Monday, January 11, 2010

Listen to your body

Our bodies have a voice, our authentic voice.

I still haven’t forgotten a conversation I had with a co-worker almost ten years ago. I was living in Manhattan, and I would walk home from work when the weather was nice. He lived in the same neighborhood and would often join me.

One spring day, we were walking up Broadway, the weather was fantastic, and we were approaching the Flatiron district right alongside a city park which was filled with flowers at that time of year. Despite the uplifting nature of a magnificent day, I sensed that I was feeling a bit weak and losing steam quickly. I asked my co-worker if we could stop at a park bench for a moment because I sensed that my blood sugar was going low.

He nodded agreeably, “Sure.” His eyes widened. “Wait; you can feel your blood sugars?”

“Yeah, I can feel when my sugar is high or low, and when it’s normal.” I looked down and opened my purse.

“What does that feel like?” His eyes widened completely in awe of what I considered to be an aggravating episode.

A side note, in all honesty, I was not in the mood to have an educational conversation about the ins and outs of diabetes while my sugar is plummeting. It simply does not feel good, and I would prefer to wait a few minutes to have deep, intellectual conversations once I feel better. But I also wanted to seize the opportunity and clue someone in on the life of a diabetic, and well I didn’t want to be impolite.

“Well, it feels different every time,” I began to explain as I pulled out my glucose monitor and pricked my finger.

“Sometimes I feel intense hunger, and weak, like right now. Other times, I am unable to focus, or my vision changes. I can get tired, nauseous, thirsty. Each time it’s different; it’s never quite the same.” My eyes drifted as I remembered a few times when I was taken to the hospital. “Sometimes I have mood swings. Sometimes I don’t feel it at all, so I check my sugar a lot.”

I looked down at my monitor, and sure enough it was low. So I pulled out some glucose tablets and started chewing. “Would you mind if we sit here and wait a few minutes?"

“Sure,” he sat down with his eyes still wide open, “I’m sorry. I simply find this amazing.” This statement did not surprise me since he was a physics teacher. He continued, “I realize that people sense different fight or flight episodes in their bodies. You know, Darwin's survival of the fittest, like I’ll feel thirsty or hungry, but I never thought of how a change in blood sugar would feel. That’s remarkable that you can sense that.”

“Huh,” I was stunned. I had never thought of it that way before; my body is remarkable for allowing me to feel when my blood sugar is high or low. “I kind of think of it as the body’s survival mechanism.”

“That’s exactly my point.” The physics teacher had spoken, opening me up to a new way of thinking about how the body works.

This conversation may seem like just another talk about diabetes and blood sugars, mixed with science and Darwinism. Yet, it has stayed with me all these years. From my perspective, the Darwinism part was interesting, but I believe it was the first time I was opened to the notion that our bodies have something to say.

The concept didn’t develop in that moment or even overnight for me, and the idea that our bodies have a voice actually laid dormant for a few years until I discovered meditation practice in 2004.

In all honesty, the first time I meditated, I was actually “forced” into it, grudgingly, through peer pressure. Yet, I joined two friends of mine for an all day meditation workshop on a Saturday. We all sat around in chairs for a few hours listening to a lecture about life energy, and then we were told that we would join together in a meditation.

I was up to it. Why not? Perhaps because of that conversation I had with my co-worker many years before, perhaps because of the diabetes, but probably I figured that I was sitting there anyway so I might as well open up and join in.

The guide started the meditation by asking us to breathe deeply for about five breaths; paying attention to how the breath transforms from inhalation to an exhalation and then placing our attention to how our stomachs expand and contract. She then guided us through a body scan, taking us limb by limb, organ by organ from our toes up to the crowns of our heads. She told us to listen to our bodies as we scanned, becoming aware of areas that might be tight or in pain. Essentially, now I know that she was making us aware of the stress that we hold in our bodies.

After we finished the body scan, she told us to concentrate on an area that felt incredibly tight or stressed, and then listen. Simply listen without judgment. Not to the mind, but to the body. What does the body have to say? After a few seconds of intense listening, I heard a faint voice say the word, “fear”.

She then told us to be with the feeling, let it be, and then to breathe in and hold that feeling tightly. After what felt like a few seconds, we were told to exhale letting the feeling leave our bodies and float away into the sky.

We continued breathing, and today I know that some people begin to chant a mantra like “ohm” after such an experience. On that day, we breathed for a few more minutes, and then she told us to open our eyes, become aware of our surroundings slowly, and either journal or draw whatever we were feeling at that point.

This was the day that I realized that I was holding fear in my body. And that was the day when I began my pursuit of releasing that fear - becoming aware of what this fear means to me, its source, and how it holds me back from living my life to the fullest.

I was already aware that my body speaks to me, letting me know about basic survival needs like blood sugars, hunger, tiredness, or thirst, but had never thought that I could discover my body’s authentic voice – and therefore, my authentic voice – through listening to it.

For years, I had been listening to what my mind had to say while my body’s voice took second place. My mind chatter, well all mind chatter, usually consists of thoughts / judgments / to-do lists / wants / desires / attachments / resistance / fears / concerns / worries / hopes / aspirations about what may or may not be in the future and what has already happened in the past or how the past could have played out differently. Usually, mind chatter consists of endless self-created notions of making a person’s life different than it currently is.

I find it exhausting. Mind chatter, in its nature, is not typically reflective of a person’s authentic voice.

Our bodies though tell us exactly what is going on with us. Listening to your heart can tell you about your passions, what will make you truly happy. Listening to your breath can bring you to a place of peace and acceptance. Listening to the parts of your body can tell you where you are holding stress and anxieties, and give you the opportunity to become aware.

Our body’s voice is authentic. And you may find, as I did, that once you hear what it has to say, you begin to live your authentic voice and life’s passions.


  1. Again, gorgeous column, Ophir. Yes, I agree, we can hear our Authentic Voice by listening to the deep wisdom in our bodies. This is exactly how Focusing works, and as I recall, it aligns with certain practices in Buddhism, too...

  2. Deborah, I absolutely thought of you and focusing when I wrote this!