The Fastest Route to Change
Chances are, if you’ve hit up a yoga class, listened to a health podcast, or perused an article in the science section of the paper in the past year, you’ve come across the phrase “mind-body connection.” In the last couple decades, the term has gradually made its way from the fringes of alternative biomedical science and into the mainstream cultural lexicon. It’s now referenced in contexts such as meditation, stress reduction, leadership development, disease management, and neurological research.
But what is the actual anatomic correlation between body and mind? Moreover, why is that correlation so crucial to optimizing one’s well-being? The answer: understanding how to leverage your physiology can better equip you to move through life’s challenges and uncertainties, enabling you to unlock feelings of self-determination, to increase optionality in your range of responses to life, and most importantly, to quickly gain access to feelings of peace, fulfillment, and joy. Sound appealing? Let’s begin with a brief inquiry into what the mind-body connection actually is. (Those craving a more thorough, annotated exploration with specific case studies can find more here!)
Think of your brain like your body’s central processor; it regulates and controls functions. Your nervous system acts like your body’s electrical wiring network. Its job is to perceive physical sensations, then communicate those sensations to your brain, aiding in the construction of neural pathways. These neural pathways help inform the way you think, learn, move, and behave. Meanwhile, your brain is constantly assessing how to make logical sense of these physical sensations, constructing emotional responses in real time. These responses go on to inform your feelings and moods, and ultimately, your actions. The entire process happens incredibly fast, and almost always subconsciously.
It’s important to remember that human beings have evolved to be efficient. We tend to default to previously established neural connections, and thus, habituated ways of responding to sensation and the corollary action we take. In some instances, this is helpful (an unexpected object is moving quickly towards my head; I instantly raise my arms to protect myself), yet in some cases, it’s not (I see an email come in from my boss, and immediately begin to panic). In both conscious and unconscious ways, our extant neural pathways have been informed by past triumphs and challenges, judgements and conclusions, traumas and rewards. And as a result, deeply embedded habits and tendencies live in our bodies—inside the actual tissues and organs—of which the brain is only one.
These tendencies precede us in every interaction with life, impacting our mood, relationships, performance, and behavior. This immutable connection between mind and body is why it’s so easy to get stuck in detrimental thinking traps or anxious sensations; it’s why it’s so challenging to alter one’s behavior, even when firmly setting out to do otherwise. But what if your mind-body connection had the potential to perform more elegantly, more intentionally? Imagine: with skilled practice, this intrinsic function you already possess could be utilized to help evolve who you are, and positively influence how you experience your life.
By orienting to meaningful outcomes, and mindfully engaging the whole body with simple practices, one can amplify awareness, identify ineffective patterns, and begin to embody different actions, skills, and values. This isn't just a conceptual idea, or a resolution to behave differently. It's the literal construction of new neural connections. In this way, leveraging your mind-body connection is perhaps the most direct route to dismantling habitual tendencies which no longer serve you, and enables your capacity to grow into exactly who you want to become, today. This is the methodology behind somatic coaching.
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