Last year, I had an event that deeply shook me.
I've been studying the field of natural health now for almost fourteen years. I center most of my research around food and its effects on the body. I've studied just about every diet out there and formed all kinds of opinions based on other people's opinions. I advocate for a real food diet, less sugar, more fats from healthy animals, less commercial processing and knowing where your food comes from. I follow this diet myself and have enjoyed great health from it. I always imagined my lifestyle and understanding of natural health would shield me from any major illness and chronic disease. Then I got a wake-up call.
With no determinable trigger that I can find (though I am suspicious of certain supplements I was using at the time) I developed acute pain all over my body. It hurt to lift my arms, it hurt to walk, it hurt to do anything. I couldn't pick up my toddler, I couldn't change his diaper, I couldn't do anything but sit on the couch and wonder what the heck happened. My thyroid was swollen but it didn't conform to any of the typical symptoms. I work with people with thyroid problems on a regular basis so I knew what to look for but I was still surprised that it was happening to me.
I had no idea at the time if this pain was going to be permanent. I watched my husband play with my kids and wondered if I'd ever be able to do that again. For three days I suffered physically and emotionally. Then finally the swelling in my thyroid went down and my pain slowly disappeared. I must have had some muscle damage too as it took another week before my full strength returned.
At first I was really cautious with my diet because I wasn't sure what triggered the event. I cut out all gluten, dairy, and nightshade vegetables. I went back to a GAPS style diet but I still felt like I was in the dark and that was not a comfortable place for my mind to be. I'm a naturopath! I help people every day! I should know what to do! I shouldn't be having this problem!
We all say that we know we won't live forever. But deep down inside I think we all are hoping anyway. We act out each day according to our whims and fancies telling ourselves that we'll eat better later, we'll exercise later, we'll take time to de-stress later. And then we get a wake up call. We get diagnosed with some chronic disease or have an injury or watch a loved one die and suddenly we realize that... we weren't as invincible as we thought.
And it's easy to forget. As soon as the pain was gone it was hard to remember what it had been like and I started to drift towards my previous habits again. I was less careful with my food, I started ignoring my body signals again. Maybe it was all just some random fluke? But I knew this slippery slope all too well. This event was my epiphany and here is what I learned from it:
Far greater than any dietary philosophy from some charismatic guru or highly degreed doctor is listening to your body... not your brain.
REALLY listening. DEEP listening. PAYING ATTENTION.
Do you know what it feels like to be hungry? When was the last time you allowed yourself to really feel it? Have you ever put a bite of food in your mouth and paid attention to its subtle flavors as it changes from the chemical reactions in your saliva while you chew? Have you ever paid attention to the minute sense of satiation that comes before the physical sense of a full belly? Have you ever let your body tell you what it wants to eat, how it wants to move?
Deep listening is not an easy thing to do but with practice it can become a valuable tool for navigating your health. Muscle response testing (also known as kinesiology) is one form of deep listening but I think one can go much deeper than that. Especially since it is so easy for our brains to skew our muscle testing results.
If you pay careful attention to your body's cues for hunger, you can determine what food and nutrients it requires at any one moment in time. When you first start this practice it helps to have simple ingredients of real food. Try foods with varying levels of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Eat the food you think your body is calling for and see if it leaves you feeling satisfied or if you are still missing something. Eating can become such a brainless activity as we talk, read, flip through our phone, etc. that we don't even remember tasting our food by the time it's all gone.
Deep Listening can also extend to the way you move. During my last pregnancy with my son I developed my own form of exercise routine based on previous experiences with myofascial unwinding and Katsugan. Sitting quietly I would pay attention to all the little aches and pains in the different areas of my body and move in such a way to gently stretch and relieve these pains. Slowly and carefully with my eyes closed my movements would often resemble a sort of slow-motion dance. Practicing this technique eventually led to me using it during my labor - resulting in a beautiful intuitive labor dance that helped my body work my son into this world with less pain and stress than my two previous (but equally beautiful) births.
What would it be like if we could spend each moment of our lives deeply and intuitively listening to our body's needs for movement and nutrition instead of casually and even intentionally ignoring our basic body signals? What if we extended this deep listening into our everyday interactions with other people?
I wrote this post shortly after that episode of pain and have purposefully been sitting on it ever since. Today I come back to it looking for inspiration and I think it is time to share. For myself I hope to rekindle some of this spirit and get back to some deep listening.
To Your Health,
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.