influences take over our internal cues.

Eating is a good example of this:

We are told we should eat breakfast within 2 hours of waking up. Lunch is scheduled for around noon.  Dinner happens when we get home after work.  And some experts say we should not eat past 7:00 pm. 

But what happened to eating when we are hungry?  Most people don’t even know what hunger feels like.  And obesity and eating disorders are on the rise. 

Most of us, myself included, have lost the ability to listen to our bodies.  But it is something we can re-learn. 

“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

What is The Mind-Body Connection?

While it may seem like an abstract metaphysical concept, there is a scientific and medical basis behind the mind-body connection. 

Your physical body impacts your mental state.  When your body is healthy, your mind is healthy and you can feel positive emotions, such as contentment and happiness. 

But when your body is experiencing hunger, tiredness or pain, you may feel negative emotions such as sadness or anger. 

And the reverse is also true.  Your thoughts, feelings, and attitude affect your body and health.  

The brain is a complex organ that forms thoughts, feelings and stores memories in the form of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, and nerve connections of the autonomic nervous system. 

These chemicals and connections don’t just stay localized in your brain.  They have what doctors refer to as a systemic, or whole body, effect too.

And your body is constantly sending its own nerve signals and chemicals to your brain. There is a continuous flow of communication between your mind and body.  This happens whether you are aware of it or not.   

This flow of information can influence your emotions, behavior and health. 

“You need to listen to your body because your body is listening to you.”  – Phil McGraw

Breaking a Negative Mind-Body Cycle

When we are happy and healthy the world looks good.

But when we are not healthy and not happy, life can seem to spiral downward eventually affecting both your mental and physical health. 

The continuous exchange of negative mind and body signals, including the internal release of stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals, can lead to illness. 

To break this negative cycle, you need to learn to listen to what your body needs.  And in order to truly listen, you need to quiet your mind. 

So how do you do this? How do you listen to your body? 

Listen to your body for a positive mind body connection

12 Tips to Listen to Your Body

1. Heighten Your Awareness

Be aware of your surroundings.  How is your body doing in relationship to your environment? 

Start with simple things:  Do you feel cool or warm?  Are you standing, sitting, or laying down? Is the surface hard or soft?  Do you hear any sounds?  Are there any strong smells?  What colors do you see?

Use all your senses, as you are able, to experience the world around you.  Try to notice things without judging or analysing them.  Simple awareness is all you need to do.    

2. Feel Your Feelings

Acknowledge and accept your emotions.  Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling right now. 

As we briefly discussed, feelings are a result of a complex system of brain chemicals and nerve stimulations.  For example, you feel love when a brain chemical called oxytocin is released.  Epinephrine makes you feel frightened.  And you might feel depressed when you don’t have enough serotonin.

Emotions have a purpose.  Feelings influence behaviour.  Often, this influence is either self-protective, avoiding things that cause negative emotions, or self-motivating, pursuing things that cause happy emotions.

So, don’t fight your emotions. You will only be fighting a biological response, which is futile. Allow yourself to feel what you feel without judgement.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ― Dr. Seuss

But do seek professional help if your emotions become troublesome or overwhelming. Sometimes we need help to sort through them and that is completely okay. 

3. Find Quiet

Quiet Noise Around You

You can’t hear well with a lot of noise in the background.  And that is also true when you are trying to listen to what your body is telling you.  So, you will need to find some quiet. 

Avoid distractions when you need to listen to your body. 

Don’t eat in front of the TV or you might miss that cue telling you that you are full.  This can lead to overeating. 

Take out your ear buds when exercising.  Listen to your breathing instead to know if you are exercising with enough or too much effort.  

Quiet Your Mind

If your mind is full of thoughts, you can’t listen in to what your body is telling you.  It is like experiencing static on a telephone line.  Extra thoughts run around in your head and prevent you from focusing on what is important in a particular moment of time. 

One technique to quiet those thoughts is to meditate and focus on your breathing.

If one of those noisy thoughts pops into your head while you are doing this, visualize yourself writing that thought down on a piece of paper and pin it to a tree in the forest of your mind.  You can go back to that tree and memo another time if need be.  For now, just leave it ‘pinned’ there and walk away. 

4. Write Your Thoughts Down

You can also write down your thoughts on paper or in a journal.  Make lists.  Keep a diary.  Use a notebook or a phone app.  Don’t keep extra thoughts in your head to clutter up your mind. 

Just as overeating isn’t good for your body, overthinking isn’t healthy for your mind. 

You can also use a journal to help you determine what your body needs. 

Write down your emotions and sensations.  Log them with the date, time and other information about what was happening at that particular time.  Once you have collected some entries, go back periodically and analyze them.  Is there a pattern?  Is your reaction or behavior appropriate for the circumstance?  If not, what change is needed? 


Related Articles:

Journaling Your Weight Loss Journey

Journaling to Overcome Emotions of Cancer


5. Do Body Scans

When the noise has quieted down, you can do a body scan and check in with yourself. 

Visualize yourself from head to toe.  Slowly scan each body area; head, neck, chest, arms, torso, pelvis, and legs.  Are there any tightness, tension or pain sensations?  Do you sense hunger?  Is it truly hunger or is something else making you want food?  What other sensations can you detect? 

Acknowledge these sensations.  What are they telling you?   

Check in with yourself periodically throughout the day. 

6. Act With Purpose

Act with intention based on what your body is telling you. 

Eat with the purpose to resolve hunger.  If you are not hungry and only want food for comfort, perhaps eating is not what your body needs right now.  How else can you find comfort?

Exercise with purpose.  Focus on your form and balance.  Maintain your posture.  Be deliberate with your movements to get maximum benefit and avoid injury. 

Think with purpose.  Keep those intrusive thoughts pinned to that tree or written in a journal. 

Focus on one thought and one task at a time.  “Multi-tasking” only wears you down, eventually, and does not accomplish any more in the end.    

7. Trust Your Gut

“Your body is your best guide. It constantly tells you, in the form of pain or sensations, what’s working for you and what’s not.” – Hina Hashmi

Sometimes you know and understand what your body is telling you.  But then your mind gets in the way and talks you out of what you know is right.  Have you ever experienced this? 

One example that comes to mind is eating dessert at the end of a large meal. 

You know, beyond doubt, that you have eaten enough.  You can’t possibly be hungry after eating that plateful of food, right? 

But then the dessert cart is brought to your table.  You are full, but you look at those beautifully scrumptious desserts and your mind says, “go ahead, you deserve this”.  The temptation to satisfy your sweet tooth is just too much. 

Then, afterwards, your body tells you that you shouldn’t have eaten it.  You feel stuffed and bloated.  And now, you have to undo that button on your pants.  You didn’t listen to your body.  Instead, you listened to your mind.  And you ended up overeating, again. 

So, next time, listen to your body.   Trust your gut.  Stop eating when you are no longer hungry.

8. Don’t Judge Yourself

Now, if you happened to have indulged in that dessert and overate, don’t be hard on yourself.  It is okay to treat yourself now and then.

It is okay to make mistakes. 

Being healthy is a lifelong set of behaviors and habits.  The key word is ‘lifelong’. 

Healthy shouldn’t be about denial.  Denial only sets you up for failure.  It leads to guilt when you do indulge your desires.  And guilt, added to denial, just leads to a downward spiral, and can eventually lead to self-loathing. 

Instead, be kind to yourself.  Don’t judge yourself.  Lift yourself up. 

We all need to give into our wants and desires from time to time. 

It is okay to have dessert.  It is okay to take a day off from exercise. And it is okay to sleep all day. 

Just not all day, everyday. 

Remember, though, you also want to eat well, exercise and feel healthy.  Feeling healthy is a reward in and of itself.  You can’t be happy inside a sick body.  And your ultimate goal is happiness, right?  

9. Go Inward

During times of stress, we tend to go outward looking for answers and solutions.  We want to feel better and search for comfort from others, from food or alcohol, or escape to different locales, as examples. 

But these are only temporary solutions.  And these coping mechanisms can lead to other problems, such as alcoholism, relationship problems and debt. 

Have you ever gone on a much-needed vacation only to come back to feeling more chaos than before you left? 

Going outward can lead to more stress in life.

Instead, go inward.  Look into your mind and your heart.  Clear your mind to think clearly and rationally.  Allow your heart to open and fill with empathy and compassion for yourself. 

The answers are inside of you.  Only you can truly know what is best for you. 

“No one can listen to your body for you. To grow and heal, you have to take responsibility for listening to it yourself.” – Jon Kabat-ZinnLi

10. Find Enjoyment

Of course, I am not saying to not go on vacation.  Yes, find enjoyment in life.  What I am saying is that using a vacation because you are stressed is only a temporary fix.  Go on vacation because you enjoy it, not to escape something giving you stress.  

Another point I wanted to make about enjoyment is that you need to enjoy what you are doing. 

For healthy habits to be sustainable, you need to enjoy them.  Healthy is a lifelong endeavor, not a temporary fix. 

If you hate running, for example, it is not reasonable to expect to run every day for the rest of your life.  There are plenty of other ways to exercise.  It doesn’t have to be running. 

If you hate salad, then don’t eat salad.  Out of all the vegetables that are grown in this world, I will bet there are a few that you enjoy eating.  Eat those.

Previously, I mentioned that emotions were biological.  If you don’t enjoy something, maybe your body is telling you not to do it.  Just make sure it is your body and not your mind telling you it doesn’t like something. 

So, listen to your body, and find healthy habits that you enjoy doing. 

11. Schedule You-Time

If your life is anything like mine, you are very busy.  It is too easy to get caught up in just getting stuff done, that we push ourselves aside.  But, if we are to listen to our bodies and be healthy, then we need to set aside time for ourselves. 

So, schedule some You-Time.  Write it in your calendar.  Adhere to it like you would any appointment. 

It doesn’t have to be a long appointment.  All you need is 5 minutes a couple of times a day to check in with yourself to do a body scan.  Maybe schedule in a 20 – 30 minute walk a couple of times a week.  Or, perhaps, schedule in 30 – 60 minutes to read a book, have a bubble bath or do a puzzle.

The important part is that you have some precious You-Time and an opportunity to tune in to yourself.

Perhaps, eventually, you won’t need the clock. And checking in with yourself will simply become an innate habit.  But you need to start somewhere. 

12. Go With The Flow

Routine is good.  Doing the same thing in a set pattern can help you remember to do something. But you also need to be flexible. 

It is okay to stop exercising when you feel too tired to continue. It is okay to modify a workout if you aren’t feeling up to doing the full workout that day. 

Leaving food on your plate if you feel full is okay.   It is also okay to go back for seconds if you are still hungry. 

Your body may not want the same things every day.  And that is just fine.  It isn’t the day to day particulars that matter.  What matters is the big, grand scheme of life. 

Health is a long-term investment.  There may be ups and downs in the market values, but ultimately, we want a good return over the years. 

So, most of your days should be filled with healthy habits.  But flexibility is required.  And flexibility without judgement and guilt is necessary. 

Be kind with yourself. 

Go with the flow of life. 

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Comments

  1. TheBrownSugarCafe says:

    Great advice!!! One of my favorite parts of this is “ If you hate salad, then don’t eat salad.” I happen to love salad, but seeing people force their way through a salad always makes me tell them that there’s other options. A salad was a “fix all” in the past.

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      I love salad too. My favorite is a beet, kale and goat cheese with balsamic vinegar. Oooo…and spinach salad with a warm sesame dressing. But I know many people who eat it out of obligation. That is no fun. And life is meant to be enjoyed. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Nicey says:

    Hi there! I’ve come across your website for the first time, and this is a wonderful journal. A good reminder to always listen to what your mind and body are telling you.

    Stay safe! 🙂

  3. Teodora says:

    My dad’s a yogi and he taught me early on that listening to my body is the best way to be in harmony inside and out. Great article, really enjoyed reading it!

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      Fabulous. I wish it was something someone taught me early in life. It took me too many years to realize this. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Julie Christy says:

    This is a great post! I often tell my students to “listen to their body” or “honor their body” during a yoga class, so as not to overdo, or do something that is more harmful than helpful. This does apply in all of life. We do become so influenced by things outside of us, when we need to listen to our own inner guidance. 🙂

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      Thank you for commenting. Yes, and it is difficult to change that and start listening to our inner self. It takes practice and patience, as you know.

  5. Bridget Marie says:

    Great article! I also think it is SO important to listen to your body. What helped me the most to find this mind-body connection was doing yoga and body scans while meditating. I am definitely going to try these to connect with my body even more!

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      Yoga is fabulous. I was introduced to body scans when I started meditation to calm myself during my cancer diagnosis. It helps so much.

  6. Nicole says:

    This right here just hit me hard and makes so much sense, but I’m always doing it:

    “Don’t eat in front of the TV or you might miss that cue telling you that you are full. This can lead to overeating.

    Take out your ear buds when exercising. Listen to your breathing instead to know if you are exercising with enough or too much effort.”

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      These are habits that are hard to break. I enjoy music when running, but was reminded to take out the ear buds when I started struggling with injuries. Knowing how hard you are working out is so important. And to know means listening to your body. Not the class instructor or a coaching app… You yourself know what is best for you.

  7. Amy says:

    7 and 8 ring the most true for me right now. I find that I trust or seek out everybody else’s opinion before I listen to myself, and I think that’s from a fear of failure. But your post reminded me to be confident, believe and stop judging myself, and go with my gut on what I feel. Great post, thanks so much.

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      Wow. I am so glad my writing helped you. I love that you said “be confident” and “stop judging myself” and “go with my gut”. Those were the exact points I wanted to get across. Thank you for your comment.

  8. Alyssa says:

    Wow, this is a great article. I forgot to listen to my body and keep pushing through without really feeling connected. This is a helpful reminder to slow down and be mindful.

  9. Adrian says:

    I had my first cancer-versary this weekend. It’s always going to coincide with my birthday since I was diagnosed the day after my birthday and since it was my 60th, I decided to have a big party. It was so wonderful after 6 months of not seeing people to just have a few hours to visit with friends and family and do something as normal as a birthday party. Happily, I am considered cured, although I still have a few more loose ends to wrap up. One thing that helped me a lot was a book called The Rabbit Effect. It talks about all the non-medical things that can affect your health – attitude, faith, a supportive environment, hobbies and work, etc. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know.

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      I haven’t read this book. But I have read some of the science that she speaks about in it. The science is fascinating. We can influence health with our minds. And when you know about the biology of the brain, it makes sense. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps I might get a chance to read this book and write up a review on it.

  10. Michele Tereso says:

    Wow this whole article spoke to me. I feel so much more aware and inspired to listen to my body over all that external noise distracting me from acting intuitively. Very well written, thanks for sharing!

  11. Robert says:

    What a well thought out detailed post on overall health & wellness. The connection between the mind and body is so true. We’ve been practicing Meditation for a few years now and it does wonders. Great Job! 🙂

  12. Shelly Rawlings says:

    This is such a comprehensive and valuable post! I’ve been feeling really disconnected from myself lately—these tips will definitely help me get back on the right track. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Pink Ribbon Runner says:

      You are most welcome. I am so glad you find it useful. Thank you for taking the time to comment. It means a lot.

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