I beleive in the mind body connection. This is the idea that the brain and body are connected and interact. That we can use our minds to be aware of our body and perhaps to impact change within our bodies.
The Mind Body Connection
One of my favorite self-coaching – coping – living life to the fullest tools is my awareness of my physical body. The ability to notice where and how I feel things within my body.
What does it feel like when I am upset or happy or tired or grouchy or sick?
I have learned as I coach a wide variety of individuals that some people struggle with this. Over the years I will ask clients – so how does that feel and they will either not know how to describe the sensation or be completed unaware of a physical sensation.
I have observed this with physical discomfort while training athletes and a wide variety of experiences that are more related to emotions.
With an athlete I might ask something like does it hurt or can you feel it? And sometimes people aren’t sure how to answer that because of a bunch of possible reasons. One is that we aren’t used to paying attention to discomfort in our bodies. Our modern reaction is to avoid or buffer from the discomfort.
In our busy lives we can be so focused on the stimulus around us that we don’t notice or stop noticing what’s happening in our body.
Just feel it
There’s two parts to this non-observance.
First there is the assumption that our bodies only feel things from actual stimulus like bumping a knee. I think that most people reading this article are aware that we also feel emotions within our body. A lot of modern research is even showing that long term stress or trauma can literally show up as pain, injury or perhaps even illness.
We can get so disconnected from this that we don’t even notice our own bodies. We stop feeling these things.
Sometimes this is even applauded. People in my family will brag that they get hurt and didn’t even notice.
I will ask my son wow where did that bruise come from and he will answer – I don’t know.
I don’t actually think this is a good thing.
In fact, one of the things I love when I am very focused on my training is my intense connection with my physical body. I am aware of how it feels and when something feels off.
I do think that this is a skill like so many others that we can work to improve.
To help with that. I’m offering up a tool to help called a body scan.
The concept of a body scan is pretty simple. You take a few moments and you mentally scan over your body to see how you feel. During the scan you notice where are you experiencing tension, discomfort or pain. Observe it and see what happens.
I listened to an interview with the very famous Wayne Dyer who lived near the beach and enjoyed swimming. But as his body aged he experienced aches and pains on his walk to the swim. He spoke about just focusing on the aches and pains and that when he simply observed them they seemed to be less of an issue.
Now, Dyer was a very practiced person at this skill and so if you try it with a sharp pain you may not have immediate success. It takes some practice to learn how to be an observer of our bodies.
I like to use this body scan not just as an assessment of my body but also as a relaxation time to not only focus on where I might not feel good but to intentionally allow my body to relax. This has been especially helpful during stressful times.
Life is sometimes very stressful.
I call this a relaxation technique. It might feel like a meditation and that’s okay too.
I personally struggled with the concept of meditation for a long time. Movement is admittedly more of my comfort zone than sitting still.
Yet the appeal of mind or thought work to enhance the mind-body connection has long appealed to me.
The first time I was interested in this it was called biofeedback. There was an article about a group of monks who could use their minds to warm their bodies in snow.
They could go out into snow wearing pretty much only a sheet and use mental focus to keep their body temperature up. They allowed a team of scientists to come and observe and poke and prod them.
Even though I was only a kid I remember thinking this sounded magical. It also sounded very practical. If I had a fever I could just think it down. I’ve never actually made that happen but it’s a nice idea.
In my memory this article was in Scientific American but I couldn’t find that…I did find a link to a NYT archive which I think is the same study. But I was a kid. My memory may be flawed. But here that is. I’m a subscriber to the times … this may be behind a paywall for you. If so … tough noogies for you please do not message me to tell me that.
Biofeedback –> Meditation —> Thought Work
The leap between biofeedback, meditation and thought work is I think a short one. The skills seem related. The skill of setting up your mind to support your body in whatever you are working to do whether that’s run a marathon, do a workout, or battle disease seems to me to be related.
My journey towards actually benefitting from meditation has not been direct. I have never learned how to melt snow with my body temperature but I still think regulating body temperature would be a rad skill.
I remember years ago reading the book by Ekhart Tolle – the power of now and thinking that when he desciribed being present in the moment was what I think I felt during a hard run when all I can think about is the next breath. I asked a “meditation expert” in a Facebook group if that could be considered meditation and he said, no.
I’m not sure if that meditation expert was correct though. Perhaps it’s more correct to say that I’m not sure I agree with that answer.
Since then I have learned some more ideas about meditation including that a yoga teacher told me that yoga was developed to prepare us for the challenge of meditation. First you would do yoga and then you could be still. I don’t actually know if that’s true but it makes sense to me.
And then I read a book by the Urban Monk and he directly addresses the challenges of silent still meditation in modern day. He recommends moving meditation including walking meditation. This was helpful for me in feeling better about my current practice.
Focus on the breath
The other frustration I’ve had with meditation over the years is that my mind wanders and I thought that was a mistake. I thought I was doing it wrong. You may have thought this too. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who think that. But that’s not it.
People would say … if a thought comes in greet it and let it go and I was like …HOW?
OR they would say something like just bring your attention back to your focus on the breath and I would think … WHAT?? HOW??
Of course our mind wanders.
The action that I’ve decided or I’ve learned that is more important is actually noticing that your thoughts are wandering and coming back to focus on your meditation. It’s the bringing back that’s important. Like doing a sit up it’s the resistance that actually matters.
The action of bringing your attention back is strengthening your focus muscle. All those times I gave up because I thought I was making a mistake I was doing it right and never knew it.
This action of focusing on the breath is a part of what can be considered a mindfulness activity. The breathing is automatic and when you focus on it intentionally that is what makes it mindfull. We can apply this to anything including walking, running, eating and swallowing. Drinking cold water is a particularly easy mindful activity because the cold water is easy to feel.
Ever since I learned that I don’t have to hold still and that it’s okay when my mind wanders … that has made my meditation practice a lot more successful and productive.
My personal favorite meditation / relaxation to do is the body scan.
In fact, I think this is such a powerful tool that I recorded a guided body scan that you can download here.
What is a guided relaxation / meditation?
Guided means that I talk you through it. I am personally not so skilled at meditating that I can simply be alone with my breath and my thoughts. I very much appreciate a little music and words giving me something to direct or guide my focus.
Why would you want to do this?
Well becoming aware of our physical bodies is an incredibly powerful tool. To notice our health to notice how our emotions show up to perceive how we physically react to people and sounds and places and experiences.
Fill out the little form here and you’ll receive directions in your email to download this free body scan.
I’m using the words relaxation and meditation together because honestly this if the first time I’ve written one of these myself. I’ve taken part in a lot of listening to meditations and none of the body scans I did were quite like this so I made my own.
What makes this body scan different?
I made this with pretty specific terms for body parts and muscles which is helpful to me to focus. It’s pretty detailed.
I include space for a gratitude intention and body positivity within this body scan because I think that’s super important.
Let me know what you think about it. Thank you for reading and trying it out.