We are not just our bodies, but it is important to be aware of what they’re telling us. The more we pay attention to how we feel – in mind, body and spirit – the easier it will be to sense when something is not right. Then we can take steps to bring ourselves back into wellness.
Sometimes conflict arises, though, when we turn to medical professionals who have a one-size-fits-all approach to healing. Too often, that approach involves a prescription for medication as a first step rather than a second or third. Even though we might have doubts about the medication, sometimes we don’t speak up about them.
Dr. Herbert Benson, an authority on mind-body approaches, writes in his book, Timeless Healing, that “…when it comes to the medical profession, we are often intimidated or scared by the subject matter and we disregard our true feelings and reactions, even though brain research tells us that emotions are critically important decision-makers in our minds/bodies.”
Benson believes that physicians underestimate people’s desire and ability to make lifestyle changes, or to try other approaches that don’t involve drugs. He says, “Trust your instincts, and trust the doctor who values your impressions and assessments.” In other words, find the doctor who starts from the premise that you know your body best.
Of course, to know your body best means that you have to pay attention to it. Some of us are very in tune with the nuances of our bodies; others tend to be dissociated. But there are a number of mindfulness practices that help us become more aware.
- Body scan – this practice involves bringing your attention to each body part, one at a time, starting say, at your left toe, and working your way up. The attention is passive observation only, without judgment.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – this practice has you tense and tighten parts of your body one at a time, then relax them. It helps bring awareness to the difference in sensation between tension and relaxation.
- Present moment awareness – by sitting quietly and focusing on the breath, we can often become aware of what kind of body sensations are connected to certain thoughts. If you find your mind drifting to something troubling, you may realize the place in your body that reacts with tension to that thought.
It is estimated that 70%-80% of all healthcare visits are stress-related or stress-induced. It makes sense to use lifestyle change rather than medication to treat many of them. We can start by becoming more alert to the interaction of mind and body, and by treating ourselves with compassion. I sometimes practice a compassion meditation from Frank Jude Boccio (found in Yoga Journal magazine) that includes the line, “May I hold myself with softness and care.” There is something about that statement that always reminds me of my innate value, and the need to treat myself well.
Hippocrates said, “The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.” Learning to tune into our bodies and trust in that force would make us all better healthcare consumers and custodians of the awesome gift we have been given.