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Our everyday herbal routines are based on the practice of body literacy—a strategy anyone can use to participate more fully in making informed decisions about their health.


Understanding Yourself, to Understand Us

As herbalists, we get a lot of practice reading people’s bodies. We ask questions and use diagnostic tools - like pulse and tongue quality for example - to help us identify patterns in a person’s body that point us toward the origin of whatever imbalances they may be experiencing. But each of us can learn to read our bodies through a concept known as “body literacy,” a strategy anyone can use to participate more fully in making informed decisions about their health.

What is Body Literacy?

The concept of body literacy can be traced to spaces that have prioritized the health of and aimed to empower people with uteruses, many of whom were raised as girls, in what has traditionally been called Women’s Health. The term emerged in the early 2000s - though the practice is much older -and describes the process through which people observe, learn about, understand, and respond to their bodies. The process is one of discovery, education, and action: by gathering knowledge and information about our bodies we are better equipped to communicate with others about our health and make more confident and informed decisions for ourselves in health and wellness spaces.

How do you do Body Literacy?

Many of us are likely already doing body literacy, we just don’t know it! Like, when you feel the urge to pee, you go to the bathroom for example. But for those of us raised as girls who were taught to ignore our bodies, it can be harder to give attention more fully to ourselves. Especially in a way that is both informative and empowering. So in order to do body literacy, we begin simply by paying more attention.

Start by consciously and mindfully paying attention to yourself

Decide that you will make a conscious effort to tune into the shifts that resonate throughout your body without judgment. There is no rush to start documenting every shift and responding to it, just commit to noticing. This can start as an act of acknowledgement of the pains in your stomach before that big presentation, or perhaps it occurs to you that your change in bowel movement may be linked to the absence of dairy in your morning coffee. We begin to gather information through observation, any change is an invitation to pay closer attention to ourselves.

We begin to understand shifts in our bodies as signals

If we start to notice a physical or emotional response over and over again, then it can be identified as a pattern and this pattern is our body trying to signal to us that something may be wrong or something is being corrected! As we connect our body and mind’s response to our environment, our work, our sleep, our diet, our relationships, our menses, we begin to develop a clearer picture of what is and isn’t normal to us. We can facilitate the learning by integrating tools like journaling. Many of us have learned these tools as ways to judge and control our bodies like counting calories to lose weight. Instead we can use tracking our sleep, our menstrual cycle, or our diet as a way to better know ourselves, to more deeply investigate the origin of our fatigue, mood swings, or acid reflux for example. There are many helpful apps that can assist you in gathering information about observable changes in your body, but taking notes in your phone or using a plain old notebook and pencil work just as well too!

Once we have reliable, consistent information, we can respond to our body’s messages

Recording information about our body gives us a whole lot of data we can use in discussions and explorations regarding our health with ourselves, our peers, and our healthcare providers. When we can understand and communicate the language of our own bodies then we can participate in the communal care of all of our bodies. Gathering information and responding to that knowledge is essential to our participation in decision-making about the health of our mind, body, and spirit. Body literacy can help us emerge from a pattern of ignoring our bodies into a pattern of responding to our bodies. With confidence we can understand and explain shifts in our bodies which makes it easier for us to make the distinction between a normal shift and a warning sign.   It makes us better able to advocate for ourselves in a medical setting, because it can provide support and evidence when we’re told we’re “imagining things,” it can help us seek emergency medical attention when we need it, and help us get to the root of little nuisances before it’s too late for dietary and lifestyle shifts. Our deep understanding of ourselves gives us valuable insight as to the cause and effect of external stressors and other decisions we make for our bodies. Above all, learning body literacy means a deeper understanding of and a deeper connection to ourselves. We all inhabit bodies! Practicing body literacy can help us make this experience more confident, more joyful, and more comfortable.

The Body Literacy poster is a limited-edition collaboration between artist and designer Sarah Kennedy, and author and herbalist Christine Buckley, two wonderful members of our WSH community.

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  • I’m in the process of learning how to listen to my body again and had no clue there was a word for it! It’s hard to do, but so worth it. This was immensely helpful – thank you so much for posting!

    Shelby on

  • This great. Thanks for sharing!

    Myka Harris on

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