Listen to your body

Don’t assume that the external world can cure your internal problems. Your body will give you clues about its current state and where it is headed


Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

My mother always says, “Listen to your body”. Every time my mother feels under the weather, she does not go to the doctor or even take medicine. She says things like, “The heat in my body has increased, which is why my eyes are dry. I think I’m going to make a soup out of cooling green moong beans.” When her stomach is upset, she does not pop a pink antacid. Instead, her remedy depends on what her body is telling her.

“Listen to your body” is an irritating phrase. What does it mean? Which part of your body do you listen to? Are you listening for sounds that come from your heart, stomach, intestines? Or are you paying attention to the aches and pains that you feel all over?

Believe me, I have tried. I have sat quietly in the corner and tried to listen to my body. Beyond the rumbling of my stomach, and an intense craving for kulfi, I can’t feel or hear anything. My body just does not speak to me.

Finally, in desperation, I did something that my mother longed for: I asked her a question.

There comes a time—perhaps when you are in your 20s or 30s—when you reach the conclusion that you know more than your parents. That is the stage of life when you stop asking your parents any meaningful questions. You mostly act as if your parents have reached their expiration date in the knowledge-transfer area.

So when I asked her the question, “Ma, what do you mean by listening to your body?”, my mother looked overjoyed.  She sat me down and gave me a long lecture. I will spare you the details but the gist of it was simply this: Don’t assume that the external world can cure your internal problems. Your body will give you clues about its current state and where it is headed. Once you start paying attention, you will notice patterns and trends. 

Physicians do this all the time. They ask the patient questions, make notes, and form a diagnosis. But like my mother said, no physician knows your body as well as you do. The only difference is that you don’t pay attention to what your body is telling you, and a physician is trained to. 

One way to incorporate this behaviour, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, is to pretend to be your own physician and ask questions. Why are you having this headache? Is it because you skipped a meal? Is it because you went out in the sun for too long? Can you cure your headache by simply lying down in a cold room for some time? Or by eating some healthy, hearty, warm soup?

Some of it is just experimentation. You probably do this already, but I have to admit, it is a behaviour that doesn’t come naturally to me. 

Listening to your body becomes an art when you start taking stock every day, and, if possible, several times a day. I am trying to do this. These days, after every meal, I try to pay attention to how I feel. I figure out if what I have eaten makes me feel good, or bloated. I try to pause and pay attention to if I am feeling hungry. If I am, I eat something—maybe a few walnuts or a banana.

Being in tune with my body has resulted in a lot of benefits. I seem to be able to prevent minor illnesses before they show up. When I feel a cold coming on, I can pummel it with a host of home remedies, including ginger tea and steam inhalation.

I am slowly figuring out foods that agree with my body, and even though I am not at the “I won’t eat cabbage because it makes me feel gaseous”, level, I am getting there. Best of all, I have finally understood what it means to listen to your body. My mother is delighted.

Shoba Narayan drinks a concoction of ginger, lemon and cinnamon sticks every day—well, every other day. Write to Shoba with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.

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