In order to quit bossing the body around, we need to pay attention when it resists. This is mindfulness; rather than ignoring sensations, we attend to them. We make wise decisions about how to respond when the body resists our actions.
- When exercising, pay attention to times you push your body to perform at higher levels. At first, heart and limbs seem hesitant, but after awhile they fill with pleasant vigor, like somatic joy. But if you keep pushing, the joy becomes more and more mental, less and less physical. At the end of the session your mind may appreciate the endorphin-daze, but your body will suffer with aching muscles and joints. The transition from healthy to unhealthy training is subtle, and after a lifetime of mental domination it becomes easy to ignore the cues. The next time you stretch your limits, do so mindfully, asking the body how far it feels ready to go.
- Or look at how you work. Many of us sit at computer screens for hours with poor posture, seldom standing or stretching. If we pay attention, we feel soreness in back, neck, and shoulders. But we seldom tune in; we just keep pecking away at the keyboard. This is a prime example of how the mind often forces the body to perform unnatural, unhealthy acts. Consider setting a timer to give yourself regular breaks; imagine how much better your body would feel if for every fifty minutes of work you spent ten minutes walking, resting, and stretching.
- You can see the slave-master mentality at work in other lifestyle choices. I continued to drink coffee despite many bodily signals that begged me to stop. How many of us eat foods that lead to indigestion? How many smokers keep lighting up despite morning coughs? The body sends signals, but we push them out of awareness. In addiction-recovery circles, this is called denial. Breaking through denial is an important early step on the road to recovery.
- Or think of how often you ignore a full bladder to keep doing something ‘interesting’ or ‘necessary’ like watching a movie or driving to work. In countless ways we override the body in order to achieve goals. What’s sad is how often these goals are trivial and short-term; we ignore the body’s genuine need to avoid missing a few minutes of a movie we will barely remember a month later. The next time you notice yourself overriding bodily signals, consider whether the mind’s pleasures are more important than the body’s needs.
You might have noticed a them in the above list: there’s a big emphasis on listening to the body. The next step on my list of twelve is to start listening.