By Heather Glidden
“How are you doing?”
It’s such a simple question, and one that you probably get asked many times each day.
The standard answer that most of us give to that question is usually something along the lines of “Oh, I’m fine.” Maybe if we’re feeling especially chipper that day then it’s “Great!” or if it’s a stressful time, then it’s perhaps “Well, you know…” accompanied by an exasperated eye-roll.
One of the delights of working with clients one-on-one is that I get to go deeper with that question every day. “How is your body feeling? How is your semester going? What have you been noticing lately? Tell me more!”
I notice that my clients often need to pause a moment and take stock before they can answer me. I think most of us are frequently so focused on just getting through the day that we may not actually stop and take the time to ask ourselves, “How am I, really?”
And even then, they usually don’t get the full story until they start moving. As they begin to breathe, to move their bodies, and to release tension from their muscles, then the real story comes out.
A weekend warrior starts with spine movements and then grunts, “My back has been hurting. I don’t know why I didn’t remember that until just now.”
A grandmother and musician sighs as she grabs a weighted ball, “My hands have been so stiff. Is there anything we can do about that?”
One of my clients who is usually laser-focused keeps doing the same movement long after I’ve cued her to move onto the next one, her eyes glazed over. Finally, she seems to notice she’s in the room again. “I’m sorry I’m so distracted — my son is having trouble in school, and I just can’t stop thinking about it.”
Little by little, as we dig into the deeper “whys” of what’s really going on, we realize that the weekend warrior has been pushing himself far past his limits. He hadn’t even realized how tired he was and how much his body needed rest.
The grandmother remembers she’s simply stopped taking the nutritional supplements that her doctor gave her in the winter to help keep her arthritis in check.
And by bringing her attention back to the exercise again and again, the mother with the struggling son is able to release some of her stress and worry, to have an hour for herself so she can return to her son refreshed and ready to be a better support for him.
One of the things I know as a movement instructor is that our bodies are always patiently trying to get our attention, to remind us of what is truly important, and to bring us into the present moment. It’s one of my jobs to be an advocate for that voice which is so often ignored or unheeded.
But why do we miss these messages from our bodies?
Frequently, it’s simply because we don’t slow down enough to notice them. Especially in a highly academic town like Ann Arbor, it’s easy to go whole days entirely wrapped up in our thoughts as we move from one activity to another.
The other reason is that our bodies often communicate what needs to change through discomfort, and many of us have been taught to push through discomfort. A high pain tolerance is considered a virtue, and frequently we can miss the quiet voice of the body saying “Something isn’t right here” as we do what we need to do to fulfill our obligations and get ourselves through the day.
But the cost of ignoring this voice can be a burden to our health, our relationships, or even our jobs; when we have unheeded issues, our focus suffers, our mood dips, and we can’t perform at our best.
How can you open the lines of communication if you haven’t listened to your body lately?
To start with, just take a moment and actually feel your body. The best way to do this is by moving — roll your shoulders, take a deep breath, shake your arms and legs. Take a couple gentle stretches. If you are in a place where you have space, play a song that you enjoy and dance around to it. This is an instant mood-lifter!
Once you’ve moved a little bit, you’ll naturally become more aware of your body. What do you notice? What feels good in your body, and what doesn’t feel so good? If you notice tension, pain, or discomfort, how long have they been going on? Do you know what causes them? Be aware that sensations in your body may have causes in your physical condition, but they may also have roots in your nutrition, your emotions, or even your thoughts.
What is your body asking for? If it’s asking for more care, what keeps you from providing that? Often our bodies ask us to reconsider how we are living our lives. That can seem quite inconvenient at the time, but it does open the door to exploring new possibilities that we hadn’t previously considered. Maybe a walk in the morning, a little time for meditation, or scheduling a massage are what your body craves. Or maybe it just needs you to go to bed earlier or schedule fewer commitments.
Like any deep conversation, truly listening to your body may take you to unexpected territory. But again, like any deep conversation, the potential rewards of creating that deep connection are, in my opinion, always worth the risk.
Heather Glidden is the co-owner of JOY, a mind-body movement studio in downtown Ann Arbor. With 15 years as a healing movement specialist, body worker, and integrative life coach, she helps her clients recover from pain and injuries and experience radiant health. The mission of her studio is to bring more joy to the world by helping people to feel great in their bodies. She is also the best-selling author of Thrive In Your Healing Business: Do the Work You Love Without Sacrificing Yourself.