The key to happiness starts with your body's signals. Simply ask yourself right now, "How do you feel?" What you do with the answers you receive may make all the difference when it comes to living a balanced and joy-filled life.
If I could pick one ally in the pursuit of happiness, I would pick the body, and that means everyone's body, not just the beautiful, young, fit ones. I know how millions of people feel about their bodies. America is getting to be an obese nation, reaching down into childhood. A bad body image is the chief source of shame and disappointment for many women in particular.
Yet at this moment your first and most reliable guide to happiness is your body. The body is designed to support the mind, and this mutual support creates the state known as happiness. When choosing a certain behavior, ask your body, "How do you feel about this?" If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress, watch out. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, proceed.
Together, mind and body form a whole. It is artificial to separate the two. You cannot have a single thought, sensation or feeling without the body. This includes the most inspired spiritual thoughts, feelings and sensations. All experience has a physical component.
Let's say that your body doesn't feel like your guide and friend. Why not? It's not because you have gained weight, fallen out of shape or grow older every day. It's lack of awareness. Awareness has tremendous power. It tunes into every cell. Awareness is the invisible, silent agent that lets your body know what your mind is thinking, and at the same time it sends feedback from the body so that the mind feels supported and understood.
Here are the signals, both yes and no, that your body is sending to you:
Yes to balance, no to imbalance.
Yes to moderation, no to excess.
Yes to regular rhythms in activity, no to erratic schedules.
Yes to deep rest at regular intervals, no to lack of sleep.
Yes to being in your comfort zone, no to constant stress.
These aren't esoteric messages. Every cell follows each signal perfectly; it has to in order to survive. So when you stop paying attention to these signals, you are working against the flow of nature, which is the flow of life.
When mind, body and spirit are in harmony, happiness is a natural state. The signs of disharmony, on the other hand, are not esoteric either: discomfort, pain, depression, anxiety and illness in general. Unhappiness is a form of feedback. It signals that disharmony has entered somewhere—either in mind, body or spirit. Awareness has become disconnected. Only when we look at the situation in this holistic way can we link health, wholeness and holiness, for all three share the same root word and all three share the same state of harmony or disharmony.
Learn how psychological issues manifest themselves in your body
You may have heard the saying, "The issues are in the tissues." What this means is that psychological issues such as anger, depression, neurosis, hostility and free-floating anxiety are not simply psychological. They have a correlate in the brain, and through the central nervous system the brain makes every cell in your body aware that you have an issue.
The entire mind-body field quivers at the slightest touch of pain and pleasure. In other words, the mind-body field is aware. When you consciously pay attention to what your body is telling you, this awareness is tremendously increased. Awareness isn't the same as having a thought. A mother is aware of how her child feels without having to think "A is bothering him" or "B has gone wrong." Awareness is silent and intuitive. Simply by paying attention, it infiltrates every corner of the field.
The opposite is also true. When you withdraw awareness, disruptions occur. Feedback loops no longer operate as they should. The flow of energy and nourishment needed by every cell begins to diminish. By not paying attention to your body, you are putting it in the same predicament as a neglected child. How can a child be expected to develop normally if its parents pay no attention, ignore cries for help and remain indifferent to whether their child is happy or unhappy? The same question applies to your body, and it leads to the same answer.
Nourish Your Awareness Through Your Body
Today you can make a huge step in reconnecting with your body by increasing your awareness. Let's take a common issue, which is diet and weight. We won't restrict the issue to overweight; you may be an extreme undereater or a nervous eater or have bad digestion—the range of possibilities is large. Or you may consider yourself a normal eater but think of food as the enemy, a potential source of problems in the future. Few of us are without such issues.
Let's use food as a focus for gaining more awareness.
The next time you reach for a "bad" food or feel tempted to overeat or have any kind of craving you feel is wrong, the first step is to stop focusing on the food. Focus instead on what your body is saying.
Ask, "How do I feel right this moment?" There are only two valid answers. Either you are hungry, which is natural, or you feel something you don't want to feel. Instead of distracting yourself, pause. See how you feel. Then go ahead and follow your impulse, whatever it was.
The second step, which you can take whenever you feel like it, is to write down the feeling in a notebook. Be as specific as possible, such as "I feel like I need to be comforted," or "I feel stressed," or "I am desperate to eat this." Don't just note that you are hungry; find an emotional word. As before, go ahead and follow your impulse.
The third step, which is a bit harder, is to pause after you have written down your feeling. Go inward and be with your uncomfortable feeling for a full minute. Then ask yourself, "Do I really need to eat?" or "Am I really hungry?" For millions of people, this simple question has proved nearly impossible to answer, because they have taken a natural impulse—hunger—and mixed all kinds of emotions into it. Now we are trying to untangle those emotions, pay attention to them and separate them from real hunger.
Once you get to Step 2, you have won most of the battle. The fourth step is to attend to your feelings of pain, discomfort, depression, anxiety—whatever they may be—on the right terms. Instead of self-medicating through food, you can follow the appropriate channels. This could mean therapy, but just as likely it means being emotionally open with yourself. Food has been part of a mask, a lie about who you really are and how you really feel. Once you start being aware of your body, the mask falls away and there is no need to lie. There is a need to heal, which is a very different thing.
Part two: Deepak explains how to listen to your body
Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
Do find that you eat to deal with your feelings? Have you tried to address this behavior in the past? Share your story.
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Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, March 9, 2014
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