“Where the mind goes, the man follows.”-Proverbs 23:7
For thousands of years human beings have pondered the nature of human existence and the human experience. Because we are thinking beings, historically humans have believed that we are mind more than body. The mind-body connection is frequently thought of, and believed to be, mind over body, meaning that the mind is more important than the body. The mind-body dilemma has been studied by some of history’s greatest thinkers, as they attempted to understand the relationship between mind and body, thinking and action. Aristotle, René Descartes, and many Asian philosophies and spiritual traditions have dedicated volumes in an attempt to decipher the process. 21st century research has continued this study.
Most people have a natural tendency to consider themselves as more mind than body, a spiritual being that resides in a space just behind our eyes. Since we use our brain to think and interpret, many of us have a tendency to see that space in our heads as being where we reside, where our spirit, our essence, is located. Undoubtedly, this abstract essence, which we call the mind, is what tells us we are alive, our own command central that allows us to interpret, plan, control, and regulate everything that we experience. Our interpretations of events frequently get rather complicated, at times even overcomplicated. Our thoughts can be overwhelming and often paralyzing. Recent behavioral scientific research shows that there is a way to keep our minds in check and make our lives more fulfilling if we understand both sides of the mind body connection.
The mind-body connection is not a one-way relationship. Thinking about the mind as in control the body is running your life on half throttle. Recent research done at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and other research institutes implies that the relationship between mind and body is more of a reciprocal relationship than was once thought. While the mind undoubtedly controls the body, the body has an almost equal relationship in its ability to influence the mind. Understanding of these concepts can radically change and influence a person’s behavior, leading them to attain their full potential in multiple areas of their lives. Put in very simple terms, the mind controls the body, the body influences the mind.
“If you train the body, the mind will follow.” – Ross Enamait
Recent research done at Harvard University shows that people who are trained to use their body and physiology can create a better mindset going into stressful work-related situations such as job interviews, presentations, and confrontations with co-workers. Being optimally ready for these situations obviously requires mental preparation, visualization, and rehearsal, things that most of us do before these events. What frequently happens is that, just as we get to the critical point in the interaction, a little bit of doubt comes in, we accept the doubt as a truth, and both our bodies and minds run with it, causing us to perform not quite as well as we had hoped we would. Anyone who says that this has never happened to them is probably lying, we’ve all been there. If we’re lucky, we do okay in these situations, but deep down inside we know we could have done better. Our gut instinct is correct. These situations can be remedied by an understanding of how our physiology influences performance.
Researcher Amy Cuddy, from Harvard University school of business, suggests that prior to stressful social and occupational situations that we engage in what she calls “power poses.” These are consciously practiced stances, body positions, and activities where we are engaged in expensive, expressive, and powerful body positions. (See how to power pose here: http://mindbodycoach.org/need-confidence-power-pose/ ) One of the simplest way to be in an empowering physical state is to be aware of posture – shoulders back and down, breathing in a controlled manner from the abdomen. This powerful physical position sends signals to the brain that we are in control, capable and powerful. Our performance in these social situations can’t help but be improved by the sense of body control that this posture gives us. Control your body and you will control your mind.
The creature comforts of modern living, for all their conveniences, tend to create disempowering physical states that, unfortunately for all of us, have become the norm. Not too many of us get up in the morning to moderately demanding physical activities such as gathering eggs, milking cows, tending to domesticated animals, and starting a fire for the day. These tasks, although tedious and difficult, would set you up for a feeling of control, take charge, and “can do,” starting you off in a more powerful and assertive mindset. These physical activities would send a signal to your brain that you are capable, competent, and able to handle whatever that day would throw at you. There are, however, ways that these basic human activities can be replicated:
⦁ Morning exercise. Human beings were built to adapt to physical stress. We’ve known this for a long time but have only realized recently the impact that morning exercise can have on our mental health, motivation, and feelings of competence. Yeah, I know many of you are saying, “I don’t have time to get to the gym before work.” You don’t need a gym to engage in some power producing morning rituals. Stretch before getting out of bed, bang out a few sets of push-ups and sit-ups, open your window in engage in some deep breathing where you stand upright and fill your torso from the abdomen upward, throwing your arms back and upward powerfully. Five minutes is enough time to set your brain in a powerful, more confident, and assertive mindset.
⦁ Be conscious of your body position throughout the day. Many of us sit at desks, have long commutes, and sedentary jobs where machines do all the work. Be sure to get up every hour and take a five-minute or so break. Engage in some sort of mild physical activity during these breaks, making a conscious effort to improve your physiological state. You will return to work not only clearheaded, but feeling more capable and more likely to utilize your full potential and work capacity. (See also “Death By Desk.” http://mindbodycoach.org/death-desk/ )
⦁ Become aware of your breathing throughout the day. Breathing is obviously a necessity for life, but it is a way to control your emotional state. When we are stressed, deep control breathing sends off a signal to the brain that we are okay and will survive. It creates feelings of physical calm and control. Remember, control your physiology and you control your mind.
⦁ Smile! A smile has been proven to be in instant mood elevator. It’s very difficult to be sad when you are smiling. In addition to the obvious rapport that it will build with others, research indicates that it can improve your life span. (See also, “Smile, It’s Good For You.” http://mindbodycoach.org/smile-good/ )
⦁ Be aware of your hand and arm gestures as you communicate. Good communicators instinctively know that physiology conveys more information than words. Numerous studies have suggested that perhaps as much is 90% of human communication is nonverbal. Powerful hand gestures, arm movements, and pauses in speech not only are good for your audience, but also sends signals to you that you are confident in your material, you know what you’re doing, and you believe fully what you are saying.
⦁ Warm up like an athlete. Prior to stressful situations, engage in some warm-up style physical activity. There are reasons that all athletes stretch before competition, baseball players swing weighted bats, and boxers shadowbox. These reasons are not merely physical. Before a stressful situation, find a quiet space where you can engage in some physical activity to help set yourself up for success, go for a brief walk with some deep breathing, or find someplace to practice power posing.
It’s pretty common that most people can identify with feeling better during the warm summer months, particularly if you live in an environment that has a full range of seasons. People tend to be less depressed, more physically active, and enjoy a greater sense of well-being that most attribute to sunshine and warm temperatures. While warmth and sunshine are beneficial to this feeling, don’t underestimate the role played by the increase in physical activity at most people engage in. Find ways to engage in meaningful physical activity regardless of the season or climate that you are in.
When considering the mind body connection, don’t forget to also consider the body mind connection. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
“Action beats reaction every time.” – Tony Blauer
P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org