top of page

Are Your Mind and Body Connected for the Best Health Benefits?

Updated: Apr 5

The mind-body connection: Perhaps we’ve all heard about the importance of the mind-body connection for what feels like forever. But, if we are to live in “unprecedented times” in perpetuity, don’t you think it’s important to get a good grasp on what this pillar of well-being means? What exactly is the mind-body connection? How do you improve it, and why is it important? The mind-body connection is, in essence, the notion that our recurring thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our physical bodies and their well-being. Thoughts matter! The brain is a powerhouse organ that releases hormone chemicals in response to emotional events. These chemicals flow through our bodies and influence physiological functions. In other words, our minds can affect how healthy our bodies feel. And in return, our mental well-being is greatly impacted by how we treat our physical bodies - what we eat, how we move, how much we sleep, etc. Below are just a few other ways we can lend a helping hand to our minds and our bodies. 

 

The Usual Suspects:

  • Sleep! Sleep can be such a wonderful gift to those who have a good relationship with it. However, it’s completely understandable to have a changing relationship with sleep throughout your life due to life circumstances. However, sleep is a pretty good indicator of our health and well-being. Stress and anxiety often trigger bouts of insomnia; the mind’s racing thoughts don’t allow for a proper wind-down. Chronic pain and illness can also prevent a good night’s sleep. In return, missing out on proper sleep can exacerbate any chronic health conditions, creating a continuous negative cycle. There are ways to improve your sleep, though, like, adopting a sleep routine and practicing good sleep hygiene. Check out this previous blog for more tips. 


  • Exercise: The benefits of exercise go far beyond just toning certain muscles or expanding the distance to run (honestly, running up the stairs is good enough for me). With every movement made, there are sensory receptors sending information to your brain about what’s going on, how this feels, and how to do it again. When you practice intentional movement through exercise, your mind becomes more aware of the physical nature of your body and its relationship to movement and space, increasing your physical awareness. This can have an impact on your perception of yourself. Example: “I’m much stronger than I once was because now I can lift a weight that I once could not.”

  • Meditation: Meditation is an excellent tool to increase your mind-body connection. It helps you build mindfulness by increasing awareness of your body’s sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Research has shown that meditation can reduce stress, increase attention spans, promote emotional health, improve self-awareness, and reduce blood pressure, among so much else!


 

Going a little further:

  • Sauna: Incorporating heat therapy into a regular routine has been found to promote relaxation and relieve stress and tension. Routine use has been found to improve sleep, release endorphins, and improve the mind-body connection through a sensory experience. And it’s even better to couple a sauna experience with a cold plunge!

  • Cold Plunge: There’s a reason why we’ve seen some of the world’s top athletes submerged in ice baths. Plunging yourself into cold water for short periods of time has many physical and mental benefits; even more so if followed after a sauna. The National Library of Medicine has found that being exposed to cold water helps to stimulate your immune response while also reducing anxiety, depression, and inflammation, boosts physical stamina and resilience, and helps reduce chronic pain. 

  • Breathwork: Breathwork is a connection between your conscious and unconscious mind. Focussing on your breath pulls awareness to your physical body in ways you may not have noticed if you’re just going about your day. It’s especially helpful in moments of stress to help regulate emotions. There are many different types of breathing techniques out there, but some basics are: 

  • The 4-7-8 breath for when you’re feeling overwhelmed: this technique from Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, helps slow down and calm the body by slowing your heart rate and bringing awareness to your physical body in the present moment. It’s especially helpful when feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or angry. To do the 4-7-8 breathing technique, you first empty your lungs of air. Then, breathe through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale out of the mouth for 8 seconds, and repeat at least four times. As you breathe in, picture in your mind’s eye the sweet, gentle nature of earth, mountains, trees, plants, and flowers coming up into your body. As you hold your breath, imagine the breath spiraling up through the center of your body and pulling out any energy or thought that does not serve you out of every corner of your body. Then, while exhaling for 8 seconds, imagine that anxious energy releasing out of your mouth, and visualize a beam of light connecting your body to the earth by pouring through the top of your head down through your body to your feet, and then finally through the earth below you.

  • Box Breathing for concentration: Box Breathing, or 4-4-4-4 breathing, is linked to the Navy SEALs. This technique can slow the heart rate and sharpen focus. It promotes efficiency while also working to relieve stress. It's an excellent tool to use in the morning as you’re waking up, during the middle of the day slump, or before an event that requires your focus. To practice box breathing, you start by emptying all the air from your lungs. Then, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe through the nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale out of the nose for 4 seconds. It’s recommended to repeat this cycle for 5 minutes to feel the effects.


Mapping Emotions: As the word implies, “feelings” are more than mental. They’re often felt throughout the physical body. We ask, “What does your gut tell you?” and describe anger as feeling “hot-headed.” The idea of mapping your emotions takes into consideration the fact that certain neurons and muscles affect mental states such as stress, anger, happiness, etc. Essentially, it asks you to color in the spots on your body where you feel the most activity in correlation to your emotions. In a Finnish study, researchers asked over 700 participants to color where they felt activity in their body during a range of emotional states. The results for six basic emotions are shown in the image below. Yellow indicates the highest level of activity, followed by red. Black is neutral, while blue and light blue indicate lowered and very low activity, respectively.



This mapping exercise demonstrates a clear connection between the mind and the body. It is an excellent tool for recognizing where you feel your feelings and is powerful in the treatment of mental health disorders and many other chronic disorders.

 

As we’ve seen, the mind-body connection is a two-way relationship, for better or worse. To reinforce this connection, you can seek to improve your physical or mental health through these and many other exercises.

Comments


bottom of page