My mind is often on overdrive. I’m constantly in my head, thinking about the past, worrying about what might happen, generally over-analysing wherever possible. One of the things I’ve learned from my travels is that the heart and body have important things to say to us too, if we take the time to notice: listening to the body, heart and mind brings us balance.
When I was at the Sanctuary Thailand in March, I had a one-to-one session with one of the healers there, named Victoria. We chatted about how I feel and my aims and dreams for the future. She thought for a moment then drew two lines on a piece of paper, creating three columns: body, heart and mind.
The mind has a tendency to take over and be the dominant voice in our lives, but for me the times I’m often most content are when my chattering brain has been calmed and quietened. When I have been doing something that makes my body feel good and my heart fill with joy.
Listening to your body
Starting with the ‘body’ column, Victoria invited me to consider what my body wants. What does it enjoy? I kicked off the list with cheese. I love cheese. Then more food – Thai curries. Sensing a theme, she encouraged me to broaden the scope out a little. I went with yoga, pilates, massages and dancing. It was a little strange at first to start envisioning my body as having an opinion, but we kept on with it. Being out of doors in the countryside or by the beach; somewhere spacious and airy with blue skies, lush green trees and plants, a warm climate and plentiful water. This is the environment I would be in if my body had its say.
I made a jokey comment about my body being lazy and wanting to rest a lot of the time. Victoria pointed out that the body is never lazy – if it wants to rest, it’s because it needs to rest. The body never lies. Of course, athletes have a different perspective on this as the mind is able to compel the body into pushing through the pain barrier and achieving way more than it initially felt was possible.
Quite often when deciding what to eat (yes, back to the food theme again) I will listen to my body as I believe it knows the nutrients it needs at any one time and will let me know. At the moment, in Bali, in between the traditional Indonesian dishes of nasi goreng and gado gado, I have been drawn towards dishes containing lentils, chickpeas and beans, so therefore I must be craving the fibre and protein. Though sometimes only a slice of cake will do.
Being kind to your body
During my time at the Sanctuary I had my monthly Skype call with a women’s circle, of which I have been a member since late last year, after a recommendation from a good friend. Coincidentally, this month’s discussion focused on the body, starting with an exploration of the ways in which we can disrespect it. This includes the labels we call the parts of our body we don’t like so much – big nose, thin lips, big white flabby cellulite bum. Harsh, but these are the kinds of names we launch at our own bodies, sometimes without realising. We drew a caricatured picture of ourselves emphasising these areas and, by becoming aware of these labels, and using simple techniques, we embraced them and let them go. We went on to explore the ways in which we have at times been disconnected from our body and not cared for it. The times when we keep on working when we are over-tired and under-nourished. When we eat junk food late at night. When we hunch over or slouch. When we berate our body for what it can’t do. To be so ruthlessly honest about how we bully our own bodies meant these were uncomfortable yet effective exercises, to help us become better aware of our relationship with them and encourage us to be kind.
Our bodies cope admirably with all our mistreatment and we all know that a little love and attention goes a long way, like a foot massage after a long day of walking. My yoga teacher this morning was speaking about how our body is our best friend, and even though sometimes we may not like it, it is a gift we have been given and there is joy to be found in treating it well. Hence the importance of taking a moment to listen to its quiet little voice telling us what it truly wants and making that happen. Other things I include in the ‘body’ list are bike rides, stretches, the bliss of a warm bath and walks in nature. So I’m sure mine will enjoy being in the expansive, green landscape of New Zealand in a few weeks’ time.
Listening to your heart
Back to my body, heart and mind session with Victoria and now we were exploring the ‘heart’ list. I was in the flow so this came through more easily. My heart has a passion for singing, dancing, travelling, adventure and a sense of freedom. Spending time with friends and family, and finding connections with new people. Cultural and creative pursuits like film, art and music make my heart beam. And of course there’s nothing like a good cuddle with someone you care about.
Over the last couple of years I realised that the times when my heart was happiest was when I was travelling. A trip round Italy with friends was one of the best times of my life: we toured by train, meeting locals, eating pasta and going out dancing. So much fun. That winter, I decided to go it alone for a holiday to Thailand, to Bangkok and the island of Koh Chang where I swam with elephants, partied on the beach and cooked up a Thai feast. When I returned to Thailand for my first visit to the Sanctuary the following December it shook me to the core in a good way. I felt such a great connection with the place and the people there that, as I took the boat to leave, my heart felt like it was bursting out of my chest with happiness.
Victoria’s message was to listen to my heart first and foremost and let the mind be its servant. If it means more moments like this, then that’s fine by me. And ultimately, that’s what this round the world adventure is all about.
Balancing your body, heart and mind
In the mean time, my mind made its list known – among other things it is keen for me to write, upload photos, plan my next moves, explore the area, enjoy good conversation, keep in touch with friends, read, watch videos, surf the net and learn new things.
So over the last few months, when I have remembered, I have stopped to ask what my heart, body and mind want at any one moment. Sometimes by doing this I realise that my body has been trying to signal something to me, while my mind has been determined to override it and write ‘just one more’ email. Or my mind tells me I should go out and do something, but my body is tired. Maybe my heart is content enough but could do with singing along to some music for a while as a little pick-me-up, or to bring my awareness to the bigger picture when my mind is consumed with detail.
Through my yoga and meditation practice on my travels, I have learned that much of this is about mindfulness. The state of active, open attention to the present moment. Observing our thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judgement. Being aware that we are not our thoughts, but the thinker of them. While the mind tends to chatter, question and otherwise distract, it is ultimately there to look after us, protect us and get things done. What it wants is important; however keeping it in perspective with our other needs is the key to a happy, healthy and balanced life.