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Foundations of Embodied Vitality Part Two: Listening as the First Ingredient

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

This is the second in a series of posts called Foundations of Vitality, about what truly creates a vital relationship with our body, soul and wellness so that we can experience what I call Embodied Vitality. You can find the first post here.

In part one, I introduced the idea that instead of attempting to control our body and health through formulas and one size always fits approach, we begin to come into relationship with the dynamic beings we are, living in these human bodies.

The best way to start, or repair, any relationship, be it with your body, nature, romance, career or parenting is to LISTEN. By listening, we learn what is happening in the other half of the relationship. We learn what is needed, what is being asked for and by hearing these things, we can then respond in kind.

I know that the idea of simply listening might occur to you as really mundane, that it might not really benefit you that significantly. But I assure you, if you are challenged by feeling disconnected from yourself, out of sorts with your satisfaction or comfort in your body, constantly criticizing or judging yourself, the practice of listening (and responding) can have enormous benefit.

Listening to the body, admittedly, is a lot different than listening to your boyfriend, your boss or your co-worker. Your body is obviously not speaking literal words the way other humans do. Listening to our body requires us to attune to a different sort of listening, but I'd go as far as to say that it isn't that unlike how we listen in other relationships; because you are afterall, listening to body language and felt sense of the other person just as much as you are their words.

For example, you know how you can walk in a room and "slice the tension with a knife?" Picking up on the stress, anger or tension in a room is the exact same sensory skill you'll use when listening to your body.

There are other ways of listening as well. Years ago, after I left a really dogmatic community and was simultaneously working to stop using food as a drug, I was restless and searching one afternoon. I went to the kitchen and while there was nothing really "exciting" to eat, I managed to find something that seemed worthwhile. But just as I went to grab it from the cupboard, something I can only describe as an internal energy gave me a firm "no, that isn't actually what you want to do right now." It was so clear in my awareness what had been communicated that I stopped in my tracks.

Grateful for my ability to attune, listen and respond, I was blown away by how very clear it was. You also have this "sixth sense"sort of ability. It's what tells you that maybe you shouldn't walk down that dark street, or maybe you should call your friend that keeps popping to mind, right now.

Listening is innate to your being, whether you have been using it or not. Like anything in life, listening is something you can cultivate and increase, so if you fall in the not camp or the kinda sorta camp, then you have ample opportunity to begin practicing and cultivating a deeper listening skill with your body and soul.

Once you've built the channel of listening to your body, brilliant things begin to happen. You may begin to feel what's needed in any given moment- rather than sitting with the tension and stress, perhaps you grab a glass of water, take 10 deep breaths, or simply take a walk around the block. Or, you'll start making the connections between the headaches and discomfort you feel in the morning and that cheesecake and wine you had last night. You'll start to notice how your body tenses or relaxes in the presence of certain people, situations and experiences.

Of course, listening alone is merely the act of receiving and understanding the information. The next, often organic step, is the response you choose. The ideal is that once you begin listening to all these cues, you are at choice as to how you want to respond. Listening to our body & soul therefore provides us more agency from which to live and choose; be it with food, with people or with how we treat ourselves.

Here are a few suggestions of how you can strengthen the listening muscle:

  • Spend 5-10 minutes each day without distractions- kids, phones, tv, music etc all turned to OFF. Simply put your attention on what's around you. Better yet if you can do this outside. Pay attention by asking yourself "what do I hear" "what do I see", this can go on and on- what's the temperature feel like on your skin, is the wind blowing or is the air still, are there clouds in the sky or no, etc, etc. As you begin to attune to these oft taken for granted simple and subtle pieces of nature, you'll begin to notice those simple and subtle pieces of yourself, too. You're building the muscle of noticing with this exercise, not judging, not critiquing, not cataloguing all the things that need to be different. Just noticing how things actually are.

  • Set an alarm in your phone 3 times a day. Each time it goes off, take 2 minutes to check in and notice how your body feels. Are you tense from working on that project at work, depleted from chasing your kids around all day, are you feeling nerves and excitement as you go on that big date, have a talk with your boss or prepare for a big event. In this exercise, you're noticing both your physical state and your emotional state. These two things work in tandem together, much as modern healthcare tries to separate them, so it's important to take note of where you're at with both. Again, this isn't a place of judging, critiquing or trying to change, this is just noticing where you're at during various moments of the day. It may be illuminating to watch how you feel from day to day, or even from the morning alarm to the evening alarm.

  • Before and after each meal you eat, take 30 seconds to check in with how you feel. Before you eat, are you ravenous or are you eating just because it's time to eat? Is your body giving you signals of hunger? If so, what are they, how do they feel?

And then, after you eat, how do you feel? Did you eat so much that your body feels uncomfortable? Or, did you not eat enough and you can still feel the gnawing pangs of wanting food? Do you feel lethargic and headachy after eating, or energized and clear headed?

There is no perfection needed here. Building the muscle and skill of listening to your body is a practice; just like learning to ride a bike or play the piano, you'll fall off somedays, hit a wrong note other days. The point is to just keep going. Keep tuning in, keep listening, keep trying to understand and respond as best you can. Give it 14 days of practice and see if the needle on how you feel (physically, emotionally and mentally) hasn't shifted just a tiny bit.

I know it seems like a simple concept, but as with so many things, it is the simplest of approaches that often have the most profound impact in our lives. If you feel at odds with your body, then this one is for you.

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