Listening to Your Body

Movement Is Medicine

By Bernie S. Siegel

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2006.

If we listen, our bodies have a great deal of valuable information to share with us. Our bodies can teach us about ourselves. We are born as physical beings, and yet the older we get the more we tend to ignore the wisdom of our bodies. In order to improve the health of our souls, we must learn to pay attention to our physical self. We must remain in touch with our bodies in order to have direct access to all the valuable information they can communicate.

As a physician, I know our very lives are stored within us. We need to learn how to interpret our body’s language. The body can speak to us through more than physical symptoms like pain. The body affects our thoughts, dreams, and feelings. I have used the intuitive wisdom of the body, expressed by people in their dreams and drawings, to help them make therapeutic decisions and to diagnose illnesses. This knowledge is not taught in medical schools, but it has been known for many decades through the work of Carl Jung.

This works both ways, for the body is affected by the images we present it with. For instance, picture a pleasant event or scene and notice how your body reacts — as if you were experiencing it. We know that an actor’s immune system and cortisol levels are altered by the roles he or she plays. Acting in a comedy enhances immune function and lowers stress hormone levels, while performing in a tragedy has a detrimental physical effect. The body does not distinguish between emotions felt when performing a role or those experienced during an actual event. Both have an effect.

Pleasant physical activities — like petting a dog or getting a massage — enhance certain hormone levels that have the beneficial effect of making us feel more at peace and loving toward one another. We were born to be touched and to touch others. This is what our bodies are for. They allow us to express ourselves through touch, movement, speech, and displays of affection.

Your heart knows you better than your head. Listen to what it tells you, and keep in touch with the messages your body is sending you.