My Body Speaks: The Importance of Physical Awareness (And, Another Plug for Yoga)

A few weeks ago, I woke up with a grade 2 hip flexor strain (from playing adult kickball–it’s always something stupid, right?)

Did you know you use your hip flexor for EVERYTHING? Putting on your clothes, sleeping, coughing, etc.) As I sat, searching WebMD (of course) and contemplating treatment (at this point, I definitely ruled out cancer), I asked myself: should I ice it, or should I heat it?

Then I felt this small, tingent craving in that hip flexor area that began speaking to me :”Heat. Send me heat. I want heat”. My hip flexor wanted heat. I sat up, a little creeped out, but also a little relieved that I could discontinue my WebMD search.

I’m always plugging yoga–yoga saves lives, yoga cultivates the best communities–I even Amazon Primed my whole family their very own yoga wheel so they could experience the benefits of yoga in their very own homes–so when my body spoke to me, I knew it had to be the yoga–apparently this mind, body, spirit integration IS a real thing. I find that, the more I do yoga, the better in tune I am to my body, the more I notice minor itches, scratches, and obviously hip flexor strains. And, I can locate these issues with immense accuracy. With my hip flexor, I could point out the exact region and the exact muscle line that was impacted. When my knee locked up a few months ago, I knew it was because I had a muscle knot in my glut (try flexing THAT muscle when it’s out of whack). When I started getting dizzy on my drive home, I knew it was not due to a brain tumor, but rather a change in the harmonic pressure. Through yoga–through learning about my body, learning how to read my body’s cues–it speaks to me–and this physical awareness is important for so much more than just feeling out injuries.

In my yoga class, I must carefully listen to my instructor and match her cues to my body. When she says, “lift your left leg”, I must figure out, first, which side is left, and second, which body part is my leg. When she gives minor cues, such as, “tilt your hip tip up”, I must locate exactly which part of my pelvis that is. And when she says, “breathe from your lower belly”, I must be able to switch the chamber in which my breath is falling into.

Building this physical awareness is so important to understanding our body’s needs. It’s amazing that our bodies can use non verbal cues in order to communicate something about the state of our bodies. When we are dehydrated, our foot might cramp. When we are sick, our brains are foggy. When we eat too much gluten, our joints may stiffen up, and I often wonder how much we are missing by NOT paying attention to these non verbal cues.

For our self, building this physical awareness allows us to understand how choices we are making positively or negatively impact our conscious states. My body might tell me, “Oh no, don’t eat that stick of cheese! I can’t process it!” or might speak to me and say, “Find me a warm yoga room so that I can detox”. Through a slight runny nose, a small scratchy throat, it might be telling me to kick up the Vitamin C packets. My body might even give me emotional cues–those gut wrenching, sick-to-your-stomach, nervous energy butterflies, signaling that maybe you shouldn’t be going there after all?

In relation to others, physical awareness allows us to orient ourselves in time and space. When I’m driving, I have physical awareness of where I am, and that perhaps there is a car on my left hand side, a truck behind me, a potential crosswalk in front. When I’m standing in line at the post office (anxiously mailing my already-too-late-holiday packages), I notice when the person in front of me moves up, when the person behind me drops their stack of boxes, when the mailman pops into a free window and offers to take me through the speedy line. When I’m sitting at a sporting event, I’m aware of how close I am to the spectator next to me (so when they throw their beverage in disgust of their favorite player, I can quickly duck out of the way).

For our world, physical awareness allows us to see our impact on our environments. Before I go to make that speedy lane change, I’m aware that the car on my left probably won’t see my signal, the truck behind me also has his blinker on, and the crosswalk is about to be bombarded with a pack of preschool children, and me changing lanes in this moment may disrupt those events. When I’m walking into a room, I have physical awareness of how my energy is transferring to others. I might notice that people start chattering nervously, that five people flock to tell me news, or that everyone starts evacuating (because perhaps you haven’t taken a shower in a few days…).

This, I believe, is the divine purpose of the integration of the mind, the body, and the spirit–when we can listen to our body, we can hear its cries. When we can orient ourselves in our physical spaces, we can adjust our reactions. And, when we understand our impact on others, we can make moral choices.

And (a seamless plug), we can reach this with a little bit of yoga.

“The body is a multilingual being.  It speaks through its color and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of nonconviction. . . . It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirits, the pit at the center, and rising hope.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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