Modern Psychology often focuses on the mind as central to understanding mental health, but given the brain is part of the body and is not exclusive to it, what if a more integrative approach is needed? What can our body teach us about mental health? Our bodies often get a hard time – by us being unhappy with the way they look, how they perform, or because we are experiencing pain or discomfort etc. But have we considered that our bodies could be a blessing and provide the key to supporting us to greater clarity and mental health?
Our bodies come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing in common is they give us messages about how we are living on a daily basis
For example, our bodies let us know when we have eaten enough food. But how often do we ignore these messages and just overeat? Have you noticed that your body sends you a message that you are:
Exhausted as you have stayed up too late and it is time to go to bed
Tense because you have been stressed at work
Cold because you did not consider that when you went out that night you might need a jumper
Whilst these may seem like very basic messages from the body why is it that we so often override them? And what effect is this having on our mental health and wellbeing?
What would life look like if we listened to the simple messages we were getting constantly from the body? Scenario One: Kim is going to the movies with her partner. She leaves in a rush and despite feeling the cold she neglects to go back inside to get a jumper. In the cinema the air conditioning makes her even colder and she can’t enjoy the movie. Her body is clenched from the cold and she starts to feel annoyed. When she walks out of the cinema her boyfriend makes an off the cuff comment and she finds herself reacting and frustrated with him. Over dinner it turns into an argument and the whole evening feels tense between them. Scenario Two: Kim is going to the movies with her partner. She leaves herself enough time to have a hot shower before she goes and she lays out her favourite mohair jumper for herself because she can feel it is a bit cold out. In the cinema the air conditioning is cold but she feels cozy in her jumper and snuggles up to her partner to share the warmth. When she walks out of the cinema her body feels relaxed and open, she is not steeling herself against the cold because her body is completely supported by her earlier choices. Her boyfriend makes an off the cuff comment but she feels too settled and content in herself to react to it. Over dinner she brings it up with him with a genuine openness and understanding and he feels supported to open up about what was behind it, and they are able to address it together.
Is it possible that we trace back the root of many issues in an overriding of the bodies basic messages? We are very good at focusing on the ‘big’ issues but what if the key to unlocking these big issues is in the subtle details we ignore? Details our bodies are masters at bringing our attention to.
We know that the simple act of walking each day can have a positive impact on people suffering depression but beyond the mere physical function of walking, have we considered that the way we move might affect our moods? Further to this have we considered that the quality we move with will also have an impact? Scenario One: Jim decides to go for a walk for 30 mins to improve his fitness. He walks fast and times himself to try to beat his time from the day before. During his walk he finds himself pre-occupied with worries about work. He is wearing old and worn trainers and after a while his ankles start to feel sore. The walk goes by in a flash and when he gets home he continues to be stressed about the work-day ahead. Scenario Two: Jim connects to his body and feels that it would be supportive to go for a walk. He doesn’t push to go fast for the sake of a achieving a personal best time, he listens to his body and feels the pace that will best support him that day. Jim doesn’t let his mind wander, instead he focuses on his feet making contact with the ground and feels the quality of movement in his body- where is there tension, can he release the tension in his shoulder more, are his hands relaxed? Does his body feel open? He connects to the warmth in his body and it supports him to surrender. His movements feel fluid and spacious. He is wearing trainers that are super supportive and cushioned and he enjoys the feeling of the spring in each step. When he gets home there is a feeling of settledness and preparedness for the day ahead. He feels capable of dealing with what ever will come his way. Not only does his body get a work out but he also feels great about himself. What if we listened to the simple messages of the body each day and began to take heed of them, is it possible that our bodies might be able to guide us to live more health and wellness? In other words, is it possible that these messages can greatly support us to take loving care of ourselves, if we listen to them and act on them? But if our bodies are giving us wise messages on how to live, why do we ignore them? In other words, why would we make choices from our minds at the expense of our body? For example, a person may choose to keep working at the office even if after they become aware that their body is exhausted and it is time to go home. To keep going they may even drink coffee to give their body an artificial energy boost, but does this really address the exhaustion or is it just a quick fix?
We identify as being the most evolved species on the planet, and yet compared to all others we are far more self-abusive. So why is it that human beings are so good at making choices that are against their own body? Why is it so easy to pollute our own body when we then have to live in it 24/7? We ought to have far more community discussions about this issue to address what truly underlies our long history of self-abusive human behaviour. And beyond discussion we can start to initiate the simple acts of self-care that inevitably provide the anti-dote to the self-abuse that has become the norm in our day-to-day lives. In this way we can begin to more deeply consider and appreciate the great importance of caring for the body in relation to our understandings of mental health.
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.
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