Your body is a liar. It’s not its fault, though! And it doesn’t mean any harm. It just doesn’t know better.
As a teacher, the instruction, “listen to your body,” is one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s not that I don’t want you to listen to your body – it’s just that I don’t necessarily want you to believe everything you hear. The reality is that our modern lifestyle has made us very bad at understanding what our body is saying in a few key ways.
For one, your body is jacked up on cortisol A LOT more often than it was designed to be. Our brains were designed to scan for danger and send us a big shot of stress hormone anytime we were in imminent risk. However, our modern lifestyle is relatively low on predators. Instead of real dangers, we are surrounded by technology, careers, a political arena, and urban environment that stoke our fear response all day every day.
So, our brain and body are sending out hormones that constantly say “don’t rest!” Meanwhile, what most of us really need more than anything else is to do precisely that: rest. The way this manifests in the fitness world is that someone will receive a stress-related diagnosis like obesity or heart disease (or just about anything caused by inflammation), and try to cure it with aggressive, stress-inducing exercise formats like running, heavy weight lifting, and bootcamp. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that these are bad workouts; burning calories is great! It’s just that these alone will not cure the underlying stress and inflammation.
Similarly, there are times in our life when high-intensity, high-impact exercise is just not appropriate, like when we are pre- or postnatal, coming off of an injury, or just getting started. Depending on the person, their brain may be so used to “pushing through the pain” – ahem, athletes! – that they can’t hear the signals their body is sending them to slow down, be careful, or STOP because they are causing harm.
On the other hand, there are ways in which our modern lifestyle can cause sluggishness that would lead us to think, “Oh, my body is telling me it really needs a nap.” If you choose a nap instead of a workout day after day, I can guarantee you won’t be reaching your fitness goals. Just as there are times when we need to stop pushing, there are others when we need to push harder. Learning the difference between those times is a lifelong and very subtle practice.
So, at the end of the day, it’s not that you shouldn’t listen to your body at all. Rather, you should make it a practice to think critically about what your body is saying. For example, if the signal is to slow down or stop, ask yourself, “Based on what I’ve been doing lately, does it seem like my body should need a break? Is my body – my muscles, my joints – giving me this signal, or just my brain?” If your inclination is to push harder, question whether you’ve appropriately equipped your body with rest, hydration, and mobility training to manage the stress you’re applying.
Need some help with this stuff? I’d love to work with you. We can start with a free 30-minute wellness consultation.