Tuning Into Your Body’s Signals

Amy Kurtz provides insider information on how you can listen to your body and be a health care vigilante.

Want to start looking inward and get woke about your body? Check out the schedule for this year’s Wanderlust Festival for yoga and meditation classes, mindful workshops, inspiring talks, and more. 

Given that our health and wellbeing is literally the most important thing in life, it’s understandable that it’s at the forefront of our minds—now more than ever. We’re faced to question what it should cost, what should be covered, what the latest research shows, and what should really constitute as “taking care of yourself.” Does it mean going to the doctor the minute you feel a cold coming on? Or stocking your medicine cabinet with B vitamins, elderberry extract, and bio-identicals and Chinese herbs?

The truth is, we live in a culture that emphasizes the great search for perfect health, when the answer isn’t ever just one-size-fits-all. After all, you are beautifully uniquely you! So are your health needs. Those needs can change over time, across seasons, even day-to-day. But when you’re so busy tackling your health from the outside in, scoping the internet for latest health do’s and don’ts, worrying your mom’s grim health premonitions (you know, “back pain runs in our family!”) you’re tuned out of the most important voice in the conversation—your own.

The Onset of Being Unwell

It took me a long time to realize this. My complicated medical journey began when I was a young happy, active kid, but suddenly developed unexplainable debilitating back pain that came on in an instant and lasted for a long time. And like a lot of people with chronic conditions, things got complicated as time went on. Enter a thyroid condition, celiac disease, even a parasite infection after a trip abroad. You could say I’m an expert at being sick!  I grew up within the context of “not feeling well,” and was in and out of doctors’ offices, on and off different medications, on a scavenger hunt to try to find the source of my constant discomfort so that I  could get back to life as I dreamed it would be: Fun and full of plans and adventures and aspirations.

Back then, I was so desperate to be cured, I would try almost any treatment, therapy, or medication that was recommended to me. Much of these recommendations came from some of the best doctors in their field. No one could figure out what was wrong with me, and some of the combinations and medications made me even sicker—which only made me more desperate.

Don’t get me wrong—I’ll always be grateful for the hearts and minds that cared for me during my hours of greatest need. But being “sick” all the time, desperately trying to find the answers, and depending so heavily on other people to tell me what was wrong and how to fix it… It never occurred to me to pause and really go within and ask my body why it was feeling that way and what it needed me to do about it. I only started healing  when I became a vigilante for the cause of my own health.

Feel, Listen, and Take Control

For me personally, that meant getting back to basics: Learning everything I could about the right diet, nutrition, exercise and meditation practices best suited for me (one of 12 percent of Americans with thyroid disorders, and of millions of Americans with GI issues). I figured out how much sleep I needed, I learned how to sit in stillness, learned about organic and anti-inflammatory, nourishing foods. I stopped asking “what’s wrong?” and started asking, “what feels good?” Meditating felt good. Plant-based felt good. Honesty felt good, and acupuncture, and morning rituals.

Rather than playing whack-a-mole with my symptoms, I developed a dream for how I wanted to feel,  made a road map to that place, and started following it.

Whether you’re dealing with your own set of health issues (health opportunities!) or you’re the picture of perfect health, the fact remains the same: Everyone benefits from taking a more active role in their own health care. Self-care is health care. From one health vigilante to another, here are some of the best ways I know to stay present, open, and tapped in:

SLOW DOWN.  When you’re moving a mile a minute from one task to another, packing your schedule and crushing your to-do list, scrolling your inbox, planning dinner, replaying an earlier conversation… Guess what? It’s easy to miss the signs your body is sending you! Practice taking a break. Meditation, restorative yoga, and even a few deep breaths and a walk around the block can do wonders for every part of you. Tech junkies, there are apps for this!

RE-DEFINE your symptoms. Whether it’s knee pain, headaches, indigestion, fatigue, we tend to think of symptoms as problems that need fixing, popping an aspirin or grabbing another cup of coffee. When we frame them this way, we  focus only on the outside issue rather than the inner source. Think of your symptoms as messages. Every signal, every symptom, every hint is just more information for you to know how to take care of yourself.

GO INSIDE. Healing from the inside out means making tweaks and then paying attention. Remember that small changes yield big rewards. Instead of having an extra coffee (or three) in the afternoon, would another hour earlier of sleep do the trick? Instead of an aspirin for that neckache, maybe some gentle yoga poses and a breathing exercises would feel better. Get to know your body.

GET REAL. What does real nourishment look like for you? Real foods, real relaxation, real care? A non-fat triple sugar latte and a bagel isn’t really nourishing to you, even when you’re in a rush and starving. Even your 6:30AM spin class might not be the best fit for you if you skip sleep and stress out to make it there in the morning. At the end of the day, the most important thing is how you feel.

PRACTICE different rituals and systems to support the dream for how you want to feel every day. Make those personal daily rituals a priority. Nothing comes before your health—it enables you to show up to everything else in your life.

RESPECT yourself. Get radically honest with yourself and others about what you need. Pay loving attention to the mental, physical, and emotional signs that are begging for your attention. Don’t pay so much mind to the opinions, facts and experts, and definitely don’t let anyone tell you “that it’s just the way it is.” Feeling unwell is not enough. You deserve wellness.

With all the information, resources, support systems and options available to us, it’s never been easier to explore different health modalities and choose the combination that works for us. But only if we make the time and intention. We’re plugged into so many different information sources (weather, global politics, scientific discoveries, social networks), so why not plug into our own wellbeing and stay connected to that source?

A health revolution is coming. It starts with how you treat yourself.

Amy Kurtz is a the Author of the book Kicking Sick, and a Holistic Health Coach, Wellness Advisor, Speaker, and Writer. She lives in New York City.  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.