(With apologies to VED, to whom I promised this content nearly a week ago.)
I’m pretty sure I started tuning in to what my body was telling me as a child. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of six and that’s probably when these skills started developing. For people without diabetes, the amount of sugar in the blood ranges from 80-120 (mg/DL); a pretty tight range. For those with Type 1 diabetes, the blood sugar is not tightly controlled (the hormone to control it, insulin, is not created in a person with diabetes, so the blood sugar can go all over). As a child I had blood sugar readings from 12 to 562.
There are physiologic changes when your blood sugar gets beyond the normal range (folks with hypo or hyper glycemia also have these types of problems). For me, a low blood sugar made me feel ‘shaky’. I would sweat, my hands would shake, there were even moments where I clearly remember asking the teacher in elementary school to walk me over to the cupboard and get some sugar cubes because I couldn’t see (I was temporarily blind).
After a while (years, perhaps) I began to realize that I could prevent a lot of ‘shaky’ episodes by listening to my body. Before I got shaky I would generally feel very tired, I would get hungry, and I would feel ever so slightly hyper. I started to listen to these signs, check my blood sugar, see if I was low (or high) and decide how to treat it. It made a big difference in how I felt and how my diabetes effected me.
Further down the road, I gained a little more finesse in listening to and understanding my body. I realized there was a greater depth and complexity to the signs and symptoms I was experiencing. This is probably why I studied health education and interfaith ministry.
Nowadays, I use three levels of tuning in to my body. I have toyed with a variety of labels for these levels, but I think physical, emotional, and symbolic most easily describe what I know.
Tuning in physically revolves around what we feel on our skin and meeting our basic physical needs. These might include feeling:
- needing to eliminate waste (i.e. pee and poo)
Admittedly, these things are fundamental. You may say “I know when I’m cold!” Yes, you do, and isn’t that helpful? But how often do you really listen to that feeling? How often do you tune in to your body and acknowledge that feeling? I can tell you, when I’m on a deadline, or dealing with something difficult (like life), I don’t really acknowledge it, I try to ignore it. I can’t be bothered to put on a sweater or go pee.
But here’s the thing. I’m not going to suggest you do anything about those feelings (put on the sweater or go pee). It’s the listening to those physical experiences that makes the difference. When you listen to your body, you are saying “I can make room for that” instead of “go away, don’t bother me.” And that little moment of self-acceptance, of noticing “oh, yeah, I am feeling cold,” is what keeps us from feeling at odds with ourselves, and at odds with our bodies. Just like tuning a radio, it’s the listening (“oh, I hear a voice singing that song!”) that helps us find the right channel- in this case, your body.
Tune in (pun intended!) on Monday for practices to help you listen to your body physically. Later next week I’ll share about the emotional level of listening to your body.
(And if you liked this post, or you think someone might benefit from it, please share it!)