The word body-mind has become very popular in the wellness vernacular. Perhaps it brings images of waking up early in the morning, a smoothie humming in the blender, and getting out for that early morning jog before whisking off to work.
While the body-mind connection does include maintaining a healthy body, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating a healthy diet, there is more to this commonly used phrase than checking your doctor-recommended wellness tips off the list.
For generations in the Western world, the body has been treated in a purely utilitarian way. The body is there to get you from point A to point B. In this body scheme, if you do take an interest in your health, it is most likely that the body will continue to behave as you need it to or appear beautiful and fit from the outside, regardless of how you feel.
This body ethos also tends to prize the prefrontal cortex very highly. The human organism is treated in a mechanical way divorced from its context. This way of going through the world works very well, particularly for high-achievers who can compartmentalize their feelings and keep their eye on more worldly goals.
Until it doesn’t. We humans are not walking heads that can be permanently cut off from our context. The ignored body will eventually groan loudly enough to wake up the sleep-walking human who has put the body’s more subtle indicators on mute.
This can look like having a tragic accident, getting an illness, burning out mentally and/or emotionally, getting divorced unexpectedly, getting fired, etc.
Note that learning to live in body-mind alignment is an art. Even the most in-tune person will occasionally find themselves abruptly “woken up” to some overlooked aspect of their life; this is being human).
When we use the term body-mind, it refers to the relationship between the thinking mind and the feeling organism. This understanding has existed traditionally in cultures the world over. To align body and mind is to allow the body’s innate intelligence to impulse you toward the right actions and intuitive knowing. It also refers to creating emotional and physical health by intentionally directing thought; “where attention goes, energy flows.¨”
In this way, the body-mind can be related to in a top-down and bottom-up way. In fact, to talk about body-mind as a duality is somewhat misleading because, in reality, the brain and body are inextricably intertwined. But to begin building this lived experience of relationality between all parts of your mind and body, this can be a helpful place to start.
The Language of the Body
To give you some scientific evidence of this body-mind, let me start by sharing some research. Did you know that your gut is filled with neurons? In fact, it has been coined ¨the second brain.¨ This gut-brain is called the enteric nervous system, and scientists have found that it influences our thinking and emotions as much or more than our cerebral brain. Hence the saying, What does your gut tell you? The internal sense of the body, or interoception, that body-mind practices cultivate helps build self-awareness.
Have you ever experienced a hunch? Had a gut impulse? Had a knee-jerk reaction? Did you ever feel that you couldn’t stomach something? All of these common sayings are clever ways of giving language to the body-mind. The body communicates through sensations like pain, upset stomach, butterflies of excitement, goosebumps of resonance, the heart beating faster, shortness of breath, taking a deep breath, yawning, getting inexplicably hot or cold, and any host of other physical indicators and/or health ailments. These are the manifestations of the body responding to events and circumstances and to the mental-emotional input we feed it. In short, the body speaks through feelings and body sensations to let us know if we are a “yes”, “no”, or a “maybe” to life’s circumstances.
To offer a further entry point to understand the body-mind, I want to introduce you to Dr. Masaru Emoto, the best-selling Japanese author of the book, The Hidden Messages in Water. His research points to the influence that our mental-emotional thought forms have on our bodies.
During experimentation with water, he found that when frozen, the water crystals labeled with negative words formed ugly misshapen water crystals while the water labeled with positive words formed beautiful symmetrical crystal formations. The implication of his work for humans is huge when you take into account that humans are made up of approximately 60% water.
Why the Mind-Body Connection Matters Greatly for Relationships and Intimacy
1- Better Sex
Body-mind alignment leads to more sensorial sensitivity. This means you readily know what you like and what you don’t like. Sensitivity also leads to an expansion of pleasurable sensations and an amplified emotional connection between you and your partner.
2- Fewer Misunderstandings, More Attunement
Body-mind alignment leads to greater emotional attunement between you and your partner. Attunement is like the sensitivity and attentiveness a parent brings to their newborn baby to interpret what they are feeling and needing. Body-mind alignment strengthens this empathy and intuition.
3- Attract a Good Mate and Keep Them
Body-mind alignment supports a relaxed nervous system by quieting the ¨fight-flight-freeze-appease¨ instinct. Those who live from the ¨rest & digest¨ part of their nervous systems are more likely to attract a good mate if they want one and trust them enough to open up to true intimacy, which makes for a happy relationship.
Learning to Listen to the Body
So how do we build attunement to the body’s impulses and the riches of information it provides when we have muted these signals for so long?
1- Connect To The Breath
Notice the sensations of breathing. The air entering and leaveing your nose. The rising and falling of your chest and belly. The relaxation of your muscles. The contraction and expansion of your diaphragm. What happens when you slow your breath? Speed it up? Lengthen the outbreath?
2- Slow Things Down
Slowing down creates more sensitivity. We tend to move in habitual, ritualized ways, and the result can be that we don’t feel the richness of the moment, and our actions lack spontaneity. As you go through your day, occasionally half your speed and bring awareness to everything you are doing.
3- Soothe With Touch
Learn to soothe your own nervous system using touch. Stroke your face and hair with your fingertips. Squeeze your hands and arms. Massage your feet or press into the ball of the foot (Kidney-1 acupressure point). As you move your hands over each part of your physical body, say to yourself, “hello, hand (forearm, knee, etc.)”
4- Go Into Nature
Nature speaks the language of body-mind and naturally awakens the senses. Go into your garden, hike in the woods, sit by a lake, and gaze at the clouds. Notice the smells, textures, colors, and sounds. Notice the sensation of the breeze on your face. How does the sound of a bird penetrate your body? If nature doesn’t appeal to you or isn’t accessible, tune into the sensations of your morning shower.
There are countless styles and teachers of meditation, so I won’t bore you with techniques, but in my experience, meditation’s biggest benefit is that it slows thinking and turns the volume up on feeling. The intention is not to stop thinking but rather to notice that you are thinking and to disidentify from the thoughts. With practice, a sense of open receptivity will grow.
The body-mind connection is a reciprocal relationship. The body communicates through intuitive sensorial language, giving us information on what choices feel better or worse as we navigate life.
Likewise, the way we think and feel influences how the physical body functions. Cultivating and nurturing an attuned sensitivity to the messages of the body has benefits not only for our health and self-realization but also for love and intimacy. Body-mind alignment creates stronger, long-lasting relationships, better sex, and greater empathy between partners.