"The movement you need is on your shoulder." - The Beatles, Hey Jude
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and is also a future tattoo I will get around to when I have the money and time to heal it properly (someday...). Hey Jude was written by Paul McCartney to comfort John Lennon's son Julian during his parents' divorce. It comforted me during a time of pain, loss, and a sort of existential crisis, and it beautifully describes the wisdom we all have within us. The inspiration or push we need is already there, we just have to listen to what our inner guidance system is telling us. To illustrate the power of the mind-body connection, I'll share a few of my own experiences that taught me how important and deep-seated this relationship is.
A few years ago I was getting a massage as part of my monthly indulgent self-care, and as the massage therapist began working out this stubborn knot in my back, I suddenly began crying. Tears just began falling out of my eyeballs while I was face down on the table, and I had no idea why! I was very confused, and so was my poor massage therapist. I was LITERALLY holding emotions in my back muscles, and as she was working them out they released. Bizarre, right?!
In addition to this surprising massage session, I recently experienced long-term how powerful and wise the mind-body connection is. I was stuck in an extremely stressful work situation that I was attempting to make the most out of, and I was doing everything "healthy" to counteract the effects of the stress I was experiencing on a daily basis. Working out regularly, taking "me" time at said stressful work environment, eating lots of fruits/veggies/protein, and going to therapy bi-weekly. Despite all these things, I was having severe GI problems (I'll spare you the details), I had absolutely no energy, and was gaining weight when I should have been at least maintaining. You always hear people say, "working out gives me so much more energy!" But I was definitely not reaping the apparent benefits of exercising at all. On the contrary, attempting to work out was exhausting for me, and I was even more tired the next day. Nutritionally, I began to think I had some sort of exotic autoimmune disease that was affecting my ability to digest certain foods, and I decided to try an elimination diet where the only "fun" foods I was allowed to eat were sweet potatoes, bacon, and avocados. No nuts, no dairy, no eggs, no grains, no beans, no nightshades (it's a thing I swear). Believe me, it was tough - especially for my partner, who loves to eat pizza and mac n cheese on a regular basis. He, by the way, was of the opinion from the beginning that all of these problems were stress-related, but I was not convinced. I even tried acupuncture, which was relaxing but didn't really help my GI issues. After 2 months of this elimination diet I did feel a little better, but my symptoms were still there and the stress was still as high as ever, if not higher. Then I had the opportunity to leave my job and guess what? I was cured. Not immediately, but over time I felt better and better. I still can't eat wheat, but I have boundless energy, exercising gives me an amazing high and sense of accomplishment, and I'm able to nourish my passions because I'm actually motivated to.
Our bodies react to stress in so many different ways. Some people experience the effects in their gut (like I did), some people can't sleep regularly, some catch a cold on a monthly basis, and for some it can even cause heart problems or infertility. Stress is bad, mmmkay?
By now it's widely accepted that our bodies and minds are connected on a very deep level, but how can we use this to our advantage? Most of us live from the neck up - that is, we think we are our thoughts and that everything we think is true and applicable to our lives. But the reality is that when we live in our heads we're missing the other half (or more) of what's actually happening in our experience. "Feelings" are named for a reason - because we FEEL them. They are sensory experiences in our bodies that are caused by ever-changing brain chemistry. If we stop to pay attention to whatever it is that's going on in our bodies, we are giving those emotions the attention they are screaming for! "Hello!? Don't you know this job is killing you? Get out!!" If I had actually listened to what my body was telling me, I probably would have begun job searching quite a bit earlier. Our bodies are wise and intuitive, and we have to develop habits to listen carefully. What habits? Glad you asked!
Meditation is the first that comes to mind. Some people are intimidated by meditation, think they don't have enough time, or can't quiet their minds and become frustrated. I've experienced all of these while developing this practice, and they are legitimate concerns! Like any skill or habit, it takes time, practice, and patience. Once you get the hang of it, meditation allows you the time and space to check in with your mind and body and how they are working together (or not). A more detailed how-to meditation blog is coming soon. Stay tuned! But in short, guided meditations are great to start and can be found on YouTube or many phone apps such as Insight Timer (my favorite). Start with 5-10 minutes a day and gradually increase to 20-30.
Yoga is also a great tool for listening to our bodies. I've experienced a lot of frustration and judgement around my body while practicing yoga - which is exactly the opposite intention, go figure. It can be a great teacher in that it forces the mind to focus on the body, or else you'll fall over in class and embarrass yourself. Just kidding - there's no embarrassment in yoga. If you struggle with body image, like most women do, being forced to focus on the thing that causes you stress/anxiety/self-judgment can be uncomfortable. But training the mind takes time and practice and it can eventually be tamed to focus on gratitude for your body rather than criticism.
Even something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood can be beneficial to awaken the mind-body connection. The bi-lateral stimulation (both sides of your body are alternatingly activated) of walking can even help to process the trauma of the day. As you walk, try to pay attention to the sensations in your body. What do your shoes feel like on the pavement? How does the wind feel on your skin? What smells can you detect? Do you hear cars driving by or dogs barking?
Can't walk in your neighborhood? Are the sidewalks covered in ice and if you try to go for a walk you'll come back with a bruise? There's always exercise with body weight that can be done in your bedroom and require no equipment. Or if you're looking to really get your heart rate up (which will certainly make you aware of your body) with no gym needed, you can try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Pinterest is great for ideas, or even a simple Google search will do the trick.
Bottom line: pay attention! Take time out to quietly check in with your body. And if you're moving, be mindful of the MOVEMENT! It is on your shoulder, after all.