Mind and Body: What's the connection?

Can you separate the mind from the body? My response is an emphatic NO! Our mind - body - thoughts - emotions are all intricately linked. My view that if you can include all of them in your treatment, holistically, then you have a better chance of creating positive change. 

Mind and Body: What's the connection?

Try smiling when looking down, or crying when your head is tilted up. Isn't it difficult?! Indeed when we want to stop crying we look up, we know instinctively how our bodies affect our emotional selves. Just forcing a smile when we don’t feel happy can change how we feel.

Our posture affects how we feel. Pay attention right now to how you are holding yourself as you read this. Is your back slouched or straight, are you relaxed or tense? If you are slouched try straightening your back, putting your shoulders back, lifting your head so you can look straight ahead, have your feet on the floor and take a deep breath. How does that feel? Better or worse, how so? What are the emotions or thoughts that have been invoked? How we hold and move our bodies is intricately linked with how we feel. If we feel vulnerable we find a way to change that, we can close in on ourselves to protect our soft bellies and exposed chest by curling into ourselves to varying degrees from the foetal position to just curving our spines a little and moving our knees towards us, or we might put a front on by puffing up our chests, broadening our shoulders and pretending we feel braver than we feel we are.

The posture of our bodies have been shaped by our emotions, when we are happy our bodies are open, relaxed, when we are sad our bodies curl up into ourselves, when we are angry we puff our chests out and stand our ground. The habitual emotions we hold shape how we hold ourselves.

We may have learned not to hear our bodies messages because as children we are so often told that what we are feeling isn’t true:

‘You can't be feeling tired, you’ve just woken up’
‘You can’t be hungry, you had lunch half an hour ago’ 

We are trained to stop listening to our bodies because we were told not to, that the messages were wrong and that other people know us better than we know ourselves. It can take a long time and conscious practice to get back in touch with ourselves and to trust your own thoughts, feelings, and intuitions. You may have also learned that your body isn't safe if you have experienced abuse or traumas, you may have had to leave your body by dissociating from it, pretending that it has nothing to do with you. While dissociation is a brilliant coping strategy in the moment, it can be troublesome in the long-run. We have all had to find ways of coping with life but when that strategy becomes out of date and a default way of coping when the original danger is no longer present it can cause issues in your current life.

Our bodies are deeply metaphorical, in the phrases we use to describe situations and people:

‘A pain in the neck’
'Butterflies in the stomach’
‘Giving me earache’ 

When we pay attention to what our bodies are saying we can uncover all sorts of messages. We often cut ourselves off from what our bodies are saying because if we heard and understood the messages we would then know what needed changing in our lives. This can then be hard to put in to practice, we might need to change our job which is no longer satisfying, or have a difficult conversation with a loved one about how the relationship isn’t working for you the way it is anymore and that some changes need to be made. Although these conversations can be hard they can also be life-transforming when approached in a constructive way.

Our lives are lived in a very rational society which cuts us off from our embodied knowing or intuition. We are often cerebral - using a computer, phones, TV, etc to cut ourselves off from our body or using other substances and addictions to separate our emotions from our bodies. These might be issues with eating, shopping, porn, gambling, drinking, smoking, scrolling, always being with others, the list is almost endless as anything that is done to an excess or is out of balance then becomes unhealthy.

We can also be very physical in our body's, going to the gym and working out a lot so we are only aware of our bodies and not the other troubling aspects. Our minds and our bodies together can be too painful or uncomfortable to bear. We often want to punish one or more aspects of us for not being ok but this is self-defeating because as much as we can try, we are an integrated whole of mind-body-thoughts-emotions.

Things that can help are:

  • Pay attention to your body's messages, where are the pains and discomforts?
  • If the pain was a metaphor what would it say?
  • Find ways to be in your body such as body-based movements which could include yoga, dancing, tai chi or just going for a walk or cycle but leave the headphones at home!
  • Being mindful and using meditation can help.
  • Pay attention to your emotions, what if you could bear to hear the message of your emotions just for another moment or two, what would they be telling you?
    - How old or young do you feel when experiencing a particular emotion?
    - What was happening in your life at that age?
    - When would this emotion that you are experiencing now have made sense in your life?
    - What has triggered it in your life now?
    - How can you soothe this distressed and probably younger part of you?
    - - - Put your hands over your heart
    - - - Put one hand on the back of your skull and the other on your forehead
    - - - Wrap your arms around yourself
    - - - Use soothing word that offer comfort and absolve blame from your self: ‘you are good enough just as you are’, ‘although my parents were unkind it wasn’t about me, it was their stuff’, ‘I did the best I could at the time to survive’, ‘Now I’m older and wiser I can look after this young part of me in a way that wasn’t possible by my caregivers at the time’ 

By paying attention to our mind-body we can listen to the messages and release old pains and grow into a fuller more fulfilling life. It can be really helpful to have help and support to do this, whether it's from a yoga teacher who can also help you release emotions, a shiatsu practitioner who can release the embedded embodied emotions, or a counsellor/psychotherapist who can also include the body in the experience of therapy. There are lots of ways to help and support you to reconnect the mind - body - thoughts - emotions, go and experiment and find what works for you.

There have been lots of generalisations and simplifications in this short introductory article, the subject of the body-mind interconnection is deep and the techniques very powerful. I hope you are able to take what is helpful and useful and leave the rest. 

There have been many books written on the subject, and if you would like to know more these are my favorites:

  • Bodymind by Ken Dychtwald
  • The Body Remembers by Babette Rothschild
  • The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk
  • Trauma, Bonding & Family Constellations by Franz Ruppert
  • Energy Medicine by Donna Eden
  • Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy by Phil Mollon