Thanks to a bout of poor digestive health in recent months, I was forced to revisit a simple truth which intellectually we all know but often choose to ignore, which is this….
The Body is Not Just a Taxi for the Head!
Read that again...
In the fast-paced 21st century we are bombarded with information and stimulation from the moment we wake until the moment we go to bed; our days are filled with hundreds of tasks and responsibilities, and are heads are filled with thousands of thoughts. As we do it all to have it all, it is easy to forget just about how ESSENTIAL our bodies are for living a healthy happy life. Instead, our default setting becomes living in the mind – thinking, doing, problem-solving, analysing, ruminating, stressing…performing our daily tasks on autopilot, disconnected from ourselves and the world around us, and forgetting what the body needs to keep it working optimally.
The mind and body are after all intricately interconnected through a complex network of neural pathways, electrical impulses, and more chemicals than we can possibly imagine - the body is an ecosystem! When we ignore or mistreat our body, in time it will have a knock-on effect on the wellbeing of our mental health; and when we ignore or mistreat our mental health, in time it will have a knock-on effect on the wellbeing of our body. And our emotions, like the perfect internal guidance system that they are, will always let us know when we are in or out of balance by the way we FEEL i.e., happy, content, sad, distressed, or the limbo state I like to call "the funk"
The Mind & Body Disconnected
We can get so caught up in running around and getting stuff done all day long, that we forget to do basic things like take a pause to connect with our body – the container which houses our soul/ consciousness. We skip meals, don’t get enough sleep, work for hours without taking a break, allow ourselves to get stressed and overwhelmed, and often go on to develop physical symptoms to match our state of mind. For many people the very idea of taking a break or investing in self-care is alien and considered a luxury they simply don’t have the time, money or patience for. These people will go days, weeks, months, even years living with pain and discomfort and wonder why they feel physically and emotionally broken. Disconnection from the body creates discomfort/dis-ease to build up, which left unattended can evolve into full blown Disease.
The body can be compared to the dashboard of a car - if the low fuel light comes on and we ignore it, the car will eventually slow down and stop. If more and more warning lights come on and we continue to ignore them, our car will eventually break down and cost us time, inconvenience and financial expense trying to fix it; or at worst it can’t be fixed and we need to buy a new car. Our bodies however cannot be traded, it is the only one we will ever have and it needs to continue getting us from A to B until the end of our days. So paying attention to the warnings our body gives us is essential for maintaining optimal physical and mental/emotional health and functioning. Because we cannot feel good in our heart and mind when our body is in pain! This is why mind and body connection is KEY to living a healthy happy life.
Connecting the Mind & Body – 10 Mindful Minutes
I invite you to take 10 Mindful Minutes to connect with your body and listen to any messages it may be trying to share - the body communicates constantly with us, but we have to be tuned in to be aware.
1. Begin by looking at your body undressed in a mirror. Notice if there is anything new, different, unusual when you look at yourself from head to toe. Look for parts of your body which you like and show them some gratitude, even if it’s just a smile. Show the parts of your body which you are not too fond of some compassion and appreciation for the different ways they serve or protect you.
2. Touch the different parts of your body from head to toe, and notice if there is anything new, different or unusual. The importance of examining our intimate areas has been highlighted in recent years by cancer prevention campaigns, so these would ideally be included in the self-examination. This can be done whilst showering or moisturising the body if you struggle to find time to have a quick feel up during the day lol.
3. Stretch your body and notice how it feels. Move your neck gently from side to side, up and down, round and round…shrug your shoulders up and down….lift your arms up and down, move them side to side….move your waist side to side…bend your knees and squat….move your legs up and down…move your ankles up and down and rotate them round and round. You can do this lying down, sitting at your desk, watching tv, or at the gym. Activities like Yoga and Pilates are especially great for observing sensations in the body. Focus on the sensations that come up – is there anything new, different, unusual, uncomfortable, painful? If so how can you show these parts of your body some compassion and kindness and help ease any discomfort you may be feeling?
4. Focus full attention on your body using a Mindful Body Scan guided meditation. This involves sitting or lying still and moving your attention very slowly from one end of the body to the other, scanning it and observing what thoughts, feelings and sensations come up. There are countless YouTube videos for anyone wishing to give it a try, as well as free mindfulness apps like Head Space and Insight Timer which have hundreds of free guided meditations. I have included a link for a 10min Body Scan and a 20min Body Scan below to get you started. Once you understand how it works you can run through a quick body scan in seconds if needed just to tap in and get connected on a more regular basis.
Responding Mindfully to Physical Pain
Once we become aware of something different, unusual, uncomfortable or painful being experienced within the body, it would be wise to take the following steps:
1. We must ask ourselves what may be causing the pain/sensation and adjust what we are doing to prevent the issue from worsening e.g. if we are experiencing back problems we may need to stop lifting heavy weights, using a pillow for support when sitting, become aware of our posture, do some exercises, use a back brace etc..
2. We can look up symptoms online although this can often create unnecessary stress and confusion. It would be better advised to speak to a Pharmacist, make an appointment with a GP, or consult a specialist like a Physio or Osteopath for further assessment and treatment.
3. Keep a daily record of any pain or symptoms experienced in the morning, lunchtime and evening, score symptoms out of 10 to help identify worsening or improvement). Recording possible triggers and factors which ease discomfort or pain, can be helpful in understanding what may be going on in the body and help inform how the issue can be resolved.
4. We will almost certainly need to make adjustments to our lifestyle and become more mindful around diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, how we manage stress, and intake of stimulants, if we want to reduce physical or mental discomfort or pain. This may include notifying our employers so that reasonable adjustments can be made in the workplace. And it may involve asking friends, family and colleagues for support and assistance in areas of life where we may be struggling physically and emotionally, as pain and discomfort will often impact our mental health.
5. When we cannot identify a medical reason for physical or mental discomfort or pain, it is often an indicator that the underlying cause could be emotional pain or unresolved trauma from a past experience or even from childhood. Painful experiences create such powerful connections in the brain and nervous system that when triggered we can unconsciously tap into pain from the past and bring it into the present – sometimes through our emotions and extreme reactions, and sometimes through psychosomatic symptoms. Getting in touch with our emotions is key to understanding what the body is trying to communicate and what is needed to help it heal.
6. When pain is experienced, we can apply lessons from Mindfulness to bring relief. We do this by releasing resistance to the pain, surrendering to it, showing it compassion, and allowing it to run its course before it naturally starts to ease. Putting our arms around ourselves and focusing on deep breathing can help the body relax which in turn can help the mind quieten and relax. Managing mental or physical pain in this way requires great discipline and perseverance, and can be highly effective, although excessive pain must always be referred to a medical specialist to prevent symptoms worsening.
There you have it folks! If you would like to access an online 8 week Introduction to Mindfulness programme starting June 2022 on a one to one basis to help you reconnect with your mind, body and soul, please feel free to get in touch. And if you suspect that physical symptoms or pain you have been experiencing may be linked to a previous experience and you would like to explore how Transformational Life Coaching can help you, contact me – Nichola – directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for a FREE consultation.