Understanding the Mind-Body Connection
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach on your first date? Or experienced racing heartbeat when you got caught? Or even goosebumps when hearing ghost stories?
These unforeseen sensations are intriguing, aren’t they?
It’s mind-boggling to comprehend how our thoughts and feelings can positively or negatively impact our biological functioning, which makes it evident: “We” are not just our bodies.
Our bodies have taken shape through physiological, biochemical constituents, and environmental factors, making it a powerful storehouse of immense impressions and energies. “WE” exist in our bodies to experience life and evolve consciously.
But, for our bodies to function efficiently and sustain, we need to follow certain healthy habits, like eating good food, exercising regularly, sleeping well, self-expression, etc. These actions are driven by our emotions, which in turn are controlled by our MIND.
The mind is a non-physical state of matter which consists of flow of information. Memory, perception, thoughts, reasoning, and attention constitute our mind.
Emotions are a natural state of response to our physiological changes. Every day, our bodies are exposed to external and internal stress and experience complex emotions. To cope with the engulfing emotions and survive, our body’s fight, flight and freeze mechanism jumps to the rescue.
Fight, Flight & Freeze Mechanism
Our hormones and neurotransmitters are constantly trying to communicate about any signs of dysfunction or danger occurring internally or externally. But the number of hormones produced, or the neural connections established, depend on our feelings, expectations, and thoughts.
Thoughts influence our desire to act. What we think and believe have the power to either heal or destroy us. Researchers say that an average person has more than 6,000 thoughts a day. But how effectively we process these thoughts and use these to navigate our lives depends on their quality. Continuous positive reinforcement can alter our brain’s circuitry and chemistry, which in turn can change our perception and behavior.
What we consume daily can modify our brain’s chemistry. A person who has nutritional deficiencies tends to have poorer neural connections than the one who eats healthy. Nutrient dense food can help in production and maintenance of “good” bacteria in the gut, which in turn reduces inflammation, elevates moods, and affects the quality of our thoughts.
How do we fuel our brain to optimize its performance?
- Eating low fat, low cholesterol, high protein food like yogurt, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, leafy vegetables support healthy body functions and boost energy.
- Adding some foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants like berries and seafood boosts immunity and cognitive functions.
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water, fruit juices, and coconut water maintains body temperature and promotes smooth functioning of our internal mechanism.
- Breathing is an unconscious process. But are we doing it right? Let’s check our breath score by taking this test. First, take 3 breaths and then hold your breath and start counting until you can no longer hold. If you score below 12, it means you’re highly stressed.Breathing the right way supplies our body with sufficient energy to function efficiently. The right way to breathe is through the nose, and then gently bringing it down to your belly; as the diaphragm contracts, the belly expands to fill the lungs. Slow and steady breaths can change the response of our nervous system. Controlled and mindful breathing can calm the nervous system and boost immunity.
Detoxification is as important as consumption. Every day, our body produces tons of toxins in the form of uric acid and other chemicals. It’s important to flush toxins out of the system as soon as possible to prevent physical illness and mental fog.
Along with the biological toxins, our body produces mental toxins in the form of pain, fear and negative thoughts. These toxins can be exterminated by releasing some endorphins, which is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for elevating mood and relieving pain.
How do we detoxify the biological and mental toxins?
Break a sweat
- Exercising for at least 30 mins a day flushes out toxins from the body in the form of sweat, which in turn improves metabolism, relieves pain, and strengthens bones and muscles. Running, brisk walking, playing some sport, performing yoga or even making simple lifestyle changes like taking the stairs and doing household chores can do the job. Inculcating any of these practices can impact our life positively and create inner harmony.
Catch some Zzzzs
- Inadequate duration and poor quality of sleep can produce toxins in the brain, which in turn results in mental fog and impaired sensory processes. A good quality and quantity of deep sleep, which occurs early in the sleep cycle, regulates hormones and detoxifies the brain. On the other hand, REM sleep, which occurs later in the sleep cycle, improves cognitive abilities and processes. Hampering your sleep can cut down your REM sleep, resulting in poor performance.Following consistent sleep hygiene like reduction of caffeine before going to bed, switching off the gadgets, cutting down complex mental processing tasks, and having a light meal and a warm shower, along with medication and therapy in case of insomnia, can enhance functioning of the brain
Nutrition is not only limited to food. It also involves interaction with self and our relationships. Every day, we’re exposed to irrelevant information and malevolent behaviors, be it through social media, acquaintances, gossip, politics, etc. All these factors can be detrimental to the quality of our thoughts and overall wellness.
How do we address emotional and social well-being?
Protect your energies:
- Toxic people are those who physically and emotionally drain our energy. They’re either abusive, manipulative or not in support of our overall well-being. We can be mindful of our relationship by understanding our feelings and bodily sensations towards them and then decide to either leave or set boundaries.A good relationship builds self-esteem and brings joy into our life. And how do we do it? We create a sanctuary, a happy place where we feel loved, valued, and happy.
- Expressive writing, known as journaling, is an effective emotional management tool. Stressors, trapped emotions, and new difficult experiences can be hard to comprehend. Journaling attunes us to all these needs and desires while being present in the moment. It provides an opportunity to regulate our emotions, relieve stress, and improve clarity of thoughts.How do we go about it? By writing down the way we think and feel, identifying negative thoughts and behaviors, reminding ourselves that we’re listening to our inner voice and doing good for our mind and body. Also, writing down the things that we’re grateful for can have a transformative impact on our mood and the way we see life.
- Meditation is training the mind in awareness. Here, we sit still with our thoughts and slowly start focusing on our breath. The goal of meditation is to get our monkey mind slowly and gently to its safe space, where we’re attuned with our inner self.A simple way to get started is by breathing through the nose and feeling our belly expanding and contracting. Gradually, pay attention to the tightness in the muscles, and so on. Then, imagine a white light entering your body through the toes and filling it up all the way to your head. Continue doing this until you feel relaxed and positive.
Seek professional help
- Mind/body work is understanding how our physical sensations respond/react to our feelings and thoughts. It’s performed by tracking down the sensation as soon as we feel it. A combination of meditation, breath work, and muscle relaxation techniques are practiced for calming effects.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps people identify and evaluate their unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs and modify those into healthy behaviors.
- Neurofeedback is a biofeedback for the brain. Neurofeedback brain training can help in unlearning bad brain behaviors and replacing it with good brain behaviors. It provides the brain with the right tools to make new neural connections or strengthen the existing ones and boost overall brain performance.
The difference between emotional and mental health is the effect of cognitive abilities on functioning of the brain. The way we think and feel can affect the way we deal with day-to-day activities. Our ability to manage ourselves, relationships, work, hobbies, stress, and difficult situations and our way of bouncing back from adversity speak volumes about our mental health.
How do we enhance our mental health and achieve peak mental performance?
Hit the brain gym
- Playing brain games, learning new languages or new instruments, and taking a new route tend to improve cognitive skills.
- Doing something we’re passionate about like sketching, dancing, writing, and others once in a day can be a game changer. Creative expression releases repressed thoughts, relieves stress, and boosts self-esteem. Also, talking to someone, a friend, family, or anyone, and sharing our feelings will lighten our mood.
Our bodies constantly give internal cues, but most of the time, we are either in denial or disconnected from self. Mostly, we rely on external advice from Google or our friends to check our symptoms without actively listening to what our body is trying to communicate.
If you think you’re actively listening to your internal cues, then take this test.
- Write down your internal cues and close your book.
- Now, take the below mentioned test and make sure to observe your body without any judgements. Stay true to your feelings.
- Take 4 to 5 deep belly breaths.
- Release muscle tension.
- Count backwards from 30 to 0.
- Now, tell yourself “I’m safe here.”
- Once you feel safe and comfortable, place your hand on your safe spot; it might be your chest, belly, palm, or face.
- Now ask yourself: What are you feeling? Happy, neutral, anxious, sad, disgust, angry? Feel the sensation and rate its intensity on a scale of 10.
- Also, remind yourself that you’re in the safest spot and you’re here to listen to your body. There’s nothing to be scared of. All you must do is feel and acknowledge your feelings.
- Repeat this process on different spots of your body, from head to toe.
- You can try writing it down or marking the spots on a body map.
- Say this out loud: “I’m grateful for having a body that helps me fulfil my goals and dreams.”
How did you feel? Were you able to connect with your body?
Compare your results with step 1.
By now, you will have progressed a step ahead in strengthening your mind-body connection.
Mind-body intelligence cannot treat illness by itself, but it can help you become aligned with your inner self, face life’s challenges, build resilience, and assist medical care professionals to treat you better.
Mind-body intelligence is a gateway to achieve overall health and wellness.
Tell us: Which of these practices did you find interesting, and which one will you inculcate in your routine?
Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, a Neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain's true potential.