Eastern mystics and yogis for centuries have learned to consciously regulate things as "automatic" as their heartbeat, and meditation is a way of consciously altering brain function. So why do so many of us treat our bodies as inanimate objects - sacks of blood and bones, incapable of doing anything other than responding to stimuli unless told to do so by our almighty brains? If you stop and listen to your body once in a while, you might be surprised at what you might learn.
Obviously you know that your body can tell you things like when it's hungry, thirsty, or needs to sleep. But did you know it can also tell you what food is good and bad for it? How to relieve pain? What kind of exercise it needs? Actually it tells you these things all the time. We just don't notice, as most of us aren't trained to listen.
And yes, some of this also is the fault of many organized religions whose focus is entirely on the spiritual realm, neglecting or even demeaning the physical world as "lesser," corrupted, or even dirty. But this is in direct contradiction to what GOD says, which is that your body is His TEMPLE!! (Or at least, it should be.)
This concept is quite a stretch for many in today's world, but in order to live full, long, healthy, and happy lives, we really must start taking better care of our bodies. And part of that starts with listening to them. Children are particularly good at this (just another reason one should heed Jesus' instruction to "be as little children") - if you've ever spent much time around kids, you'll know exactly what I mean! If you are a parent, you probably have dozens of examples of this. Children not only know when they need to eat or sleep (and want to address this need immediately!), but they also know when they need to run, jump, skip, climb, roll over on the ground, etc. They won't tell you this if you ask them, because it's not their brain running the show all the time - it's often their bodies - which know what they need for healthy function (at least until adults and schooling train them to do otherwise).
I still remember a wonderful anecdote told by my German teacher in college, about her little daughter. I can't remember exactly how old she was, but she was young - I think around 4 or 5 years old. One day she broke her collarbone playing (falling off a jungle gym or a slide, or some such activity), although no one knew it at the time. Later that day she went to sleep, and her mother noticed she was sleeping in a very odd position - with her hands clasped behind her back. Over the next couple of days she complained of pain, and when they took her to the doctor, they determined that she had a broken collarbone - but because of the position she had slept in, the bone had actually set itself back in the correct position, and had already started to heal!
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A couple of years ago I read a great book - Happy For No Reason, by Marci Shimoff. (I thought it was going to be rather cheesy, but it actually turned out to be excellent - I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to increase their happiness and satisfaction in life.) There was a lot of great stuff in this book, but for some reason, one story that particularly stuck in my mind was the one about an overweight young man, who changed his whole outlook on life, by starting to listen to his body. This young man weighed over 300 lbs, and was miserable and sick about it, until one day an unexpected accident left him with a new-found knowledge of the connections between his physical body and his spiritual and mental self.
That story stuck with me ever since, in part I think because I have started to listen to my body a lot more in the past few years, so I really related to his discovery. I definitely try to listen to what my body truly wants when it comes to food. Interestingly enough, for those thinking, "my body wants nothing but chocolate and potato chips," it's actually not the case at all. Once you really start to listen and follow what your body asks for, you'll find your cravings not only diminish, but when you have one and try to fill it with junk food, it's not all that tasty after all. I'll be the first to admit I still occasionally succumb to temptation and pick up something junky as a snack while shopping. Actually I just did it today. I had promised myself a bag of chips while shopping, as I put back something that was probably worse for me instead. So I allowed myself a bag of corn chips - you know, the little greasy Fritos-type ones - which I used to love. I opened them in the car, and the first three or four were just what I was craving. But after a few more, they really didn't taste so good anymore at all, and I wondered why I had even bought them. So I put them away, and haven't had any desire to touch them since.
My body also tells me lots of other things, now that I listen. Things like, when I'm coming down with something, and need extra vitamins and sleep. Or when I've been sitting far too long and need to get up and stretch. Or when I need to do a certain type of exercise that day, instead of another. One of my most dramatic instances of listening to my body came during one of my intense back pain episodes a few years ago.
To date, it was the worst pain I had ever experienced. My regular chiropractor was out of town, and so even though my body had told me I REALLY needed to see him that week, I had not been able to go. Things went from bad to worse one night, and I lay in bed, wracked with agonizing spasms every time I moved. After an hour or so of this, I couldn't take anymore. After biting my lips to keep from screaming after finally managing to move to a new position, and finding no relief, I put my hand on my lower back and asked (or gasped and moaned) out loud - "What do you want? What will make you feel better?" Then I shut up and relaxed and let my body tell me. Without hesitation, it moved smoothly and easily into a new position without any spasm at all, and instantly the pain subsided. I slept in that position all night, and was actually able to get several hours of deep sleep.
It's not magic. I'm not going to tell you I got up in the morning and everything was fine - in fact, it took me a couple of months of chiropractic care, exercises, and more, to get back to normal. But I actually still sleep in that position sometimes - and I often think of that moment - completely surrendering to what my body needed at that time, and finding relief. It made me realize just how much my body really knows, that my mind doesn't - unless I really stop and listen.
Your body talks too! Make a point to start listening today, and see what interesting things you learn! Like any habit or skill, the more you do it, the better at it you'll get. One day, it may even become second nature, like it did for the young man mentioned in Marci's book. And when that happens, you'll really know you are on the path to True Health.