Connecting Mind Intelligence to Body Intelligence
Recognizing body intelligence is something I believe is a crucial aspect of attaining mind, body and spirit awareness because we, as a society, rarely give enough credit to the magnificence demonstrated by our bodies every single day. I mean, chances are your body already knows what you need more of (or less of) before your mind does. I’m currently writing this as my thigh muscles, glute and back muscles and biceps are all crying out to me through tightness and soreness having just attended one of Darcy Bellafonte’s hot body tone classes this week. I’m left feeling amazed with how much I was able to accomplish in one 60-minute fitness class; how far my boundaries were pushed yet how I responded to it in a different way than I normally would have in the past. Usually, it’s pretty easy for us to get upset with our bodies — maybe for the way fat has distributed itself in unwanted areas, or a lower level of stamina than we hoped for, maybe even for getting ‘sick’ or feeling fatigued. All these are examples of what I call an internal self-battle, where the mind is at conflict with what the body is doing and the body’s reaction sensations or responses.
Similarly for me, I’m quick to become impatient with myself when testing physical endurance and strength — if I don’t accomplish it on the first few tries, or if it feels too difficult at the beginning, I would stop because my mind has already made up that it’s not something for me. Like for this fitness class I took, I knew it would be challenging but I also assumed I’d accomplish everything and come out of it just fine. When I noticed a slight limp in my walk the next consecutive days and bodily aches all over, I made a point to try to minimize those thoughts and judgements of myself to focus on another point of view, one where I felt incredibly proud of myself for sticking through til the very end and pushing myself farther than I have in a long time. I was able to challenge my boundaries and cross different edges in a healthy, open-minded way and I was reminded of that every time I felt another stretch like that throughout the day. There was a lot of quarrelling going on between my mind and body throughout the class — my mind kept telling me that this was enough enough and I could not do anymore. But when I tuned those voices out I found that my body was actually capable of going further and deeper for longer. My sympathetic nervous system was super active and I was becoming nervous, anxious and full of doubt as my body was put under a level of stress it’s not really used to. I’m also someone who’s dealt with some stomach problems in the past, so some of my first thoughts were that I’m going to be sick in front of everyone in the class. I understand now that that was my mind was associating the physical sensations from an intense workout with becoming ill; my heart rate speeding up, beginning to sweat profusely, and quick and sharp breath were all signs my brain recognized as the moments before I would be sick. But I was able to realize that wasn’t actually what my body was telling me, I was able to differentiate that although the bodily sensations were similar, that wasn’t actually what was happening right now. I let go of that story my mind was telling me about myself, and took the sensations for face value. For example, rationalizing that I’m sweating because I‘m in a heated room and my body’s trying to cool me down, or that my breath is quick because I’m moving around so quickly. I was stripping away whatever associations I knew to be a past truth and not letting it dictate how I would move forward. And I know for a fact that if I had thought about becoming sick for any longer, I would have definitely had to run out of the class to puke, but only because I was holding onto that story. When I switched my focus onto something else, like the lyrics of the song that was playing in the room, or looking out the window and spotting a cat on the windowsill of the building across the street, those distractions allowed my body to take the lead and keep doing what it knew it could do.
Thinking back, I think the short or even absent breaths during moments of stress are one of automatic responses I have, like the ‘freeze’ from ‘fight, flight, or freeze,’ where it’s a common strategy used to remain as silent as possible in a moment of danger. I try my best to notice it quickly and when I do, I know that by taking slow, deep and diaphragmatic breaths I will help soothe those reactions by activating my parasympathetic nervous system and my body will begin to relax to it’s normal resting state. So, the next time you notice unpleasant sensations arising in your body, try not to create a story about it; notice it, but try letting go of what you think it’s the cause of, and try tuning into what your body is saying it needs right now and how you can provide.
The reason why I feel it’s so important to catch these bodily responses is because, as intelligent as our bodies are, they can’t actually distinguish between real or perceived threats, they only respond to being under stress. So, whether someone is standing in front of a gunman or being yelled at by their boss at work, the way the body reacts to both will be more-or-like the same. Although we probably wouldn't be physically harmed from being held at in a work setting compared to the former situation, our body may react in the exact same way (i.e. increased heart rate, sweaty palms, etc.) and it’s up to the brain to use mind intelligence to tell/show the body that we aren’t really in life-or-death danger. The thing is, we can’t communicate this to our bodies using words or thoughts. We can’t simply think to ourselves that we’re fine or we’re overreacting; that won’t dissipate the symptoms of anxiety. Our bodies don’t communicate that way. What we can do, however, is learn tools that will reverse those symptoms through relaxation strategies once it’s been identified. For example, I know that placing my hands on my lower belly while taking deep, soothing breaths is how my body understands that it’s time to relax, and that everything is okay. You might use the tools of visualization or gentle massages across your temples and jaw. Maybe even sitting down or laying on the floor and feeling the ground beneath you could help bring you back down to Earth after a stressful situation. These are ways to communicate to the body (without words or thoughts) that you are safe here. You are not in harm’s way, and everything will be okay. Allowing you to think clearly and return back to a peaceful state of being.
What works for you? I’d love to know. Thanks for reading!