By Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD, author of The Listening Cure: Healing Secrets of an Unconventional Doctor
Our bodies talk to us all the time, through the sensations of pleasure and pain. It is important to listen to what our bodies say because it could be very different than what our mind says and could save our lives.
An example is when I went for a long hike. After three hours of hiking, my mind said: “This five-hour mountain hike is beautiful. Let’s continue!” But my feet said: “We are hurting! These shoes are too tight. We need them loosened, and we need band-aids.” I had two choices: Listen to my mind and ignore what my feet were saying and end up with blisters that would hurt for days to come (I have done this before and my feet remember) or listen to my feet, pause, get my shoes off, apply the requested band-aids to the embryo blisters, rest a few minutes then go on.
This is not life-changing but what could be life-changing is listening to what our lungs say: Last week, my friend and I talked for forty-five minutes. At first, we stood in the parking garage after the medical conference we went to. My mind was saying: “this is a very interesting conversation, let’s continue” but my lungs were trying to get my attention: “there is a lot of pollution here. We can smell strong exhaust from cars. That cannot be healthy. We need to go somewhere healthier.” After a few minutes, when I saw that the conversation could last a long time, I decided to ask my friend to go outside into the open healthier air to continue our conversation. Breathing exhaust air could have made me more prone to bronchitis or even lung or other types of cancer.
It is important to tune in, listen and be aware of our own body. I have done this for many years but if you have never done it, how do you begin?
Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Focus on your lungs and feel how much they expand when you inhale; feel how much air comes out when you exhale. Feel how warm or cold the air is.
Give your lungs a voice, describing what they are feeling here and now. For example, the lungs might say, “We feel how we are filling up with air and how pleasurable it is for us to expand fully.”
Then describe what it feels like to exhale. Stay in the moment and describe it. Let your lungs talk as much as they want. Don’t censor anything as long as you stay in the present moment. If your mind starts drifting off to other topics, bring it back to your lungs.
After a few minutes, shift your attention to your stomach. Continue with your eyes closed and describe what your stomach is feeling. For example, your stomach might say, “I am so full and distended. There is too much food inside of me.” Or it might say, “I feel empty. I need food.” Or express whatever comes to mind as long as it describes your stomach’s present moment.
Then continue on to your back, feet, or any other part of you that comes to your attention.
If your body feels any pain anywhere, give that body part a voice. What is it feeling? How is the pain? What does that body part need for the pain to decrease?
Doing this on a regular basis will help you have a healthier and happier life.
Now you know one of my healing secrets.
CHRIS GILBERT, MD, PhD is the author, with Eric Haseltine, PhD, of THE LISTENING CURE: Healing Secrets of an Unconventional Doctor (SelectBooks).