If you think you’ve been in a complicated relationship, it’s nothing compared to the one that exists between your body and mind: a union that is still giving neuroscientists, philosophers and spiritual leaders plenty to chew on.
The power of the mind to plan, strategise, rationalise and make decisions is one of our not so secret weapons for success – but it’s often given all the credit.
This post is about what your body adds to the mix...
PHYSICAL HEALTH = MENTAL HEALTH
The message here is a simple one: move your body. It won’t just turn fat to muscle, it also improves brain functioning, getting more oxygen to your grey matter and boosting your memory and ability to think. For many people it also helps relieve depression and anxiety too.
Before making important decisions, a successful CEO I know used to go for a walk because it enabled him to think more creatively. He said it ‘cleared his head’. It also brought his body into the game, the movement and fresh air boosting his thought processes, calming his mind to cut out the ‘noise’, and giving him access to instincts and intuition that helped him find his solutions.
THE PATHWAY TO YOUR PASSION
Following your passion is about putting your potential in motion. It’s not fired up by a logical decision, but rather a deep desire for completeness, self-expression and fulfilment. And your body will tell you when you’ve found it.
Doing what you love makes you feel alive. It gives you energy, vitality or a sense of being ‘in flow’. You may be aware of true clarity or a real confidence in what you’re doing, or the experience of simply ‘being yourself’.
Acting on your passion also triggers a physiological response in the brain. Keep doing it and you can change your behaviour and the way you see the world. It creates new neural pathways that multiply the more you use them.
Studies have also shown that those living a life of meaning and purpose have lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment later in life, as well as increased happiness, less depression and better general mental health – and they sleep better too!
BE A PLEASURE SEEKER
Your body is the ultimate source of pleasure. What you see, hear, taste, smell and the feel of things define your quality of life.
Think about where you find your sensual pleasures and make sure you give those experiences time and space in your day. A hot shower, comfort food on a chilly day, the first sip of a cold beer or excellent wine, the touch of your partner’s fingers on your body, a stunning view, your favourite music, the way your body feels after exercise… Slow down and start focusing on the highlights – and by tuning into that frequency, you’ll start noticing even more.
This is far more than self-indulgence – it’s about making the most of having a body and being alive. It’s part of making our human existence about more than just existing.
A CASE FOR FIGHT OR FLIGHT
By putting intellect on a pedestal, we’re much more likely to devalue the importance and relevance of our body’s responses to the world around us. For example, work-related stress and burnout are much more common now because we so often miss or ignore the signals in our bodies that tell us we’re pushing ourselves too hard or burning the candle at both ends.
Your body will always have the deciding vote in your life. You can come up with a plan, but if your heart’s not in it, it’s much less likely to fly. Equally, someone may have a great reputation, but your gut instinct may be telling you not to work with them, and the relationship will always feel uneasy.
When our survival instinct kicks in, the product of the most primordial part of our brain, the impact is felt below the neck in a fight or flight response that may manifest as a sense of anxiety, restlessness or constriction in the body – a notion that ‘something’s bothering you’ but you don’t know what.
Of course our reptilian brain doesn’t know the ins and outs of corporate structures or modern-day living, and rationale may still be perfectly justified in casting the final vote, but before steaming ahead, take five to look a little deeper into the situation. It may be that more information is required to calm a deep-rooted sense of unease or something is misaligned either within you or the situation. Ignoring what your body has to offer is to do yourself a disservice.
A HOME FOR YOUR EMOTIONS
Your body is also a keeper of secrets. It holds unexpressed emotions away from your conscious experience: a clever technique that means you don’t have to feel them and you can get on with life. But from my own experience, this is a finite solution. Those emotions will out, either through physical ailments or psychological ones, such as anxiety, a sense of not being able to cope, or in overreactions to seemly innocuous events or situations.
When you feel like you’re malfunctioning in your own life, chances are that connecting with your body, and touching into those lost or buried emotions, will tell you exactly what’s going on and why you’re feeling so challenged.
Your body can hold onto unresolved fears or childhood traumas that shaped your worldview from that point on. By bringing them into the light, you have the chance to heal them.
HOW TO CONNECT WITH YOUR BODY
Connecting with your body doesn’t mean devaluing the vital role that your mind plays in your life. It’s about giving you even more resources, greater self-awareness and a fuller experience of the world.
Here are three powerful ways to encourage your body to take up its rightful place in your life.
1. Wake up and smell the coffee. Rushing through life gives us little time to appreciate those sensual pleasures I mentioned above. Whether it’s your morning shower or a comfortable bed, take (at least) a moment to appreciate it.
2. Breathe deeper. Fast, shallow breathing keeps energy focused in the upper body. Sit down for a few minutes, breathe deeply into your belly and notice the difference.
3. Touch yourself – in whatever way you want to, but DO IT SLOWLY and really tune in to what you’re feeling. It could be sexual touch or simply placing a hand gently on the centre of your chest. To make the experience stronger, try it with the slow, deep breathing and allow yourself to become more and more alive to each sensation.
Image: Edu Lauton