Learning what your body and brain really need is easier said than done, so we asked three experts to share their tips on how we can better tune into ourselves.
You probably already know what is going to make you feel better, fitter, happier and healthier. However, it can be hard to act on that. After all, when constantly faced with conflicting messages about “Team No Excuses” and the importance of getting enough sleep, how are we meant to decide whether to get up for that HIIT class or spend the extra hour in bed?
’Listening to your body’ is the wellness phrase du jour, and is the principle behind movements like intuitive exercise and intuitive eating. But it’s not as simple as it’s made out. “It can be a really hard concept to grasp,” says mental health coach Louise Claire Gates. “We often do things out of habit or because we think is the right thing to do because that’s what’s plastered everywhere.”
“With an overriding desire to want to be our best, we can often find ourselves feeling overwhelmed. This can often lead us to feel unsure about what will have the most impact and transformation for us,” agrees Leanne Evans, a transformational life coach.
So, how do we learn to drown out the noise and focus on what’s actually good for us, our bodies and our brains? We asked three wellness coaches to explain how they tune in to their bodies.
1. Get curious
Building awareness about what your body is telling you means getting curious with the signs and sensations it is giving us, says Leanne. She suggests starting to think about when you truly feel your best. Some questions you can ask yourself to build awareness include: do you feel more energised in the mornings or evenings? Do certain foods help you feel more nourished and fulfilled? What type of exercise makes you feel your best?
“Once you gain more clarity on your unique needs, you can start introducing habits and rituals to your routine that support this,” she says. For example, if you know you wake up with energy, why not move your workouts to the morning, or suggest seeing your friends for breakfast rather than dinner?
“Acknowledge how you feel after completing your new habits as well and celebrate placing your needs first. Allow your positive feelings to be the core energy to keep you moving forward with your new habits and rituals. Your body can tell you all it needs when we allow the space to connect with it,” she says.
2. Re-frame what health is
“Our ideas of health have been completely skewed, leading us to believe that a healthy body is a body that has a certain aesthetic. And for people to be able to achieve that idea of health it often involves doing really unhealthy behaviours,” says Victoria Spence, a female confidence coach. “We need to kind of detach this belief that health, body size and body shape have anything to do with each other.”
“Actual health, being more healthy as a person, both physically and mentally, comes from having nutritionally dense meals, moving your body in a way you love and are excited to do and opening up space to explore different things in life, like creating a business, travelling, having an amazing time with friends.”
Victoria says that while we think that stereotypical version of health are the only way to succeed, we will always be fighting against our own bodies. For her, that came from doing a “social media clear out. I’ve now created a feed which inspires me and empowers me by adding in different bodies: disabled bodies, fat bodies, thin bodies and different races and different religions.”
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3. Separate your thoughts from yourself
OK, so this might sound weird: how is removing your thoughts a way to listen to your body? Mental health coach Louise Gates says that too many our thoughts are down to conditioning, not a sign of how we truly feel or who we truly are. “You are the observer of your thoughts. You are the person who listens to your thoughts, you are not your thoughts,” she says.
This can be a helpful tool in sorting through the onslaught of feelings to work out what you actually think and believe. “Sometimes you can take a step back and almost watch your mind spiral like you’re watching an episode of Netflix. Study it, see where your mind is taking you, accept that that’s where it’s going, but don’t get too attached to those thoughts. The cause of mental suffering is being too attached to our thoughts, and we don’t realise that there’s actually a disconnect there. Allow your thoughts to pass and find it’s so much more joyful,” Louise says.
“Most of my clients eventually find that feeling uncomfortable and stressed becomes harder than it is to make change. Working through your thoughts means taking ownership of them, and that is a form of self respect. How we treat ourselves is just a huge sign of how we want others to treat us,” she adds.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).