Listen to Your Five Senses Plus Your Sixth Sense: Digestive, Nervous, Endocrine, Lymphatic, Connective Tissue, and Intuition
The human body is wise and highly responsive to its environment. It constantly gives you feedback about where you are, what you are doing, what you are thinking and feeling, and how your actions and environment are affecting your health, for better or for worse. Yet, we have not been trained to tune in to that wise inner voice as well as we might, and that’s too bad because many physical and mental health problems could probably be avoided, if we only listened.
Your Five (or Six) Senses
You have five senses (six actually, but we’ll get to that) for a reason: To help you successfully interact with your environment. You can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, and through those senses, your body communicates to you about what is safe, what is dangerous, what is good for you, and yes, what is bad for you. You don’t need to look outside of yourself to know what to eat, how to move, what to do. The answers are all right there inside of you. All you have to do is tune your inner dial so the signal comes through clearly.
To begin listening, practice sensing those senses when you eat, when you exercise, and when you are with other people. Does a food taste good…but a little too good, and you notice you can’t stop yourself from overeating it? That’s a red flag that this food has the potential to be destructive to your health. If a food tastes bad…really bad…that’s also a sign that maybe you shouldn’t eat it, or simply that you don’t care for it, and that’s okay, too. But tastes change. The better you heed your inner voice telling you to steer away from the addictive stuff (read: junk and processed food), the more your tastebuds will become sensitized to overly sweetened, salted, or fatty foods, and the more you will truly appreciate the subtler sweetness of fruit, the natural savory flavors in vegetables and seafood, and the nature-endowed luscious fats in things like raw nuts, avocadoes, and olives. That is, you will appreciate them if you are paying attention to how your body responds to those nourishing, energizing foods.
The same goes for movement—how do you feel when you exercise? Is it hard at first, but the more you do it, the better it feels? Do you really enjoy walking when you engage all your senses? Do get more out of exercise when you do it to music? Do you relish the quiet meditative nature of yoga, or the vigor and camaraderie of team sports?
Your five senses can even give you clues about your relationships if you tune in and notice how you feel when you are around certain people. Those who make you feel happy are good for you. Those who make you feel stressed, upset, sad, or bad about yourself are not so good for you, and maybe you should spend less time around those people. That’s your body telling you, not me!
Your sixth sense is your intuition, and it can add another complex layer to the way your body communicates with you. Take, for example, my suggestion to notice how you feel around other people. Some of that is intuition. You may not see, hear, smell, taste, or feel anything bad or good about someone, but you just get a feeling about them, and that is valid, too. You may also get a feeling about what is right for you to eat, or when you need exercise and when you need rest. Listen to that sixth sense because it is being informed by the internal mechanisms in your body that are always alert to your environment. Even if you don’t know how it works, know that it works. The more you trust yourself to know what is good and bad for you, the healthier, happier, and more empowered you will become.
Your Internal Systems
But what about those bodily systems I mentioned? What is talking to your brain? What is nudging your intuition? You have multiple complex systems inside of you making things work, keeping you alive, digesting your food, directing your immune system, powering your brain, orchestrating the complex dance of your hormones, moving and maintaining your structure (your bones, muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments), and getting rid of things that can harm you like chemical pollutants, alcohol and pharmaceuticals, and the internal waste that is the by-product of your own metabolism.
Every one of these systems is giving you feedback, and again, if you listen, you will hear it and know what is working for you and what isn’t. Here are some ways these systems talk to you and advise you about what to do:
- Your digestive system tells you, through stomach pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or diagnosed digestive problems like IBS, IBD, Crohn’s disease, ulcers, etc., that something you are doing—most likely, the way you are eating, and its influence on your gut microbiome—is not working for you. There is nothing normal about digestive symptoms. When you eat a meal and you don’t feel overly full and you don’t get any pain or other symptoms, your body is telling you: Yes, that was good food in a good portion size. Anything else means your body is telling you: Hey, maybe don’t keep eating that, or I think we overdid it!
- Your nervous system may be your most important system because it is the seat of your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, and it sends signals throughout your body to govern its many processes. It also sends you messages—when you get brain fog, anxiety, depression, or you get forgetful, irritable, or have mood swings or sleep issues, something isn’t working. Your brain is also directly connected to your digestive system via the vagus nerve, so brain dysfunction can influence digestion, and digestive function can influence your nervous system. A message from one of these systems could involve the other. When your thinking is sharp, your memory is good, your responses are quick, you are sleeping well, and you are in a good mood, your nervous system is sending the all-clear signal.
- Your endocrine system is all about your hormones. It consists of the glands that produce hormones, from your ovaries to your thyroid to your pituitary, thymus, and pineal glands. Many things can influence your hormone production, circulation, and receptors, including your diet, physical activity, stress, or life stage. Hormones can influence just about everything about you, so they could be involved whenever you don’t feel right, or are experiencing a sudden change in your weight, mood, appetite, sex drive, or energy level. Hormones will talk to you in a loud voice!
- Your detoxification system involves your liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, and lymphatic system. When you get that vague “toxic” feeling, your energy is low, or you feel swollen or uncomfortable, your detoxification system is telling you that something is hindering its function. Your body does not want toxins on board and it is detoxifying on its own 24/7/365, but you may be doing something that is holding things up. That could mean you need to drink more water to flush out the kidneys, eat more fiber to get your digestion moving so waste can exit, eat more nutrients to support liver detoxification (dandelion root tea is great, too), and exercise or get a massage to get your lymphatic system moving, to flush out the excess fluid and waste.
- Your connective tissue will be pretty straightforward about its messages: Your knee hurts, your shoulder aches, your feet or hands are stiff, your lower back or neck are screaming out for help (or a chiropractic adjustment!), or your skin is getting wrinkly, sagging, or starting to crepe. Your body’s structure does its best to stay strong and mobile but a sedentary life, too much food, or too much intense work without sufficient recovery time can break down tendons and ligaments, inflame muscles, make joints arthritis, or cause bones to become too porous. Lifestyle can also have an obvious effect on your skin quality. These are all signs that you need to be supporting your body better. You’ll know your connective tissue is happy when you can move gracefully and easily without pain, and your skin glows.
As you can see, your body wants to communicate with you, and when you listen and heed your body’s wisdom, what it takes to be healthy and vibrant becomes pretty obvious. Take some time each day to sit quietly and tune in to your body’s signals, and then see how well you can begin to respond to them with reverence and respect for your miraculous self. It really is the secret to a vibrant life that puts you back in charge of your own health.