I’m reaching back to freshman year Gen-Eds, but I’m sure it was Descartes who said, “I think, therefore I am.” I typically enjoyed Philosophy 101 (probably because the professor was HOT #noshame), but I do believe Descartes made a grave error in his statement. Western thought believes the body and the mind only casually interact, which our common sense finds appealing. However, in separating these two entities, we have created a world in need of healing. We exist in a time where anxiety, burnout, anger, relationships problems, and self-hatred are commonplace. We deal with mental anguish by taking pills, drinking, numbing out, and over-exercising, among other methods of “self-therapy.” Too many of us neglect our bodies when dealing with our brains.
René Descartes, father of “Mind-Body Dualism (or Dichotomy),” the separation of the mind from the body.
Thanks to the spread of yoga in the Western world, many people are realizing the danger in believing that the mind and the body are separate. In yoga, it is inconceivable to have matter without spirit. We often talk about a mind-body connection, which means our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs affect our biological functioning. However, it is just as important to pay attention to our body-mind relationship: the way we treat our bodies directly impacts our minds.
As someone who has long abused her body (*insert tragic backstory here*), I can confidently say the way you treat your body has a direct impact on your mind. I firmly believe no healing can come mentally without first addressing our physical state. Yet, if we can harm our minds by abusing our bodies, surely we can heal our mental state by loving our physical selves.
For many of us, actually noticing, without judgment, what is going with our bodies is a new sensation. You can begin to focus on one part of your body and learn how to tap into the sensations there. I’ve offered several suggestions below, that I’ve implemented in my own life, to help you start on the path towards healing your mind by paying attention to your body.
Walk. Not too fast, and please do the same route. As someone who has been diagnosed with an exercise addiction, I think this was the hardest things for me to do. However, I also received the most benefit. I walked the same path every day, and I highly suggest this. Where I couldn’t find any stability or stillness in my own head, I found it in my daily walks. Same trek. Same scenery. But, every day I noticed something new: the trees looked different when it was cloudy, the sun would touch different parts of the path depending on the time, and the air smelled better when it was rainy. I noticed differences in my body, too. I began to pay attention to how I felt on days I was more stressed versus when I was at peace.
We spend so much time using our fingers to just type. We have very little tactile sensation outside of our phones and computers. Make an effort to use your hands in different ways: pick up a musical instrument, bake a cake, knit something, or paint. The result of these activities is not the point. It is simply to experience something beyond the keyboard.
It’s becoming more common knowledge that the food you put in your body directly affects your mind. As you begin this healing process you need to fuel your body in a way that is nurturing. This varies from person to person, but generally avoiding fast food, sodas, alcohol, and processed foods is the first step. For some people, cutting out gluten makes them feel best. For others, they need to eat primarily plant based. I have found I need to eat a high fat diet in order to keep my anxiety at a manageable level.
Find some silence throughout your day. Do you have your headphones in as you walk down the street and on your bus ride to work? Do you turn on the TV as soon as you get home just for some noise? Create some silence. And start to just sit with whatever comes up, even though it might be uncomfortable. If it becomes overwhelming, reach out to a therapist, friend, or other trusted person to process through these emotions.
Your breath is the most fundamental part of body-mind balance. Breath allows us to find out where our emotional pain is residing in our body. Why do you think your yoga class sometime sounds like a bunch of weasels in heat? It’s because breath is our guide, our way of tapping into what’s going on with both our mind and our body.
I believe a pranayama practice can be even more healing than an asana one. Before you start your day or before you go to bed at night, sit in a couple of moments of silence. Notice your breath. Notice how long your inhales and exhales are. Is it more difficult to do one or the other? Notice how deeply you breathe. Where is your breath traveling to? Send it down to your abdomen. Maybe tap into ujjayi (deep breathing at the back of your throat) or practice nadi shodhan. Your breath is a form of communication between body and mind. Learning to listen to your breath is the most effective way to begin to heal your body and mind.
In what ways do you heal your mind with your body?
Also by Caitlyn: Love: Is Your Independence Keeping You From Intimacy?
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Photos: Wikimedia Commons (Descartes), Thomas Davant