Physical Wellbeing: Keeping it Real by Listening to the Body

Words: Suhaila Suboh
Photos: Matthew Henry


In Marie 'KonMari' Kondo's book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up", we learn that the key to decluttering is to only keep things that sparks joy within you.

But how do we identify which object(s) will spark job within us? 
KonMari suggests that you handle each item you own very carefully and ask yourself whether it 'resonates' with who you are. These items should make you happy and spark joy in your heart. And because they do, you should keep them. While this technique may sound trivial, KonMari's tidying philosophy has won support from many around the world.

My only beef with her philosophy is that it implicitly assumes that one is in a healthy frame of mind. She fails to consider those who experience a severely neurotic state of hoarding.  My own journey to transforming my physical wellbeing began well before I came across Marie Kondo’s famous tidying method. But as I reflected on her philosophy of tidying, I realised that I had inadvertently applied her philosophy of decluttering spaces to my process of evaluating or “decluttering” my physical wellbeing. 

Just as spaces that need decluttering have too many things to begin with, you may be thinking that I was probably running around doing too many activities to stay in shape; or that, to 'declutter' my physical wellbeing, all I needed to do would be to cut down my endless stream of activities and 'ta-da' – Problem solved! 

Unfortunately, the path to healing was not that straightforward. In order to 'declutter' my perception of physical wellbeing meant, I first had to be honest with myself about my existing ideas about physical wellbeing.  

An Unhealthy Ideal
My idea of physical wellbeing was strongly associated with how I looked on the outside: I would do whatever it took to attain the ideal promoted in fashion and fitness magazines. Never mind that I know how most of them were digitally altered images that no longer represented who they actually were – I was completely fixated on resembling what I saw. I must say that the only exception was taking the 'shortcuts' and drastic measures available (e.g. liposuction, fillers, Botox etc.) – I may have been obsessed with emulating the perfection, but I never resorted to physically altering myself. However, I did put myself through gruelling and punishing workout regimes so that I could work my way towards looking like I stepped out of a magazine page.

Gruelling Workouts
On 4 out of the 5 day work week (with a mid-week rest day), I used to wake up at 5am so that I could squeeze in a workout for an hour-and-a-half before heading to work. Typically, I would do a quick warm-up, followed by a 40-minute run at about 80% of my maximum speed to maximise my calorie burn. I would then segue into doing upper and lower body weight training, which, on hindsight, was performed in bad form: I would rush through my reps with little focus on my alignment, which as we all know, is very dangerous and can result in lasting injury.  But as mentioned, I was obsessed – I needed to hit my target number regardless of how my body felt or whether I lost my form after 10 reps. Stretching–a crucial factor in training–was a fleeting occurrence.

On weekends, my routine was even more punishing: I would get up really early and run for two hours along the East Coast, practically all the way to Changi airport.

I remember thinking: Who cares how tired I feel? I look amazing! My svelte figure was a haute couture house’s dream to clothe, slipping into my designer dresses no matter how tight the cut. But I lived a nightmare trying to sustain that ideal – my focus was on ensuring I looked good enough to fit into tiny, yet unsustainable, sizes.

  • Reflect: Do you listen to your body?

Body Language
I did not experience an epiphany on how to redefine my physical wellbeing overnight: I always returned to my way of working out even after recovering from countless injuries, aches and sprains. I had a distorted view that was contingent on looking good on the outside at any cost. I never gave a thought to whether my body was actually conditioned or moving properly. Eventually, the injuries that I had accumulated ground me to a sudden halt – I had no choice but to listen to my body.

Learning to Move Again
With the help of a very progressive and compassionate physiotherapist, I began to develop an awareness for my body: I learned about my existing limitations and gained a deep appreciation of the alignment, stability, control and strength needed to move well. Generally speaking, we can all move – but not all of us are naturally gifted with the ability to move well. 

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day; your body takes time to build up its strength. Take it slow and steady. Remember that you are more than just numbers! Sacrificing your body’s health – and your mental wellbeing – for the sake of a physical ideal is not worth it!
— Reminder to self

Ditching Superficial Ideals 
The body is capable of 'magic' when you know how to use it and move well. Its capacity to move is not dependent on your body fat content or whether you are able to fit into a size 2 dress. In fact, having a six-pack and super toned limbs don’t automatically signal that you have optimal physical wellbeing or that your life reflects the basic foundations of healthy sustainable movement – in this case, what matters is truly what is on the inside. Strengthening the deep core muscles within is crucial, as is the strengthening of the smaller, yet critical, stabiliser-muscles, large mover-muscles like your quads; and, being in proper alignment so that these muscles can work together in the most effective way. 

The Right Building Blocks
I learned to listen to my body. Developing a heightened awareness of my body’s movements helped me reframe my perception of physical wellbeing. In my case, I had some dysfunctional movement patterns that I needed to correct. In the past, I would have been frustrated with learning how to “just” squat and lunge with good form. It would have been time-wasting for me if I were not running epic distance at a brisk pace. But as I learned more and began tuning into my body’s needs, it became glaringly obvious that getting the fundamentals right would allow me to do more intensive activity without hurting myself. The crazy workouts stopped as I went backwards to move forwards: learning the basics of moving well, but this time, with heightened awareness and understanding of correct forms.

Sustainable Physical Well-being Begins With A Healthy Intention
Since reading her book and reflecting on her practices, I have found that I have altered my internal dialogue with myself. I used to berate myself for being an extra kilo heavier when I was already underweight; I used to think that those who looked physically attractive, were the embodiment of physical health and must be 'very happy' people. But, having embodied that image myself by enduring destructive workouts and injuries that caused me to experience workout fatigue, I realised that being a certain weight/body fat percentage/size at any cost, in no way equated to physical wellbeing, or in fact, good mental health.

Ask yourself: What is your intention for achieving your physical ideal? Is it rooted in self-love or inadequacy? Everything always starts in the mind, with your internal dialogue with yourself. True physical wellbeing starts with being on good terms with YOU.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t physically challenge yourself with a variety of activities, something new or difficult, or strive to shed some excess weight if you are, in all honesty, a little overweight. To me, true physical wellbeing starts with having a healthy intention, and from my experience, that intention will often find itself rooted in self-love and a desire to be well. When we align with that intention, our activity becomes based on wanting to keep our bodies healthy, functional, and capable. Your body is an amazing gift that deserves to be treated well, with love, and not punished if it is going to perform all that it can for you while experiencing this life. Once that healthy intention was well-entrenched, I became my body’s best friend and embraced it in its entirety. I stopped weighing myself every morning and learned to see my physical imperfections as work in progress rather than criticising myself for not being a certain size within a set timeframe. I learned to listen to my body when it was ready to be pushed with some extra reps of squats, and when to stop if it was telling me that it was near its threshold.

When my intention became grounded in self-love rather than inadequacy, I realised that my physical wellbeing was the manifestation of my internal dialogue with myself. What I needed was a mental shift, which I experienced when I started having compassionate conversations with myself – it is when authentic and sustainable physical wellbeing began for me.

I found a path to inner happiness and joy. 

See parallels in how you view yours? Don't be shy – feel free to leave us a comment!