“Listen to your body. Self-care is not selfish. Let go of what no longer serves you. You do you.” If these mantras sound familiar, it’s because we’ve become inundated with the idea that simply listening to our bodies is the key to self-love and compassion. The only problem? We don’t often know what to listen for or how to best react to what we hear. That’s where body literacy comes in.
Reading your body (not just listening to it) is something everyone needs to nurture and practice. Put simply: body literacy is to the body what mindfulness is to the mind. It’s an embodiment skill rooted in the idea of—yes, listening to—but also observing your body, learning how it functions and why, plus understanding how to leverage your rhythms and cycles to feel your healthiest.
Imagine this scenario: You’re tired after a long, stressful work day and feeling achy from sitting in front of your screen. Listening to your body may mean curling and watching TV. But knowing your body can look like choosing a 20-minute yoga flow or a power walk because you’ve learned that you’ll always feel better after. It’s not about “pushing through;” it’s about learning your equations and understanding what works best for you under different circumstances.
Building up body literacy can improve your confidence, help you feel more present, and teach you to tend to your feelings more intuitively. It can aid mental, physical, and emotional health—and even improve your workout performance.
Why is movement such a powerful tool for building body literacy? Because it focuses the mind on the body while allowing for play and experimentation (plus, experts agree movement can positively impact your body image). To get started on your body literacy journey, try out these 6 obé tools. And remember: body literacy is highly individual—some tools may resonate with you more than others, and that’s perfectly normal.
1. Health Connect
A key pillar of body literacy is learning how your body functions so you can understand your individual health cues. An example of this in practice: You learn you sleep sounder on days you rank up 9,000 steps or raise your heart rate at least once. So, you leverage that insight to keep yourself accountable to specific movement goals, not because you “should” meet them, but because you know in your bones it will make a real difference.
Cue obé. With Health Insights, you can connect your Apple Health data to the obé app and unlock metrics like heart rate and VO2 max (the best measure of heart health), plus activity tracking like total steps taken or stairs climbed. These metrics can a) help you understand your current baseline for cardiovascular health and b) allow you to begin tracking your trends over days, weeks, and months to see how your workouts make an impact.
By empowering you with your health data, this feature allows you to investigate questions like “is my resting heart rate too high?” or “how does stress impact my heart rate?” With some exploration, you can learn what sorts of workouts boost your cardiovascular health more efficiently and how to best regulate your heart rate—be it with movement, meditation, or another activity.
2. Cycle Insights + Cycle Syncing
For those who menstruate, tuning in and adjusting to your natural hormonal cycle can build a deeper connection to the body. Broken into four distinct stages—menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal—fluctuations in this cycle can impact your mood, energy levels, metabolism, appetite, sleep, injury vulnerability, and more.
There’s plenty of research supporting the notion that a woman’s physical, mental, and emotional states change during each stage of her cycle. Those changes translate into fluctuations in stress, energy levels, physical activity, sex drive, and even emotions like motivation. By tracking your cycle, understanding it, and making informed decisions about fitness, nutrition, or your daily life based on where you’re at, you can better manage cycle symptoms like PMS and feel more confident in your body. This kind of awareness can enable you to understand when to rest or push it, without judgment or guilt.
Since every cycle is different, obé offers a few tools to hone in on yours. If you already track your cycle manually, with a wearable, or on another app, try jumping into the Working Out on Your Cycle Collection. You’ll find a calendar of 20 hand-picked classes designed to match your energy levels and readiness. Experiment with these workouts and see which class types feel best at each stage.
If you’re a beginner or want to unlock daily tips and class recommendations, go for Cycle Insights. After taking a short questionnaire about your menstrual cycle (we never store or share your data), you’ll unlock a tracking info screen with your current cycle phase, an explanation of what’s happening, and class picks. For the 101 on everything cycle syncing, read this definitive guide.
3. Body Scans + Meditations for Body Literacy
Though we often think of meditation as a practice limited to our headspace, it’s also an effective method for checking in with your physical body. Activating the mind-body connection through meditation can unlock insights into your emotional states (yes, emotions impact you physically!) and improve your ability to gauge and manage stress levels.
One of the best ways to focus your meditation is through a body scan (pro tip: searching for ‘body scan’ in our on-demand library will give you plenty of 5-10 minute guided options). In this practice, you’ll mentally scan yourself for tension, pain, or unordinary sensations to understand where to focus attention. Physical sensations like tightness in the chest, tingling in your hands, throbbing, or numbness can be meaningful cues to communicate what the body needs—ones that are often overlooked when we don’t slow down.
The long list of meditation benefits includes perks like better sleep, anxiety + stress relief, improved focus, and increased self-compassion. By channeling it to improve interoceptive attention—the “hidden sense” that leverages your brain’s perception of your bodily state—you’ll also boost your body literacy, big time.
Learning to manipulate your breath is another way to understand your body better. In particular, breathwork—conscious breathing techniques that manipulate variables like pace, posture, or depth—has plenty of beneficial effects on the body, according to research. When we experience stress, anxiety, sickness, or extreme emotion, the depth and pace of our breath also change, cutting off oxygen to our cells and stimulating our body’s sympathetic nervous system and fight-or-flight response.
Without a breathwork practice, most of us aren’t tuned to notice these changes or know how to bring our breathing back to a healthy pace. Engaging in breathwork naturally offsets stress and tension by controlling your parasympathetic nervous system—or the ‘rest and digest’ system. Controlled breathing teaches you to calm down, relax, and be at ease.
obé has 57 guided breathwork classes (and counting!), ranging from 3 to 20 minutes, some purely focused on breathing techniques and others bringing in elements of meditation, stretching, or yoga. Since different types of breath inspire different bodily states, you can also pick between energizing, calming, centering, or anti-anxiety options—with lots of beginner-friendly choices. After a few guided sessions, you’ll improve your breath control in everyday life and be able to tap into these practices more automatically.
5. Prehab Workouts
Activating the mind-body connection is one thing, developing deep awareness and control in your joints and the tiny muscles supporting them is another. (FYI, one practice is not “better” than another; the latter is simply an elaboration of the former.)
Featuring slow, deliberate movements designed to teach joint control and body perception on a neurological level, obé’s Full-Body Prehab Collection teaches you the intricacies of how your body functions. Expect mobility and stability work, strength conditioning, stretches, plus muscle activation—all for injury prevention.
In each class, Adam D. (a mobility pro!) gives you a deeper understanding of your mechanics by training the brain, nervous system, muscles, and joints. In turn, you’ll improve mobility, body awareness, longevity, posture, and even mitigate daily aches and pains. With more and more practice, you’ll learn what type of exercises to prioritize when your body’s feeling unbalanced—and how to make every workout more efficient.
6. The Best Body Literacy Tool: Experiment and Play!
Variety is the spice of life—and the spice of body literacy, too. The best way to learn about your body? Try new things! How else will you learn that a quick Dance Cardio class is exactly what you need to shake off your nerves, that a lower body stretch is your cure for uncomfortable cramps, or that you feel super confident after a HIIT workout?
If you think of body literacy as the end, experimentation and play are the means. Switching up your movement routine is one of the most fun ways to feel present and aware in your body. Not only because it wakes up muscles you didn’t know you had, but also because exercise is an efficient way of manipulating mood and regulating emotions.
So go ahead, try that Strength class, that Bounce workout, or a Pilates class with a resistance band (reminder, obé has 30 class types with the ability to filter by duration, equipment, body focus, and more). Not every workout will be for you, but we guarantee you’ll always learn something about your body—and how to give it what it needs, not just what it craves, in the future.
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