Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
As a student of yoga, I have learned to listen carefully to my body. As a teacher of yoga, I encourage my students to do the same. Of course that is easier said than done if you’ve never tried it before.
We live in a world where we are expected to keep going and going, work hard, and never stop to take a break. We are praised when we do so. I do believe in hard work and doing all you can to pursue your dreams and goals, but I also believe in listening to your body and resting when you need to. Have you ever noticed when you’re super busy, whether as a student during finals or an employee right before a deadline, that you feel incredibly tired? It is also common to end up getting sick just after everything is over. I can recall a couple of times in college where I would go home at the end of the semester and immediately get a cold or the flu. I’ve experienced it as an adult when I sub extra classes on top of my schedule, go to a lot of social events, and/or travel in the midst of all that. As soon as I stop, my throat might be sore, or my nose runny, and unfortunately, sometimes both.
If we don’t listen to our body and know when we need to slow down, it will find a way to force us to stop. Now instead of pushing through, I know my limits. For example, teaching 4 classes in a day is my limit. If I do more than that, I am exhausted the next day. If I do it multiple days in a row, I need the entire weekend to relax and do nothing. I don’t watch much TV anymore, so that is when I’ll end up spending an entire day either binge watching a TV show or watching movies back-to-back. Admittedly not the healthiest activity I could be doing, but sometimes it’s necessary.
To evaluate where you stand right now, take a comfortable seat and close your eyes (maybe read this first). Sit heavy through your hips. Lengthen up through your spine. Relax the muscles of your face, soften your shoulders down your back. Shift your awareness to your breath. Notice the natural rhythm – is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Don’t try to control your breath, just notice. Feel the rise and fall of your chest, or the expansion in your belly. Maybe just feel the air enter and leave the body through your nose. Take 10-15 rounds of breath just to notice. Then start to expand your awareness. How does your body feel? What are the areas of comfort and discomfort? Take your time to get a full picture, then shift your awareness to your mind, your emotions. Do you have a lot of thoughts running through your head? Do you have maybe few thoughts, but they are strong and hold your attention? What emotions are you feeling? Stress, anxiety, happiness, calm? Gather the information, then return to the breath for a few more rounds. When you feel ready, softly open your eyes and take the next few moments to reflect on how you felt as a whole. Do you feel good, stressed, tired, or just plain ol’ bad? Once you realize where you’re coming from, decide on at least one thing you can do to improve your mood, your body, and/or your mind right then and there. Maybe taking these 5 minutes to do this activity was enough, but maybe you need a healthy snack, to step away from your work, or to take a nap.
Not only do we need to listen to know when to slow down, but we can also listen to decide that maybe our pace is fine, but there’s more we can do to support ourselves to keep steady. For example, food. I can tell when I haven’t been eating well enough. It’s harder for me to get up and fall asleep. Don’t even get me started on my skin. And the midday slump is another obvious sign. I should feel good after eating lunch, but sometimes around 2:30 or 3pm, I can barely keep my eyes open. But once I have recognized the bad pattern, I can bring more awareness to the food choices I’ve been making. I often ask myself why have I been making those bad decisions. In this case, it’s often because I wait until the last minute and eat whatever is quick. Once I’ve established the why, it’s easier to fix the problem. I’ve been trying to designate a “lunch hour,” a specific time frame in which I should eat. It gives me plenty of time to make something, eat, and walk my dog. I have the flexibility to adjust the order as needed, but now I don’t wait until 2pm some days to eat. Of course I’m not always perfect (days off actually end up being the hardest), but I’m getting better and that’s what matters.
Taking the time to stop and listen to what your body needs can bring more balance to your life. Now that I practice it every day, I don’t know how I could ever go back to living on auto-pilot. Not only do I want you to start listening to your body, but I also want you to know you should never feel guilty. I constantly hear people saying they feel bad for not coming to yoga class for however long because they were busy, tired, or even sick. I always say the same thing – you did the right thing. Your body knows best. Never underestimate it. Because as I said before, if we don’t listen, it will find a way to force us to.