What It Actually Means to Listen to Your Body

Health expert Amy Kurtz takes us headfirst into what it means to start feeling well.

We’re on the precipice of a brand new year. January tends to be high season for life reinventions, reassessments, and renewed promises.  All par for the course, especially if you dashed through December crunching overtime at work, closing out the year, running from one holiday party to the next, eating all the cookies, doing all the things, and essentially overcommitting as if it were your job. Now that 2017 is nearing a wrap (you did great), it’s time to rekindle your flow. 

What does that look like for you? Before you leap forward, take a step back (and a deep breath!) and do a personal inventory. In the wellness industry, we hear the phrase “listening to your body” all the time, but what does that mean? It means slowing down, tuning out the nonsense, and asking questions. How am I feeling? How are my energy levels? Where is my head at? How am I feeling in my body? With all the non-stop activity going on around us (work life, family drama, friend time, gym classes, twitter storms, political upheavals, TV binges, etc), it’s so easy to ignore what’s going on inside us.

I’ve been there. I used to live my life at a way faster pace than I do now; I’d say yes to everything and juggle fifteen things at once until I felt totally exhausted. But instead of taking a nap or adjusting my schedule, I’d grab a huge coffee and anything with sugar to keep me going. My motto was “push through, no matter what.” I felt like the energizer bunny, but without the energy or the cute bunny tail.

Thankfully those days are over. Some major health scares in my 20s brought me to a complete stop. I had to slow down and rethink the way that I lived and cared for myself. I was also recovering from a year-long saga of doctors, various medicines, tests, and treatments that left me feeling powerless, and still sick. I really had to go back to the drawing board, with some big questions. What feels good in the moment, and what feels good in the soul? What does it actually mean to listen to your body? And what exactly do you do with all that information? I wrote a book about it to explore and share the options. The learning curve was steep, but the lessons I received literally saved my life. 

You actually need to slow down.

Think you’re good at multi-tasking? Your body is performing thousands of tasks a minute, just to keep you alive and thriving. It’s a brilliant machine that wants to work for you! And it’s constantly giving you new information on how to care for it for optimal results. “Ow, that’s hot!” is your body telling you not to touch the stove. Duh! More subtle messages are easy to ignore or overlook, especially if you’re running at a mile-a-minute pace. 

Achy knees might be telling you to switch up your running sneakers. Dry skin is begging you to moisturize. Bellyaches after eating ice cream might be your body saying, “Yo, I’m not down with dairy.” Exhausted after your spin class? Maybe your body is asking for a deep restorative yoga session instead. Slow down and refocus your attention, and you could pick up on an important signal.

The body and soul are one. 

The mind-body connection has long been established, and most of us can wrap our heads around the physical detriments of mental stress. I’m going a step further to say that the body and soul are inextricably intertwined. I’m talking about mindfulness, your spiritual wellbeing, and the peace that comes from knowing and loving yourself deeply. Think your body isn’t picking up on those cues? Matters of the soul quickly become matters of the body and vice versa.

Listening to (and honoring) your body often means doing an emotional check-in. How does your soul feel to be answering emails at midnight? How does your nervous system react to a couple of weeks of back-to-back social engagements? Are you feeling excited and empowered where you’re at, or totally overwhelmed? What roadblocks keep coming up for you? Ask and listen. The information you receive will help you distinguish “what feels right” from what feels “right, right now.” On a side note, I saw nearly every doctor in the Manhattan yellow pages and not one of them factored this into my health care. Slow down, listen, and keep listening.

Put your oxygen mask on first: ritualize self-care. 

I can’t say enough about the importance of self-care rituals. I believe self-care is essential to our well-being and being in the world. Prioritize self-care and you’ll show up better and brighter to every other part of your life —guaranteed. When I’m having a health flare-up, a stressful week, a relationship issue, or spiritual crisis, my self-care rituals save the day. In a time where most of us need an alarm and a google calendar to get anything done, self-care rituals are like scheduled personal dates that instantly remind you to check in with yourself.

They’re different for everyone. What do yours look like? Saying a mantra out loud in bed every morning, unwinding with a some relaxing yoga before bed, even keeping a vial of essential oils in the car—small practices like these can have a big impact across the board. Put them on the calendar. Put anything on your calendar that feeds your soul and nourishes your body. Grant yourself permission to adopt a routine that serves your highest self. Only then can you serve the world.

Practice moving, breathing, and sitting still. 

What better way to honor your amazing body than to put it into mindful action? I don’t mean crushing it at the gym or blasting your headphones and going for a run. (There’s a time in a place for that, but that time is not today.) I’m talking about going deep, exploring your body, focusing on your breath, focusing on the feelings of each individual part, from head to pinky toe.

Shout-out to yoga! The pace of the practice, the ritual of the poses, the intention and attention required are all wonderful tools for tuning into your body, mind, and soul. When I practice yoga, I’m actively listening to all three. How do my wrists feel on the mat? How am I breathing right now? How’s my back alignment? Where is my mind going? How do I feel today? When I’ve finished my practice and savor savasana, the communication lines to my body are crystal clear. Slowing down like this gives us the opportunity to get to know ourselves more intimately, what serves us and what doesn’t.

It’s crazy out there! Go inside. 

The unfortunate fact of our modern life is that it’s now way easier to tune out than it is to tune in. We live in an external world. Opening up our laptops can feel like stepping into Times Square. Our communities are global, our jobs are 24/7, and the traffic of ideas and images and messages flowing through our system is non-stop. So many external elements are constantly vying for our attention that we are constantly on the look-out, and not looking in.

At the end of the day, your biggest responsibility is YOU. Your body is always sending you feedback—so tune in, take notes, and start writing a new rule book for how you’ll care for yourself in the new year. With practice, consistency, and a commitment to listening, you can set up ways of being and thinking that will do wonders for your body and soul. Cheers (and Happy New Year!) to that. 

Amy Kurtz is the author of the book Kicking Sick, and an AADP Holistic Health Coach, wellness advisor, detox expert, speaker, and a Wanderlust Wellness Mentor. Having experienced a variety of chronic health issues from a young age, Amy realized that the only way she was going to recover was to become an active participant in her own wellbeing. Amy deeply believes in the power of self-care and it is her mission to teach people how to truly take care of themselves. Amy coaches clients who strive to get healthier while also helping those with chronic health conditions thrive. She coaches people how to become advocates for their own wellbeing and provides a framework to find harmony between their mind, body, and soul. To join her wellness revolution head on over to amykurtz.com, and follow her on Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook  for daily tips, inspiration, and motivation.