"It's your body and it knows what is best for you." This is a common mantra you may have heard. It sounds so wholesome and natural but "following the cues of your body" is often not a good idea and in fact can take you in totally the wrong direction. Following the cues of a balanced brain, a vital body, and a peaceful mind is a good idea. But if you are stressed, not naturally balanced, out of whack, or otherwise driven, your body and brain actually push you to do the things that keep you out of balance. They drive you in the direction of your imbalance.
Think about addictions - both the notorious kind like smoking, drinking, and drugs and also the soft addictions like exercising too much, needing to socialize with people to feel good, and working too much ? these are all clear examples of being pushed in the direction of an imbalance. A couple of years ago I was working with a woman who was a chiropractor. Someone you would think knows about the body. She was also a marathon runner.
She came to me because she wanted to work on her nutrition during her marathon training. In our conversations, I discovered that she was only sleeping 3 hours a night ? and she was thinking that was too much. We talked about the need for sleep to help her body recover each night from the stress of her training regime. Yet, she insisted that she felt great after 3 hours of sleep - alive, awake, and ready to go.
She was into meditating and thought she probably didn't even need that much sleep because meditating could take the place of sleep - and she was looking for ways to sleep less. I explained to her that the intensity and frequency of her training was most likely driving her dopamine levels very high. (This based on her absolute need to exercise every day and how bad she felt before she exercised and how good she felt after she exercised.) It appeared that her serotonin levels could not keep up with the rise in her dopamine levels to help balance out her brain chemistry.
(This based on her intense craving for all kinds of sweets and baked goods.) I told her about dopamine "being its own reward" and because of this you tend to feel better and better - like you can take on the whole world and win hands down - until you crash. You can only push the body so far in one direction before it attempts to swing back to balance. I wanted to explore some ideas about bringing balance to her brain and body but she insisted that listening to her body was the way to go ? and her body was telling her she did not need to sleep because sleeping more than 3 hours made her feel terrible.
I said OK, but think about the need for your biology to be respected and honored. Every body sleeps and probably yours needs to sleep also ? no matter what you think you are hearing. If you keep raising your dopamine levels, those high levels of dopamine will keep driving you to seek more and more excitement and soon intense exercise and little sleep won't be enough to satisfy that need for excitement. I warned her that those increasing dopamine levels can drive people toward more excitement and more speed with things like cocaine, gambling, high risk sports, fast driving, and sexual affairs. She assured me she was fine and trusted her body.
Several months later, I heard that she had stopped running her marathons due to exhaustion and that she had had an affair with her office assistant which lead to a divorce. Was she wrong to listen to her body? Every person has their own path to get where they want to go. Obviously, her body was way out of balance and was driving her further in the direction of the imbalance. But perhaps that was the only way she could get out of a marriage that wasn't working for her. But then again, maybe her marriage would have worked better if she had been more in balance. Whatever the reasoning ? you don't have to drive your body into imbalance to get where you want to go.
There are other ways to end up where you want to be without first crashing and burning. Here's the point: Your brain and body are not passive baggage that you carry around with you. Both your brain and your body have operating requirements. These requirements are pretty straightforward.
But in our day and age ? despite the increasing incidence of chronic disease and the unnecessary deaths of over a million people a year in the US due to lifestyle factors ? we seem to think we can do what ever we want as long as it feels OK. After giving you some initial warnings that what you are doing isn't working, if you don't respond to what the body is telling you then your brain and body switch over to "just getting you through the day mode" - compromising every step of the way to go along with what you are asking it to do. Drive your brain and body far enough out of balance by ignoring your biological needs and the imbalance becomes the standard and the brain and body just keep seeking the imbalance until at some point it all has to snap back and you crash and burn. When you get a new car, you probably make the effort to learn how to take care of the car and keep in tip-top shape - and you pledge to follow the maintenance recommendations. You probably wouldn't just go by what you felt the car needed.
Give your body and brain as least as much consideration as you might give your car. There is nothing at all brilliant about denying your biological operating requirements. The body always wins. It is the smart choice to get in good with the body and give it what it needs. It is not really that hard to figure out your operating requirements. Just use common sense.
Can it get more basic than this? People have always slept and they still need to sleep. Average need for sleep is 7-8 hours - no matter how much you need to get done. For most of history, people have been moving around most of the day ? and you still need to. For most of history, people have been outside much of the day ? and you still need to. For most of history people have eaten real food ? and you still need to.
Even if you knew nothing about the biological requirements of the body you could just use common sense and do what most people have been doing for ages ? sleep, drink, and be merry. The more you take care of your brain and body by meeting basic biological operating requirements the more your brain and body can guide you and giveback to you the intuitive, creative edge of body wisdom feedback. If you seek expert advice you don't look for an obviously stressed out, sleep deprived, emaciated, driven individual. Rather, you look for signs of balance in your expert.
They have to seem to make sense to you and not feed you crazy ideas. It is the same with the brain and body. Learn your brain's and body's biological operating requirements, supply those, give your brain and body time to come back into balance and then you'll have a wonderfully wise guide on your side. If you are going to listen to your brain and body you'd be wise to make sure that they are balanced with their basic needs met.
Copyright (c) 2008 Mary Ann Copson.
Mary Ann Copson is the founder of the Evenstar Mood & Energy Wellness Center for Women and a Brain Chemistry Profile Clinician. Discover ways to positively affect your neurotransmitter profile at http://evenstaronline.com/brainchemistry