June 21, 2020
Your body is intelligent.
It sends you subtle messages and cues about your state of stress and readiness that—if you learn to listen—can save you from injury, illness, and even chronic disease.
As Sayer Ji writes in Regenerate and Jeffrey Rediger in Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing, your body can, when immersed in the correct nourishing and loving environment, repair and renew itself—very much unlike a car, which would never spontaneously repair a dent, faulty wiring, or worn brake pad.
By tuning in to and listening to the messages your body sends you each day—whether regarding fitness, food, relationships, or business decisions—you can enhance your ability to be an expert pilot of the finely tuned and intricately designed craft that is your human form.
On the contrary, if you rely purely upon self-quantifying wearable devices and take an all-too-popular modern biohacking approach to “listening” to the body, you can often miss those subtle cues from your body and ironically, grow more distant from being able to care for yourself as intelligently as you could.
Anyone who relies upon a sleep device such as WHOOP, Oura, DREEM, or Biostrap for self-quantification knows exactly what I mean. You may wake well-rested, refreshed, and energized from what you thought was an amazing night of sleep, but upon glancing at your wearable metrics, you're suddenly confronted with a screen that warns you that your deep sleep was 10% lower than usual and that you had an abnormally high nighttime heart rate, thus your “readiness” for the day is supposedly quite low.
Bubble burst, right?
The placebo effect of being told by a computer that you're not rested fills you with a sense of stress and unrest and influences you to make a decision to put the brakes on anything mildly stressful or meaningfully productive for the day, causing you instead to choose to take a long nap, skip a meeting, or forego a workout.
Of course, the opposite is also true.
You may wake with a sore and tired body, craving a cup of strong coffee and feeling as though you barely slept a wink, but when you glance at your sleep app feedback, it shows you a giant “thumbs up” with a congratulatory gold star for sleep, and tells you to go crush the day. So you venture forth, push through tiredness, and experience a somewhat unproductive and unpleasant day as you fight through fatigue because, well, your computer told you you were just fine.
What a conundrum!
After all, as any regular reader of my content knows, I'm certainly not against self-quantification, wearables, and informed feedback from the impressive variety of devices that can easily track body temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, sleep cycles and a host of other metrics—metrics that can often, with laser-like precision, inform you as to the general status of your physiological state.
Yet, constant plugged-in reliance upon these devices as the sole source of your decision making about training, recovery, business, food, and more can ironically distance you from the ability to be able to pay attention to and develop an intimate relationship with the innate intelligence of your body and the signals it is sending you.
So how do you know?
How do you know if that mental resistance to go work out is you just being lazy, or a true sign that you shouldn't train or should opt for something more restorative like yoga or sauna?
How do you know if that dread of placing a heavy barbell on your shoulders for a back squat is because your body doesn't need the chaos, damage, or overtraining that might create on an anatomical or physiological level, or whether your body is instead resisting discomfort and the orderliness, strength, and stability that hard squat day might create for you?
How do you know if you're craving carbs due to an addiction to sugar or the need for a quick dopamine hit or to drown feelings of bitterness and remorse, or whether your body is actually asking you for a much-needed refill of liver or muscle glycogen stores?
How do you know if you truly need more sleep, or if you're just escaping a tough workday, you're depressed, or you're procrastinating in bed?
How do you know if you want that glass of wine as a palate cleanser and an enjoyable part of a well-balanced meal or if you want that hit on a vape pen for a whiff of the flavor and relaxing properties of the cannabis plant, or if you're numbing pain with an exogenous substance?
While self-quantification metrics can certainly help in these situations, they can't identify feelings such as pain, depression, laziness, and anger; and they can also remove you from being able to truly listen to your body and understand in a more deep, intuitive and ancestral way what your body is really trying to tell you.
This in and of itself is quite ironic, because this fascinating and complex interweb of flesh, fascia, blood, and bones is what houses your spirit and soul and enables you to live your very purpose—yet, like a cyclist who can't change a flat tire or an airline pilot who doesn't know how to read the cockpit instrumentation, you often have no clue about your state of health because you simply haven't come to know your body and listen to your body without the help of technology.
So how do you listen to your body?
When you wake, spend a few extra moments in bed breathing, wiggling your toes, wiggling your fingers, and tuning into your body. Before a workout or any other stressful event, take a deep centering breath in through your nose, then out through slightly pursed lips. Before you grab a handful of almonds or a cup of coffee or a chunk of dark chocolate, pause and take a few more deep breaths—are you truly hungry, or thirsty, or are you simply drowning yourself with a temporary caloric distraction?
Throughout the day, continue this habit: Step away from the computer, turn off the podcasts, audiobooks, music, and all the background noise and simply ask your body, “How are you?“. Then, be still for several seconds and listen to the subtle internal, intuitive cues of your heart rate, your muscle tension, your gut fullness, and your breath rate.
In other words, be as fully present as you can at all times. Read this if you don't know how to do that. Ultimately, you'll become better at picking up on the subtle clues your body is sending you throughout the day, and more intimately familiar with your body, which is all-so-easy to lose a deep intimate connection with.
Then, sure, use your fancy self-quantification devices and wearables, but marry that modern science to ancestral wisdom. Don't completely outsource everything to a computer. Learn to step away from the chaos, the numbers, the apps, and the screens into the still, small silence, and listen to your body.
For more, I highly recommend you read my recent article about mindful and grateful eating, listen to my podcast with Paul Chek about intuitive eating, and get the excellent book The Yoga of Eating: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self by Charles Eisenstein.
How about you? Are you married to metrics? Or do you know how to listen to your body too? I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feedback below.