Having been recently diagnosed with my second ever herniated disc while recovering from a footy surgery, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between the mind and body. Growing up dancing and playing sports, I was so accustomed to a number of aches and pains in my body that I became very in tune with it and what it was telling me. However, after having to cut out my weekly routine of going to the gym, dance classes and yoga for the past 7 months, something changed. Not only did I lose my source of exercise, but also I lost my routine that was my release and kept me centered and sane! Needless to say, the effects of various thoughts and events had been lingering the last 7th months. Not only is this a lesson in self-care for therapists, but also a reminder to everyone that allowing such things to linger in the mind eventually affects the body. As goes the Buddhist saying, “holding onto anger is like holding on to a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
These back to back injuries have been a jolting reminder for me to practice what I preach to my clients and others around me about reducing stress and being aware and connected with your body. So many of us eat healthy or exercise to tend to our body’s health and do things like listen to music or watch TV to relax our minds. But what kind of routine do we have that tends to our overall well-being?
The body can be such an amazing barometer of what’s going on inside of us. Take the show “Hoarders,” for example. Many of the stories consist of people stockpiling seemingly useless items to the point where their environment is dirty, disorganized and chaotic. We often discover that this person’s home is a reflection of some sort of emotional or psychological roadblock that they haven’t yet worked through or let go of. Essentially, your body is your home. Time to clean house. (Sounds like a New Year’s resolution to me!)
So what are you waiting for?
Well, I can definitely agree with my clients when I say that it is challenging to consistently allot time for checking in with yourself and your body when you have so many other (seemingly) important things to do!
A current subject in psychological research is mindfulness and its benefits. While there are many specific uses for a mindfulness practice, for our purposes, we will focus on it as a tool simply to connect the mind to the body. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here’s a crash course.
Mindfulness: Originates in Buddhist philosophy and directly translates to “awareness.” To deliberately pay attention to whatever you are doing, in the moment. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings without attaching a judgment to them. Living your life mindfully encourages one to awaken to experience.
The present-centered focus of mindfulness encourages an awareness of mind and body in the moment. When you are mindful you are aware of the contents of your mind and you are aware of your body’s physical state.
**Believe it or not, there’s an app for that, “Mindfulness Meditation.”
- Improves brain functioning
- Boosted immune system
- Stress reduction
- Pain reduction
- Reduces depressive symptoms
- Reduces anxiety
- Discourages self-destructive behavior by dealing with what is versus using a harmful coping strategy
3 Quick & Simple Practices:
- Meditation- focus on quieting the mind in a silent place free of distractions. The goal is that by clearing the mind, one can focus on awareness of the moment. Involves deep breathing (see #2).
- Breathing exercises- Take a few moments to focus on breathing from your belly and try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Also focus on the sound, rhythm and sensation of your breath. Catch your mind drifting off and continue to re-focus on your breath.
- Body Scan- Check in with your body’s current state (tired, sluggish, energetic) and scan the body from head to toe for sensations, tightness or tension. Similarly, check in with your mind to observe its current state (chaotic, lazy, focused on one thought, etc).
As the holidays and New Year approaches, many of us begin thinking about ways to better ourselves. This self-care is cost free and won’t leave you feeling guilty when you don’t use it (ahem, gym membership). While there are many avenues to enhance the connection between your mind and body, I only hope to provide you with another tool that can deepen your self-awareness and ultimately awaken you to the moments of your life.
Feel free to share with us what activities or methods you have found that ground you and keep you in touch!
- The Mindful Brain
- The Mindful Therapist
- Clinical lecture series in Santa Monica: http://mindsightinstitute.com/la_series/course_overview/
- Mindfulness for Beginners
- Guided Mindful Meditation
- Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief: Guided Practices for Reclaiming Your Body and Your Life