I think I’ve heard the words “listen to your body” so many times over the years that the phrase has basically lost its meaning to me. From my earnest, overcompensating body-positive college days to those mid-20s years of trying to figure out how to eat healthy and find a workout routine that worked for me, I have been wondering what, exactly, I’m supposed to be hearing.
Is it like following my dreams and reaching for the stars? Or like trying to figure out what EXACTLY God is calling you to do? Ah, college.
I spent several years in my late teens and early 20s ignoring my body’s signals and pushing it way beyond its breaking point, to an unhealthy extreme. As my understanding of health expanded, my initial takeaway was that listening to my body meant knowing when to stop, and as a result I swung to the other extreme and for many years I allowed that to hold me back. Always so afraid to push myself too hard again, I wound up barely pushing myself at all! Then, just in the last few years, I’ve started to listen to my body in another way as I’ve learned more about how to work harder and honor my body’s potential without taking it to an extreme — and that’s made a huge difference. I have had just as much to learn about knowing when (and how) to go as I did about knowing when to stop!
I know it was the late 90s, but … not really my best look. My body was not happy that year.
And then I got pregnant.
The first thirteen or fourteen weeks required me to listen to my body in a new way than I had become accustomed to. When I got pregnant (grief and loss issues aside) I had just trained for and run ten miles for the first time, which exercise-wise was definitely the most I had ever required of my body. If all had gone right at that time, I am sure my body would have told me how far it could go and how much it could do while undergoing the exhausting work of the first trimester — and I was ready to listen. But my mom died, so what my body told me to do was just lie there for a while. So that is what I did.
What my body has told me since then has been kind of hard for me to hear. First it was let’s stop running. Then, cardio’s overrated. More yoga! I have taken that more yoga! and run with it, practicing as often as five times a week throughout my second trimester. This has actually been really great, as I’ve talked about before — it’s been a great opportunity for me to push my body while respecting its limits. But it’s also been hard. I had no idea how pregnancy would affect my body and it’s been humbling (and disappointing!) to have it be so physically difficult for me at times. I wanted to be really active and have tons of energy, but as I learned pretty early on, you might be able to push through some of those obstacles when you’re not pregnant, but when you are, it’s not always the best idea.
I think a big part of the reason this has been so hard for me to hear is because it reminds me too much of those earlier years when I was so hesitant to challenge myself. Obviously, the circumstances are different, but the result winds up being the same. Ever since I started running again I have heard my body say yes, yes, yes as I kept pushing to new achievements. And now I feel like all I hear is no, no, no. My beloved yoga has even started to become much harder as I try to balance with all this extra weight, and I’ve experienced some uncomfortable pelvic pain that’s made me start to wonder how long I’ll be able to keep up with my practice.
Look, baby, please don’t make me start swimming. I don’t have a swimsuit.
The challenge for me now is to realize that saying no now does NOT mean saying no forever. Even if I have to slow down more than I ever wanted to, it doesn’t mean that I will have forgotten my body’s potential by the time I’ve recovered from my baby’s birth. Instead, it means that I need to be saying yes to something new now:
… and listening to my body in a whole new way. And to stop hearing this new body with those old ears.