Mind your body

There is no doubt that when you take it to the next level, the mind and the body are connected, and that when those connections are intact and in balance you have health and when they’re broken you have disease.” Esther Sternberg MD

The connection of our mind-body is an important part of how we are in the world, how we engage with ourselves, others and our environment.  But many find it difficult to feel into their body, to draw the connection between how the mind and body influence each other. The mind body connection is the interactions of the brain, mind, body and our behavior, and they each influence our emotional, mental and social behaviors and actions. Recognizing these connections, and their interactions, can offer up important information that helps us to respond rather than react in stressful situations.


mind_body connection

“Listen to the signals from your body” we are told.  But how do we do that?

Well actually you probably experience this without realizing.  When nervousness or fear arise, some feel butterflies in the belly, others may feel heat rising rapidly from the belly or the chest up to the face, and the sensation of turning bright red. When our body has had enough food, we sense the feeling of fullness, even though our brain may not register this.  Although familiar, we often don’t pay attention to these signals or how we respond emotionally and mentally because we tend to be on autopilot, as in the instance of having enough food. However, when we slow down and pay attention to the signals our body gives us throughout the day, we can learn a great deal about things like, where am I holding the stress, where is the emotional pain, is my body truly relaxed even when I am resting, and if not, how is this affecting my mental wellbeing?

You may have heard of the term body-scan.  This is a simple mindfulness technique that allows you to connect to your body in a truly relaxing yet sensory way. Paying attention to your body and the subtle changes it offers up can tell you plenty about the state of your mind, emotions and stress level.  Paying attention to what is coming up in the body may result in the choice to respond in a different way, rather than react in an automatic way.

This is not new.  Anyone who has a fear of public speaking will know the physical feelings that arise in the body. The blood rushes to your upper body, your legs feel weak, your heart begins to race and you feel a little shaky.  These are my symptoms, perhaps yours are different.  The benefit to paying attention and recognizing these signals, that could otherwise lead to anxiousness, is that I am less overwhelmed by the challenge and I am able to respond to bring about a calmness to support my wellbeing.

When we are calm our brain functions better, and we make better decisions.  In effect I am able to reign in that physical, mental and possibly emotional anxiety before it escalates.

So how do you do this?

Bodyscan, mind-body connection

Regularly practicing mindfulness based body-scans or even yoga nidra exercise (guided or on your own) can help you cultivate this body awareness when you need it.

It is also possible to feel into your body at any time.  Try this quicky!

Move all your attention down to your feet, feeling your feet as they touch the ground or whatever surface they may be on. Feel into the feet, the sensations of the feet on the inside and on the outside, and then feel a sense of grounding or anchoring through the feet.

Paying attention this way, two things will happen.  You have moved your attention from the mind, the anxiety, or whatever stress that was arising, and grounded your feelings and body; and you will begin to breathe slowly and deeply. This change in the quality of your breath also brings on the relaxation response.  So now you can focus on the presentation in a calm and measured way.

In a recent study, researchers found that those who had better body awareness tended to feel less stressed, where as those participants with an already low resilience to stress showed poor attention to bodily signals suggesting that they may lack the ability to adapt to stressful situations. From this we can conclude that the more you are able to pay attention to the body’s signals and learn from them the more you will adapt and respond (rather than react) to stressful situations and your resilience will improve.

Difficulties with body scans

Many students of the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) courses have often expressed their displeasure with the body-scan. “I can’t do the body scan”, “I hated it!”, or “I always fall asleep so I don’t see the point”, are all very common responses.  There may be a number of reasons for this resistance, but my suggestion is to persist.  Try a shorter guided body scan if you find the 30+ minutes too long.  Elisha Goldstein is a favorite of mine.  He has a 10 min version that I often do in the afternoon to give me a boost.  Or find a new guide. To get into any guided mediation you need to resonate with and like the voice of your guide, so find a voice you like.  Here is one from Mindful.org.  The Insight Timer app has a large selection.

So get connected and take time out regularly to really feel your body from the inside and out. You’ll discover so much more about your mind and emotions.

Feature image by Ceppas Photography