What the Body Wants

How do you know what you really want to do—what’s actually good for you?

What the body wants is not always clear to the mind, and it’s often not the same as what we think we want. When we feel confused, it’s often because our heads and our bodies want different things.

Many of us have no idea what our bodies want, because we’re simply not listening. We don’t spend much time with them, and it often seems that most of what they have to tell us are complaints: aches and pains, scrapes and strains. We do our best to placate them, to mask the unfamiliar sensations, and in the process we tell our bodies to shut up—and they do. 

Often, all that gets through is that the body wants something—and we understand that as do something to me. Feed me, work me, pour me a beer—anything to make me feel something!

What the body is really saying is: do something with me, or, even more, let me do something. Let the part of “me” (that is: you) that is the body run the show for a while.

When we don’t let the body do its thing, when we tell it to be quiet, when we ignore it for years on end, the body gets discouraged, frustrated and depressed. The body starts to feel like any attention is better than no attention. Overeating, junk food, and alcohol all make the body feel something, but when we force-feed empty stimulus to the body, we get nothing back. Alcohol in particular is a short-cut to make the body feel something quite strong, but without allowing it to take any sort of active role—and of course we get the negative effects of ingesting ethanol on along with that.

On the other hand, when the voice of the body becomes clear, it’s often very strong. We feel pulled in a way that we may not be able to explain clearly, but just feels good. The body will naturally and automatically lead us in the direction of wellness, if only we let it speak, and listen.

Towards the end of last month (March 2020), I was in Brazil. Coronavirus/Covid-19 was beginning to become a real issue in Europe and also in the United States, and yet I was still not settled as to if and when to return to California. I had left the country two months prior on a one-way ticket, and part of me felt that staying in Brazil or elsewhere in South America could be a good strategy. Another part of me knew that I was running an increasing risk of getting stuck there for an indefinite period of time. I was in an in-between space. I continued doing what I was there to do—paragliding in some of the most incredible terrain I’ve ever seen—and I felt more anxious each day.

I did not want to act from that place of anxiety, in the back-and-forth of trying to decide. I could not “figure it out,” and struggled with that for a day or two, and then realized that I had to sit in that feeling, and to listen for what it meant for me. After another couple of days, it became clear that the anxiety that I was feeling was my body speaking. I wasn’t anxious because of the virus. I wasn’t anxious because I ‘couldn’t decide’ what to do. I felt anxious because I was no longer in the right place. Up until that moment, I was living right where I was; I had just bought a razor and some clean socks, and was calmly considering the flying weather forecast. Once understood what my body was saying, I was on the bus within a few hours, and on a plane within another day and a half. This was not a decision that I made with my head. I listened for what my body wanted, and moved when my body said “move.”

How can we get more in touch with what the body wants?

Embodiment is the feeling of my consciousness being connected to my body. The feeling of being, with some sense of that being in my body, not just in my head. It’s a subtle thing, but like anything else, we get good at what we do, and if you practice embodiment, it will come more to you more readily. There are many ways to do this. Sports and other immersive physical activities like yoga, dance, and playing music get us into flow, out of our heads and into our bodies. Meditation, while not usually seen as a very physical activity, can also be very effective at quieting the conscious mind enough to be able to better tune into the body.

If we can learn to listen to the body, things that seem difficult often begin to come more easily. When we engage the body, let it move, let it feel and share with us the pleasure and joy of moving and feeling, it will lead us to a place where the enjoyment and the benefits of whatever we’re doing begin to outweigh the fears and difficulties. This is how something that we were fearful of, something that was daunting, becomes interesting, becomes challenging, becomes something that we are learning and doing, and then, slowly, something that we become familiar with, something that we are enjoying, and, eventually, something that we achieve some degree of mastery with.

What our mind wants is more of an effortful push of trying to make the world fit our desire. What the body wants is the world pulling us towards what feels good, towards what we are being asked to do. You may be thinking that this sounds like intuition, and you would be correct; one way to describe intuition is: the body speaking.

Learn to listen to what your body wants. You’ll spend less time stuck trying to decide, and you’ll be much more likely to move in a direction that is healthy and satisfying.