Body Wisdom

Stop and Listen to What Your Body is Telling You

By Ann Todhunter Brode

You’ve been taking care of yourself for many years. Over time, you’ve probably learned a fair amount about what works and what doesn’t. Each time you encountered an injury, illness, change, or challenge, you had an opportunity to find out more about your body and fine-tune your self-care.
Anytime you include your body as an intelligent partner on life’s journey, you’ll learn something new about yourself. Just put your mind in observation mode, ask a few simple questions, and listen to your body’s response.

Taking Stock of Your Health

Start this process by compiling a few notes to help you take a good look at your health profile. This is more about awareness than a recantation of your health history. Take time to check in and ask what your body thinks. Answering the following prompts will ensure you’ve covered the basics:

Consider your flesh and bones

Do you have the strength and flexibility you want and need? Can you touch your toes and walk up a steep hill? Are you accommodating a long-term injury or chronic weakness? Do you take time to exercise aerobically? What is the condition of the skin on your arms and legs, as well as your face?

Consider your organs and glands
Do you have the energy you need? Does the food you eat give you high-grade fuel? Are you easily startled and/or often anxious? Can you find your calm center whenever you need it? Do your eyes look bright and alert?

Consider your attitude

Are you focused and peaceful when you’re attending to your body’s needs? Do you value the time spent (brushing, bathing, feeding, stretching) as a part of the quality of life? Do you enjoy being physical (moving, dancing, working, touching, and loving)?

Consider your balance

Are you resilient and responsive to change? Do you get the rest you need? Does your schedule have time set aside for play? Does your demeanor communicate love and hope?
Jot down everything that comes to mind, then let it rest for a day or two. When you come back to reread your notes, see them from the perspective of a health analyst and evaluate your personal health profile. Make note of your diagnosis and your prescription for what’s lacking and what’s needed and keep these notes to refer to later.
Committing to just one change from this exercise will influence your health profile over time. Like any course correction, when you change the slightest thing, you shift the whole trajectory. Trust your body to show you where you need to start, what you need to know, and how to access your own authority. When you tune in to the flesh and bones of your body, the basics will make sense and self-care will be personalized and sustainable.


As a function of the autonomic nervous system, your breathing happens on its own. But, a full and efficient breath can be hindered by structural holding patterns and long-term habits. Are you breathing well? Does your inhale and exhale flow freely and fully, without tension or restriction? Finding and cultivating a familiarity with the free, full, and focused function of respiration is what basic breathing is all about.

Learning to breathe well and fully is an ongoing process and a key part of your personal healing. Give it time. To breathe easily in an unobstructed, conscious way is a lifelong exploration. Practice full breathing every day in order to unravel the past, be in the present, and give yourself a centered reference point when you get highjacked by the various traumas and dramas of life. Even though breathing seems so very basic, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Pilates, yoga, meditation and relaxation, massage and bodywork, and psychotherapy can get things moving when a lifetime of habit has become a structural limitation.

Try This: How’s Your Breathing?

Let’s see how your body breathes and establish a baseline to work from. Tune in to your interior body-space and focus on your breathing. Notice what moves (and doesn’t move) as you inhale and exhale. The anatomy of a full breath (through the motion initiated by the diaphragm’s contraction/release) includes every moving part of your body. If your ribs (spine, pelvis, arms, and legs) aren’t “breathing,” then you have some basic work to do.


How you eat can be as important as what you eat. Regardless of the nutrients in any meal, if you consume food in a state of distress, or gulp it down on the run, your basic nutrient requirements will not be met. Studies show that digestion and absorption have everything to do with physiology (your body) and psychology (your mind). Being aware when you’re eating will change your relationship to food:
• Are you aware of your body’s presence and posture? 

• Is your mind focused on the food and the moment? 

• Does your body have the comfort and time it needs to eat? 

• Do you savor and chew your food with full sensory awareness? 

• Do you pause at the beginning or end of a meal to be mindful (notice the colors and
presentation, give thanks, feel gratitude)?


When you pay attention to your body as it executes the simplest task, you may be surprised by how little you actually move. Instead of using your whole body to scoop down and pick up a pencil from the floor, you may brace and strain to pick it up with your fingertips. Instead of using your whole body to carry a suitcase, you brace and clutch it with your hand and arm. Did you know that any time you abbreviate movement or isolate a workload, you’re making things harder, not easier?
Most people never learned how to move fully or efficiently, and sometimes movement patterns are further limited by injury and compensation. Is your past inhibiting your body’s ability to move as it was designed? Get in touch with your basic movement patterns and begin to untangle old compensations as well as years of habit. To repair the aches and pains and establish good movement hygiene, you need to call on some basic movement wisdom in order to become mechanically whole again.

Try This: How Does Your Body Move?

Pay attention to how your body moves for the next few days. Feel how the segments of your body (feet, legs, hips, etc.) participate as you lean over to pick up something from the floor, reach out for a handshake, or do a mundane, normal task. Be aware of the range of motion in your bones and joints. Does it feel as if the simplest movement is abbreviated and held back? Could this be habit or structure? Do you use your whole body or minimize movement? Does your body feel fluid or stuck? Your body needs to move and to move well in order to be healthy and happy. Now, see how your range and ease of motion change when you use your whole body.

You can learn a lot about yourself (and others) by observing how your body moves. When you pause to observe your moving body, the connection between physical and emotional might surprise you. Could it be that your hesitant, stuck body is actually holding an expression of the past?


Whether exercising is a way of life or a recurring frustration, taking a fresh look at fitness from the perspective of your smart body will invite something new to the conversation. You need your body and your mind to be on board and inspired for fitness. When you take a fresh look, your smart mind can identify old habits of laziness and emotional overlays. For instance, just because you’ve spent most of your life avoiding exercise doesn’t mean your body won’t benefit from sweating; just because your gut clenches at the thought of joining a softball league doesn’t mean you won’t have fun once you move beyond your fear of rejection; and just because your body feels agitated doesn’t mean it needs a sedative. Your mind is savvy to the physiological ramifications and psychological complexities of exercise. Let it help you decipher the mixed messages from the real deal. Once you’ve sorted through the “what ifs” and “yes, buts,” your smart mind can sit in the director’s chair and help you pursue a fitness program that really works. 


Rest is an essential part of your 24-hour activity cycle. Dancers, athletes, and people who work with their body know the importance of resting and pacing themselves. But, if your work is more mental than physical, you may forget your body’s basic need to recharge. It’s surprising how difficult it is to factor in the body and do something so very natural. Did you ever think someone would have to tell you to practice taking it easy?
Just a few minutes of intentional rest pays off in steady energy resources all day long. If you want to live life fully and deeply rather than skim along the surface, master the art of rest. This can take some practice. A good time to observe your resting self is during a massage. Are you able to stay in your body or does your mind wander off? When you’re present to receive the nurturing touch, your whole being can let go and relax.


Taking care of the aesthetics in your life may not seem basic to your well-being but it is. You need space, design, beauty, and love. Poets and philosophers throughout the ages have extolled the importance of such aesthetics for your mind and soul, but they’re also imperative for your body. Through biochemistry and brain imaging research, scientists have linked the vibrancy of your body to basic aesthetics.1 Tending to the art of living is simply essential to your body’s health and happiness. Evaluate your space, the ergonomics of items you use, and the tactile, sensual beauty of the things that surround you to make sure they are contributing to your overall wellness.
Taking care of your basic needs—from breathing and eating consciously to giving yourself the rest, exercise, support, and beauty you need—is a powerful way to say “I love you” to your body. Establish good self-care practices and your body gets the message. When you stop taking your body for granted and start including it as an important part of the program, you set something very powerful in motion. When it’s not stressed or silenced, your body just continues to wake up, share wisdom, and claim its rightful place next to your mind and spirit. Understanding the intelligence and importance of your body changes your perspective on everything.

1. Anjan Chatterjee, “The Aesthetic Brain,” Oxford Scholarship Online, Jan 2014, 9780199811809.001.0001.

This article is adapted from A Guide to Body Wisdom (Llewellyn, 2018) by Ann Todhunter Brode, who has been an Aston Patterning practitioner and body-oriented therapist in Santa Barbara for over 40 years. A recognized master in her field, Brode writes down-to-earth, compassionate articles on the challenges and rewards of living consciously in the body. In addition, she has produced the beautiful body-centered CD Body Breath—Three Guided Meditations. For more information, go to