Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow

Somewhere along the way, most of us learned to push back against reality. Despite hearing the cliché throughout our lives, we don’t find it easy to “go with the flow”. Very often, we resist it.
Resistance begins in the body. To soften it, we can start with a look at our style of listening in the mind-body relationship. We listen to the body when we cannot ignore it, such as when we feel faint from low blood sugar or ready to burst from a full bladder. But often we don’t hear the far more numerous subtle bodily signals.
In between are discomforts too strong to ignore but which can’t be relieved by a snack or bathroom break; these we tend to push out of mind.
Seldom do we consider the meaning of bodily sensations. It’s common to feel pain or suffer insomnia and take analgesics or sleeping pills. It’s less common to heed what they say about our lifestyle. We see these ‘symptoms’ as afflictions rather than information.
But it’s obvious that if our back hurts after working, the pain says something about our work habits. If we feel too busy and tense to sleep, then insomnia shines a light on our lifestyle.
Listening to the body means more than feeling its sensations. It also means hearing and heeding its messages.
The mind is in a relationship with the body, and the rules of that relationship are the same as any other. If we ignore what our loved one’s tell us about their needs, the relationship sours. When we ignore the body’s messages and needs, we grow alienated from it.
A pattern of ignoring the body isn’t easy to change. For instance, I face a conflict between how much work I do at the computer and how much my neck can tolerate. With depressing regularity, neck pain is the price I pay for uninterrupted hours at my workstation. But even though I understand the connection, I resist taking regular breaks or committing to adequate yoga practice. I often simply power through, working long hours and devoting minimal time to stretching. This means ignoring a lot of warning signals, such as sharp twinges in my neck.
I hear my body’s complaints and understand what they imply, yet I resist them even so.
It’s helpful to look at the reasons.
Priorities: I believe that my writing and other computer work is important. Somehow, that conviction trumps my body’s needs. Notice this happens even though I’m writing about the importance of caring for the body! Let’s face it: when my mind ignores my body’s needs while writing about body awareness, it’s being hypocritical.
Habit: My mind is accustomed to working as long is it wants; it doesn’t want to change. But the truth is that although a strategy of ignoring my mute but sensitive body worked when I was younger, it’s not workable anymore. And a further truth is that even though ignoring the body seemed workable, it fueled neck problems that eventually ended my career.
Slowly, I’m learning tricks that help me overcome resistance:
  • Be clear about priorities. As much as writing is important to me, taking care of my body is more so. When I feel the familiar twinges that tell me it’s time to stop working, and when I feel tempted to keep going despite them, it helps to explicitly ask myself: which would you rather have: another blog post or a healthy neck?
  • Make small changes. Rather than telling myself I’ll change all my bad habits at once, I focus on one at a time. Right now, I’m concentrating on building in short periods of yoga practice at the beginning and end of every day. This feels like enough to take on for now. After twice-daily yoga feels like part of my routine, I’ll focus on breaking up my screen time. This doesn’t mean I don’t take breaks now, while rebuilding my yoga practice; it just means I’m devoting most of my willpower to making yoga a habit.
  • Choose your activities wisely. My choice isn’t always between work and rest. Sometimes it’s between writing on the computer and recording guided meditations, filming presentations, or listening to audiobooks that inform Mindful Biology. When my neck gets stiff from screen time, I can work in a different way. The mind feels like it’s being productive, and the body feels like it’s being accommodated. It’s a win-win!
  • Stay in touch with the body. Listening must come first. Only after we’ve tuned in to the body’s messages can we quit resisting them. As often as I remember, I scan my body for areas of pain or tension. I notice pleasurable sensations too. I may even silently tell the body, “I’m listening. I care.” As I become more familiar with your body, I get better at hearing and heeding its messages.
  • Be honest. When I choose to ignore your body’s signals, I do my best to admit that I’m doing so. I make the decision conscious rather leaving it in the shadows of unconsciousness. Do I want to sit at the computer until this post is done, despite the pain? If so, then at least clear about what I’m doing and what price I might end up paying. Becoming aware of our actions is the first step toward improving them. Besides, like all relationships, the one between mind and body thrives on honesty.