Listening to Our Bodies

Okay, here’s the thing, I have wanted to talk about this subject for a while, but I was having a hard time figuring out how to get started with it and how to cover the many facets of the subject. Do I focus on self-care? Setting boundaries? How you talk to yourself? All of these things are incredibly important and deserve focus. After a lot of time to think about it and some (or a lot) of personal experience, I have decided to focus on tuning in and listening to our bodies. Several of the above topics are a part of this, and will definitely slide their way into this post. So enough with the lead up; let’s get into it.

Listening to our bodies seems like it should be easy, right? So why is it actually so challenging? In our world and in our lives today, we tend to be overstimulated. We have a constant stream of information, opinions and ideas coming at us all the time. We have expectations. Some of these come from those who depend on us, and some of them are self imposed. A very wise instructor once told me that “Expectations are just premeditated disappointments”, so why don’t we let ourselves off the hook? This can start by looking at the way we talk to ourselves. Stop for a second and think about how you have talked to yourself so far today. Are you being kind to yourself? Would you feel comfortable saying the things you are saying to yourself to your significant other, best friend or sibling? If someone else was talking to you the way you talk to yourself, would you continue to spend time with them? We are with ourselves and our thoughts all day every day, so let’s try to let go of expectations and be kind to ourselves as often as possible.

Once we start to quiet our mental chatter, we can start to tune in to our physical body. I know it seems like we are always in tune with how our physical body is feeling, but let’s pause and think about it for a second. Have you or someone close to you ever said, “I don’t feel well”, but when asked what doesn’t feel well, not been able to articulate specifically what is wrong? I can give you an example specific to myself (which also proves that I should listen to my own advice). In March of 2017, after taking a ballet class, I noticed that my hip felt tight. I brushed it off and assumed I was just sore from class and stretched and rolled it out a little bit. This pain and response went on for almost a year and a half. It wasn’t until I was on vacation late June of 2018 and finally getting a mental break that I realized my hip was hurting all the time…a constant ache and sharp, stabbing pain if I moved wrong. I finally went to the doctor, and in August of 2018 (17 months after it started hurting) I found out I have a torn labrum and tendonitis. A torn labrum is a very common injury, especially in dancers, but had I taken the time to really tune into what my body was telling me, I could have started treatment sooner and possibly had a quicker recovery. So please, if you can, take some time to yourself each day (even if it’s only a few minutes), and really check in with your body. See and feel what it is trying to tell you.

The next part of this I would like to address is setting boundaries and resisting the urge of overcommitting your time. Are you type-A? Are you an overachiever? Do you feel like you will let someone down if you say “No” to a request? This is a comparison that is used a lot but it is effective, so I am borrowing it… There is a reason that flight attendants tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. You will not be able to help anyone else if you are incapacitated. When we are over-committed, our focus becomes scattered. When we are over-tired our bodies cannot operate efficiently. If we continue to push through and bypass the signals our bodies are trying to send us, our bodies will find a way to get us to slow down. Know that it is okay to say no to something if it is going to wear you down. Nobody is going to be upset with you for taking care of yourself. Most of the time they will respect you more for doing so. Another personal example, which is what spurred me to finally write this post, happened to me just this week…

After taking a couple of vacations this summer, I was feeling the need to “prove that I was a hard worker”, and I went little overboard on filling my schedule. I was covering a lot of classes and training sessions as well as trying to fit in extra workouts to make up for what I am not able to do with my hip right now. I started to notice that working 6 day weeks and attending extra events was leading me to feel fatigued, overwhelmed and a little bit grumpy (a pretty clear signal from my body). Instead of taking the cue and backing off immediately, I decided to put in one more busy week. Now, let me be clear, nobody told me that I had to do any of this. Nobody was trying to guilt me into doing anything extra. I am very lucky to be surrounded by loving, supportive family, friends, co-workers and clients. I did all of this to fill expectations (there’s that word again) I had of myself. So, the Monday of my “one more” busy week came, and I was exhausted. All I wanted to do all day was nap. I taught three sessions that morning and fit in a quick 20 minute workout, because “I am a fitness instructor, and I should”. I ran home, walked the dog and taught three more sessions… I ate lunch and had three more to go. When I realized that I had 30 minutes before my final client of the night, I figured I should fit in one more quick workout and make sure I took advantage of the time. At the end of my workout, five minutes before my client arrived, I threw out my back. I taught my last session sitting down, and then had to spend the next 24 hours laying flat on the floor. I had to cancel and/or find coverage for classes and clients for the next two days. My body had tried to send me very clear signals to back off. When I did not listen, my body found a way to make me stop. While I was laying on the floor, texting for coverage and making cancellations, I was so worried that everyone was going to be upset with me for putting them out. Was anyone actually upset? No, not at all. Was everyone supportive? Yes, beyond belief. Am I going to listen to my body next time? Hell yes.

What is the point of me telling you how I overdid it and threw my back out? So that you don’t do it too. Please always remember how important you are. You are important to the world, to your friends and family, to your co-workers and anyone else you might come into contact with. You also deserve just as much care and energy as every person you put care and energy into. So let’s try to be kind in the way we talk to ourselves, let go of expectations, let go of the fear of setting boundaries and listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.

I will be writing a follow-up post with some of my favorite self-care-day activities. I would love to hear yours! Now… Go do something nice for yourself.

Andrea Dusel-Foil