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 Inhabit Your Body and Love It 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series
Twenty-four hours a day your body is talking to you—giving you feedback about what it needs for its survival, its pleasure, its growth, and its balance. Many of those messages go unnoticed or unheeded because of ignorance or lack of appreciation, or simply due to preoccupation with other matters. To inhabit your body means to start listening to what it is saying to you and to trust what you hear.

Few people escaped it as infants and toddlers—those wrinkled noses and parents’ comments about the “mess” as diapers were changed. Perhaps you were admonished, “Don’t touch yourself,” and wondered at the concern this brought from your mom or dad. Undoubtedly it was drummed into you to keep yourself clean: “Scrub those hands; wash that hair; brush those teeth.” Obviously the body was a fairly “dirty” thing! It wasn’t to be trusted either. You were supposed to go to bed even when you didn’t feel tired, to eat even when you weren’t hungry, to wear a coat even when you weren’t cold. If you weren’t especially discouraged about your body’s functions and the correctness of its feedback, you probably weren’t exactly encouraged either.

It’s not surprising that most people develop some dissociation from, and fear of, their own precious bodies and their natural processes. Typically, that dissociation endures throughout life. Even though the cultural norm encompasses an obsession with the body’s appearance, few people know much about the body’s workings. When was the concept of innate bodily knowledge or wisdom ever taught?

This shame and ignorance and dissociation, once learned, shows up as:

  • being overweight
  • being underweight
  • an obsession with the body’s shape
  • a seeming lack of concern with the body’s shape
  • obsessions with cleanliness or tidiness
  • fear of sexuality and intimacy
  • physical symptoms like allergies, colds, or headaches
  • emotional deadness

To inhabit your body means to be aware of it; to listen to and learn from its constant feedback; to accept and feel all things—whether pain or pleasure, happiness or grief; and to speak about yourself as if you were a whole being, especially when some “part” of you is in pain.

Our body will take care of us if given the slightest chance. It already has the best of nature within it and will survive if only we will let it, if we give it half the chance it has given and continues to give us each day.

Ronald J. Glasser, The Body is the Hero

Disease or pain is not the problem. More likely disease or pain is the body’s attempt to solve the problem, a feedback of sorts that says something isn’t working properly. And that “something” is probably much more than a rash or an ache. These symptoms may point to the need for a change in lifestyle, for emotional expression, or for spiritual guidance. The only way to find out what your body needs is to inhabit it.

You may feel as if you live outside and a little bit behind, or a few inches in front of, yourself, but not squarely aligned. Rushing ahead, or lagging behind, or listening to others instead of yourself, or saying yes when you mean no—in these and thousands of other ways you resign from yourself. Wellness is about “coming home”—taking up residence inside your own body once again.

What Inhabiting Your Body Does for You
Inhabiting your body tunes you in to the twenty-four-hour-a-day feedback system through which your body offers valuable information on what it needs. You learn to listen to the body’s reactions to different foods, different environments, different people. You discover your weak and vulnerable areas. These are the places where disease first shows up. For some people it is the throat. Others can literally feel the approach of a cold in their back and shoulders. Developing this kind of sensitivity to your built-in early warning system can often help you intervene (with extra rest and liquids, for example) and prevent an illness from taking hold.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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