When my literary agent Michele first read Mind Over Medicine, she told me that it changed the whole way she thought about her health. She said, “Before reading your book, Lissa, I honestly thought my body was none of my business. Now, having read it, I know, without a doubt, it is.”

Many of my patients feel the same way. A woman struggling with a health condition once confessed to me that she thought of her body as she thinks about her car. She’s not a car expert, so when her automobile breaks down, she takes it to her auto mechanic, who repairs it and hands it back to her – fixed.

She had the same attitude about her body.  When it broke down, she’d hand her body over to a body expert – a doctor – and pray that the doctor would be skilled enough to fix her.

Is Your Body Your Business?

Is that how you think about your body? Do you believe your body is none of your business? As a physician who spent twelve years of training and ten years of practice learning to become a body expert, I used to believe I knew your body better than you do. I now know that, while I may have a better understanding of the arteries in the leg and I may wield a scalpel more expertly than you, nobody knows your very unique body better than you, and nobody is better equipped to prevent or treat illness than your brilliant inner doctor, which I call your “Inner Pilot Light”.

Your Inner Pilot Light is that part of you that knows what’s true for you and can help you align your life with that truth. When you make life choices that are out of alignment with your truth, the body reacts with physical symptoms that, left unchecked, become disease.

Think back to a time when you knew you were out of alignment in your life. Maybe you were out of alignment in a big way – cheating on your spouse or embezzling from your company or abusing your child. Or maybe you were out of alignment in more subtle ways – selling out your integrity in a soul-sucking job or drinking yourself to sleep every night or staying in a relationship with someone you don’t love. If you can remember how your body felt during those times, chances are good that your body didn’t feel so hot. You may have had headaches or gastrointestinal distress or a flare-up of a skin condition or allergies. Or you may have just felt fatigued. But I’ll bet your body was signaling to you that you were off course. 

The Body Compass

Our bodies are brilliant that way. They act like compasses, letting us know when we’re headed in the right direction – and when we’re not.

When Martha Beck and I were training doctors in the Whole Health Medicine Institute, Martha led an exercise to help us get in touch with your body compass.

Heading South

Martha asked us to recall a time in our life when things went really wrong, inviting us to close our eyes and go to that very dark place in our minds and then locate the feeling in our bodies. We then named those feelings – “acid stomach,” “constricted throat,” “clenched chest,” and so on.

Try it. What do you feel? Now give it a name. That feeling is your body’s way of saying “You’re headed due South! Head the other way, pronto!”

Heading North

She then invited us to visualize a moment when everything was going brilliantly right and to locate that feeling in our bodies. We named those feelings too – “butterflies in chest,” “wide open throat,” “belly full of light.”

Try that too. What do you feel? That feeling is your body’s way of saying, “Due North! Go that way!” 

Using Your Body To Make Decisions

Trying to make an important decision? Ask your body compass? Now that you know what due South and due North feel like, see if you can register the more subtle variants. Martha suggests using your body as a metric, with due South being -10 and due North being +10. When a new opportunity arises, check in with your body. What reading do you get? Is it a +4? A -2? Or a completely neutral 0? These somatic sensations can help you make the right decision every time.

When The Body Manifests Physical Symptoms

The body compass exercise registers subtle physical sensations that wouldn’t usually get labeled as symptoms or illness. But what about when you get full-fledged symptoms, like a headache, reflux, back pain, nausea, or – as I shared in my personal experience – vertigo?

Are you in touch with what your body is trying to tell you? Can you identify the root cause of your physical symptoms, something deeper in your psyche, or something out of alignment with your Inner Pilot Light?

In this post on Owning Pink, Steve Sisgold, author of What’s Your Body Telling You? teaches us how to determine our body awareness quotient (BQ). What’s yours?

Let Your Body Be Your Guide

Next time you experience physical symptoms, ask your body what it’s trying to communicate. Not sure what your body is saying? In Mind Over Medicine, I include an exercise intended to help you interpret what your body is telling you. (Preorder Mind Over Medicine here!).

Do you have experience listening to your body’s signals? Share your stories here.

Learning to listen,

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6 Comments

  1. Constance Rodrigue

    Tired, so tired – and my back is killing me (my fault for testing out a new portable oxygen tank that weighs 7 kg instead of 3 yesterday, all day) but the true problem is that the constant carping and complaining of my husband (89) is getting to me. I am 69, am handicapped (2 monstrous strokes – took away my equilibrium & obliged me to go off menopause HRT (old type – honestly good and safe) because of fibrillation & emphysema & CFS = my LONGEST period of consciousness is 12 hours. Of course being (also) bipolar I’m slipping down that slippery slide to depression and feel totally scattered. I obviously cannot leave my husband – besides I’m a fuckwit about normal house stuff. He sloughs off these disputes and carries on, after several volcano-sized explosions…and the bad feelings stay in me. Envisage them? Tell them to go down to the beach and throw rocks into the water? No idea… constance rodrigue

    Reply
    • Vitality6

      Amazing volcano image – can you build on and stay with that? Tapping is incredible to clear the feelings from the past. Do you draw, sing or find solace in nature?

      Sending you love

      x

      Reply
  2. Megan

    One of the best ways to help me “get in touch” with my body and its messages is to spend time with my horses. I am learning to use somatic methods and gaining a better understanding of how my nervous system works through equine facilitated wellness. Lissa, I thought you may be interested in the work of Beverley Kane, MD, if you’re not already aware of her. She’s at Stanford University and has a course called Medicine and Horsemanship. It’s amazing what horses can teach us about connecting with our inner pilot lights – and I think they can also help the “body experts” to recognize and communicate with their patients more effectively.

    Reply
    • Lissa_Rankin

      Megan,
      I’ve done equine therapy myself with Martha Beck and Koelle Simpson, and Martha, Koelle and I did the same with the doctors I’m teaching in the Whole Health Medicine Institute. So wonderful. And yes, such a great way to get in touch with the body’s wisdom!

      Much love
      Lissa

      Reply
  3. Vitality6

    Thank you so much, Lissa. You are so brave and amazing!!! Your story is truly humbling, encouraging and inspiring. It is not easy for people to begin this paradigm shift and we are not encouraged by the way the present health (?) care system is set up in the UK. In China doctors were paid if you were well but not when you fell sick. Perhaps we need to get back to that!!

    Much love,

    Angela
    x

    Reply
  4. Ariann

    I am very new to this so maybe you have answered this question. I am very in touch with my body giving me physical warning signs of things being not right with me. I just can’t always tell if it is because I am “going south” and should turn to another direction or experiencing a fear or anxiety I need to overcome and continue on my path.

    Reply

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