Translating Body Language

Ordinarily this phrase, translating body language, would mean having the ability to understand what’s going on inside of others when they interact with the world and make gestures or unconscious movements which convey their feelings. 

We think of ourselves as experts in body language when we spot someone’s grimace the assume they’re unhappy or in pain. We’re sure we’ve got it all figured out when we presume someone’s lying when they avoid eye contact with us and their eyes shift upward and away.  But none of this is what I’m interested in today — translating body language in today’s context is about understanding YOUR OWN body, and appreciating what it is trying to convey to you.

How well do you understand your own body’s language? Do you listen to it when it speaks to you or do you try to ignore it until it is screaming (in its own way) to get your attention?  What does your body have to do in order to convey what it’s feeling – to get you to stop and take care of the problem it is trying to expose?  How loud must the pain, discomfort or achiness become before you’re willing to listen to the message your body is trying to convey?

As I write this blog entry, we’re having a weekend of wet weather here in the Twin Cities – it would be a great weekend to get away to someplace warmer, dryer and maybe less windy (wherever that might be!).  But I’m not headed out of town and my body has been complaining since last night about the unpleasantly cold and damp weather we’re experiencing here. 

My body’s typical language: A common message my body sends me, “I don’t like wet weather!” Another familiar complaint is, “It’s cold!” And lately, when I’ve done something foolish (like sit all day under the pretense that what I need is rest) it will remind me of my error by screaming, “Yikes – what were you thinking, a body has to move!!”

Light skinned woman sitting with her laptop on her lap, wearing a fashionable sweater, with her head tilted to one side and both hands massaging her neck and shoulder on the other side. There is a coffee cup and three beautiful roses in a white vase on the side table next to her.

What does your body tell you? Here are some typical messages we humans try to disregard:

  • Achy neck & shoulders – consider the weight (burden?) you’ve been carrying around, the worry, concern for family members, or anxiety about an upcoming event?
  • Headache (or worse, a migraine) – consider the habits you’ve been keeping, your stress in recent days, the argument you had with your sibling or the blow-up you had at work!
  • Low back pain, stiffness in your hips – like me, it could be too much sitting, not enough movement or possibly pressing your body into service (climbing that ladder, raking that lawn?) without the benefit of any warm-up or preparation.

Are you listening? What is the self-care message you’re reluctant to receive?  Would it be so awful if you considered the messages your body sends as valuable and worthy of some serious efforts to change?  Here are some possibilities that could change your body’s language:

  • What if you got up and moved every hour or so throughout the day – even if that’s not your typical habit?
  • What if you eased into house-chores that require muscular work, and gave yourself time to warm up and get ready for that big expenditure?
  • What if you called your brother to apologize or acknowledged the stress you’ve been under, and did something to manage or counter-act it’s impact on your life & body?

Translating body language requires first being willing to LISTEN to the messages our body attempts to send. The better we become at this capacity for listening, the less the body will need to escalate the message.  We might notice the little wince in our neck, without experiencing the torturous pain that comes later!  We might begin to put the pieces together and recognize that our actions (or in-action) is what’s causing our pain!

Lots of things show up as body language – our thoughts, emotions, our self-neglect and self-criticism, our worries and anxieties, and especially our trauma or buried experiences can show up as symptoms in our bodies.

Bessel A. van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma reminds us that “Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.”

Take a moment to listen to all that your body has to say this week. Imagine that it is sharing with you deep secrets from a source of amazing intelligence and honor the messages it is trying to share!

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!


Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, 3.

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About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

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How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.

How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.