One of the participants at a workshop I held arrived that day on crutches. She had sprained her ankle and it was still very sore. But she was sure she would be able to do the workshop. I was planning to do several exercises using movement so I asked her to listen carefully to her body.
What do we mean when we ask someone to listen to their body? And why do we sometimes ignore our body’s signals? In my work and private life,I have found that this is a wonderfully complex area of experience.
My instructions to her were perfectly clear: If she were to feel tired or her ankle would start hurting, she was to sit down and rest, and try to find another way to do the movement.
But, imagine that she has this little inner voice saying she should always make a good impression on people? Or a voice urging her to be an achiever? Chances are, she wouldn’t even allow herself to feel tired or her ankle hurting.
Sometimes this can cause physical problems. My enthusiasm about registering for all kinds of seminars and workshops led to a period that I wasn’t taking enough time to rest and incorporate what I had learned. So, even though I had done nothing physically tiring, when I got home, I started feeling lower back pains. Having ignored the subtle signs that I was overtaxed, my body decided to show me in a not so subtle way!
Our bodies can also show signs of repressed emotions like anger, fear or sorrow. Do you clench your jaws, biting back something? Are your shoulders stooped from carrying too many worries? Or maybe ducking away in fear? I discovered that an old stiffness in my right shoulder was actually left over from the old gesture of warding off blows. After the discovery, I could learn to relax the shoulder.
I often use a ‘bodyscan’ to discover what my body needs. This can be still (sitting or lying down) or in movement (even dance). Concentrate on different parts of your body. Pay extra attention to jaws and neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, and pelvis. Tension in these areas often goes unnoticed. Feel where there is tension, stiffness, or pain. What does your body/mind really need? Chances are that you need something you have been denying yourself recently.
What does your body need right now?