There is such a deep connection between the mind and the body.
When Descartes said, “I think therefore I am,” it’s debatable whether he had any idea just how deeply true his observations were. Our mind shapes our physical bodies from the inside out and can chart the course for the negative or positive outcome of our lives.
The same goes for our physical health. When one suffers the other suffers, and our outward reality suffers.
To get to that higher sense of self, that ideal future, we must embrace the mind-body connection and learn how to harness this truth for our growth. For those on a healing journey, that means learning how to nurture and repair the physical elements of the body while holding space for the mind to expand and elevate.
Is there a link between the emotional mind and the body?
Our understanding of the mind-body connection is growing larger every day. More and more, science is proving that our bodies affect our emotional minds and vice versa. Negative thoughts can erode our physical health. Poor physical health can create negative thoughts and beliefs that affect mental and emotional health.
Neither system can exist without the other. For the body to thrive it needs a healthy mind. For a healthy mind to exist, the body must thrive.
When we say “the mind” we’re not referring only to the physical elements of the brain. That’s the brain. The mind is much bigger than the brain. It’s our thoughts, our memories, our perception of self, our ideologies, and the way we view the world.
Our mind is the gateway to our internal world, it’s also the foundation of it. Undeniably, it is connected to and affected by our bodies and the way they function physically.
The chemistry behind it all.
Before anyone dismisses it as hokum, there is a chemical basis for the mind-body connection. The thoughts and emotions that are triggered by your experiences in the world can create chemical reactions in your body that have a direct effect on your physical health. Take cortisol, for example, a stress hormone produced by the kidneys.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone released into the body when we are anxious or fearful. It increases the glucose in the blood and makes it harder for your body to repair its tissues.
Even worse, it can damage immune function, dysregulate digestive function, harm the reproductive system, and even impair the body’s natural development.
Get too much cortisol in your system for too long and you could be looking at weight gain, weight loss, cardiac issues, chronic illness, chronic pain, and even conditions like endometriosis and IBS. Stress isn’t just an emotion you feel in the mind. It’s a physical, chemical reaction happening in the body to the overall detriment of your health and happiness.
What you think you are.
Beyond the chemistry of the mind-body connection, there are the more ethereal (yet still evidence-backed) aspects to consider. Specifically, the concept that how we think directly impacts the reality we live in. It’s not up for debate anymore. The quality of your thoughts and how you think take a toll on your physical health and well-being.
Our emotions and the quality of our thoughts shape the output of our lives. Just look at any highly critical and negative person.
If someone is overwhelmed by negative thoughts in their head, they put more of their focus on negative events externally. This can affect their mood, which then affects their interactions with others.
As the feedback they get grows increasingly negative, their behaviors grow increasingly negative. They may stop taking care of themselves or become isolated.
Little by little, their health deteriorates. Studies have shown that realistic, healthy, positive thinking has the power to encourage healthier immune systems and healthier lifestyles (primarily because it encourages more healthy behavior).
What you think you are. To give your body the best chance, you have to seek the most positive outlook possible while remaining realistic in the present moment.
How can we improve our healing journey by nourishing the mind-body connection?
Understanding how our mind is interlinked with our physical body is powerful. With this knowledge, we can take better care of ourselves, set healthier limits, and give ourselves the best chance at a happy future. Working with both our thoughts and our physical well-being can quite literally change the quality of our lives.
1. Taking care of the physical
Are you someone who has been on a mental health journey for a while? Maybe you’ve done a lot of therapy and read a lot of books, but something still isn’t clicking. Physical care must be incorporated. Your mind isn’t going to magically heal if you’re still punishing yourself inside of your body.
This has to happen on a couple of levels. First, if you are someone who has survived a lot of trauma, you have to incorporate trauma-informed physical care. That has little to do with losing weight or focusing on the external physics of the body. You’ve got to look inward at nervous system-friendly techniques that can help you regulate your internal physical systems.
Next, you look at the external body. What must happen for you to feel your healthiest? Your happiest? Again, this has little to do with meeting superficial standards. Everyone’s “health” is different. Start by nourishing your brain with good foods first, then look at your outer body.
Where do you feel the most strong? The most able to complete the tasks that are important to you in your life? It doesn’t matter what those tasks are. The goal post for your healthiest physical body should be the most empowered form. The better you feel in your body, the easier it is to elevate the mind.
2. Holding space for the mind
The physical body is balanced and addressed, and dealing with the emotional mind, the deeper part of ourselves, becomes much easier. Here, it’s all about expansion and acceptance. That’s where the real power of the mind lies, in being unbridled and accepted for the wholeness of its emotional experiences.
When you “hold space” for the mind, you hold space for self-exploration.
Start by mapping out your emotions. No, not just the good ones. You need to get comfortable feeling your feelings (all of them) and questioning where they come from and how to resolve them. That can be a scary process when you’ve only been taught how to embrace your happiness.
Begin simply. Sit in a quiet space for 5–10 minutes and imagine that you are a driver on a bus. Close your eyes and see passengers coming on and off the bus, each one is a different emotion. Feel them as they pass by, examine them. Give them a face and a name. Then let them pass after a few minutes. Allow them to move on after a quick “hello” and a couple of pleasant questions.
After you’ve had a chance to grow more comfortable with your full emotional body, target your values. What matters most to you in this life? What is most important to you? Align yourself with the things that give you purpose and excitement for the life you are building.
3. Seeking a mindful path
Mindfulness is an absolute cornerstone of the healing and wholeness journey. You cannot have one without the other. Being more mindful doesn’t mean going to a yoga class or even doing daily meditations (though it can certainly mean those things too).
True mindfulness is being aware of your mind, your body, and the needs shared between the two. To be mindful is to understand who you are, where you’re going, and how to be a decent human to others.
It all starts with empathy. We build on the emotional awareness above and expand that. Understanding that our journey is a variation of everyone around us and that the people we love have the same feelings, empowers us to move through life in a more compassionate and understanding way.
From there we can build more positive emotional interactions, which provide positive reinforcement that encourages us to live deeper lives. We become more comfortable in our bodies and the decisions we’re making. In many ways, we expand our investment in the world and within that become more aware of who we are.
We get better and better at meeting our needs in a healthy way.
4. Creating better balance
Embracing the mind-body connection is more like building a puzzle than receiving a hug. You have to come into a deeper communion with both your mind and your body, finding the ideal balance between the two. That balance is what brings you peace. It’s what helps you to feel safe, fulfilled, and driven to make it through this otherwise brutal life. Everyone’s balance is different, however, and finding it plays out much the same.
What’s important for you to do is make time.
Make time to take care of the “mind” and take time to care for the body. A million excuses will get in the way. Family, children, work, friends, all of it is going to put you in a place where you’ll be tempted to say, “I’ll just do that thing for myself tomorrow,” but tomorrow never comes.
You’re either going to make time for yourself or you’re not. No one else is going to do it for you. To find this sweet spot between a happy mind and a body that can support it, you have to make space for yourself to spend time with yourself. Self-discovery happens in the throes of private experience and self-seeking.
Want to get into a balanced state? Then get better at balancing the time you make for internal and external self-improvement.
The mind-body connection is undeniable. Now, more than ever perhaps, we know that the way we think shapes our physical health and vice versa. The person who spends their life suffering in their body will also struggle in the mind. When the mind is sucked into a vortex of misery, the body is chemically affected in ways that can be hard to repair.
We must find the balance for ourselves. Nurturing our bodies, and nurturing our minds, it’s all a part of learning how to love ourselves and the lives blooming right before us.
© E.B. Johnson 2023