Body and mind: are they friends?
Our sense of whether our body feels well or not starts early on. An infant crying because their nappy is soaked already have a sense of what’s comfortable and good. We see this miracle in action when a small child says, “mummy, my throat feels funny” or when your son or daughter comes back home from school saying they’re feeling odd. Then one day that same kid comes home telling you that they wish they were less tall or maybe slimmer than they are. In their words you recognise something familiar: mind and body are no longer friends. The heart is sad or soon will be. Perhaps your own relationship with the body is not great too. You may feel the body is betraying you, aging, getting sick when what you need is cooperation. This exercise will help you examine what’s going on and change things for the better.
Our relationship with our body begins early on
Imagine being an infant, child, teenager, young adult and then growing into your current age. Your nervous system has been growing with you literally. The unconscious mind has been developing its sense of your physical body from the beginning. Even before you become aware of how your body is presented, dressed and what it looks like and your conscious judging mind came onboard. All along, the mind has been learning about what feels good, comfortable, “normal” or “average” to create a baseline. Over time, this baseline has been modified through habits, patterns, and circumstances, often just beyond your full attention. Who has the time to pay attention when there is so much to do out there in life?
The mind pays attention when things change
Minds are smart. They are built to conserve energy and keep conscious attention on what’s new. Your mind learned what’s natural for you. It accommodated and runs you without you knowing. However, when something changes in the body, the mind registers the change and attention is triggered. You may realise those trousers you liked no longer fit! You are short of breath running for the bus. Or you turn red all over when your boss calls on you in the meeting. Often the time we focus on our body is when they are doing something counter to what we need or want.
Why wait until such a moment? This is too late.
Mindful attention, in my view, ought to be paid to our bodies on a regular basis as part of self-care and love.
It’s doubtful that paying attention to your mind giving you a regular comentary as you’re being intimate with someone is really helpful. In fact, you probably wish you could just be more in your body. For this to happen mind and body must become better mates.
The mind-body relationship exercise
Below is an exercise from my upcoming book and many of my workshops and retreats.
Developing a more conscious relationship with your body allows you to have greater confidence, be more calm and present, be wiser and more self-loving. This internal job also profoundly changes what happens in your life, business, how you connect with others and what’s possible for you.
In this exercise we will:
- Examine the relationship you presently have with your body.
- Go back and forth in time to establish how your body felt for key insights.
- Step into conscious choice about how you would like it to feel going forward.
You may want to do this activity on a piece of paper. You can also do this exercise standing and moving around on the floor.
EXERCISE PART 1: THE NOW
Take a seat and connect with your physical body. To do that take a few relaxing and centering breaths. You may want to close your eyes and relax your brow.
The goal is to tune into your body and simply be present with it. Notice how it feels.
What is the dominant sense within it? For example stress, tension, sadness, joy, aches, sexual desire, coziness, vitality etc.
If you’re doing this activity standing up, you may want to choose an object to represent you. Place this object somewhere in the room and stand to one side of it. This will allow you to report on yourself from a third position. This slightly detached perspective can be very helpful for some people. If the felt sense and emotions that you suspect will arise may be upsetting, such distancing will help protect you from feeling them directly. If you use an object you will be commenting on it as you.
This is often how I conduct this activity with my clients in person. After choosing an object to represent them or standing in their present self, I invite them to tell me what is true here.
I then ask them to imagine a timeline and motion where past and future are. Then, either standing to one side or walking the line, the client and I can work with time as explained below.
The two questions to answer in the present are:
- How is my body feeling right now?
- If you had to describe the relationship I have with my body at this moment in time what would it be? For example, the body could be a best friend or an obstacle. The relationship could be ambivalent.
Whatever you discover here is very useful because you are noticing what is true deliberately.
EXERCISE PART 2: LOOKING BACK IN TIME
If you’re following this activity on paper, draw your timeline as illustrated above. You may want to separate this line into specific segments that will make sense to you. For example, you may want to subdivide the line into decades, specific life periods such as school or jobs you’ve held. Find a way that feels right and works for you. One client I worked with separated her line into two parts: before her partner died and after. The segments you make will match your life, your reality and what you need from this activity.
If doing this exercise standing up, imagine your life-line extending from your current position towards the moment of your birth in the given direction that feels right to you. For some people, the line may extend to their left, or behind them but I encourage you to experiment until you notice a feeling in your body that tells you “this is it for me!”
Now walk along this line, or to the side of it if you’re moving an object to represent you, making stops along the way in places that correspond to key segments with particular meaning for you.
Wherever you choose to stop, answer these two questions:
- What was the dominant experience at this point for my physical body?
- How would I describe my relationship with my body at this timepoint?
When you complete all the timepoint segments you want to explore, make a note about what your body and you have been through. Note how your mind and body related to one another.
Also, notice how the way you relate to your body has evolved over the years towards what is now.
You and your body certainly have an incredible history. You have been through a great deal. And like the best of friendships, it is worth taking a moment to pause and consider what you want and need from each other for the future.
EXERCISE PART 3: LOOKING FORWARD
It’s now time for you to look ahead to make a conscious choice about how you want your body to feel – how you want to relate to it. Whether you’re doing this on paper or standing up, look ahead literally as if you’re looking forward in time or if you’re happy to step forward, move along the line towards the future and allow your body to experience how it feels doing that.
Take a moment to centre yourself and breathe four to six loving deep breaths, inhaling the qualities you want to retain (for example resilience, strength, vitality) and exhaling those you want to purge (fatigue, weakness, frailty).
As with looking back in time, you may want to separate this timeline into specific periods. For example, I often ask clients to consider how they want to feel in three to six months, a year from today and in three years.
If you’re doing this activity standing, return to the present moment and imagine the line extending towards your future self. Some people feel their future may go straight ahead or to the right of them whilst their past may extend behind or to their left. Each person is different. Follow your intuitive sense.
As you move forward along your timeline, consider these two questions.
- How do you want your body to feel at specific time points? For example, you may wish to stop along your future line a year from now or 3 years or 6 months. It is useful to attune to the specific time point instead of just a general future. At each place, tune into your body and see if you can pick up a felt sense of what your body wants to experience?
- What sort of relationship between you and your body will best support this? And, what do you need to do differently to ensure this is achieved?
To do this you may wish to bring your attention to your heart centre. From this place, notice how your heart wants to relate to and feel about your body. We’re often much kinder to our bodies when we bring compassion and love to them. When you experience this sense of connection, note it and take a moment to breathe that feeling into your whole being.
Then ask your mind, “What would be a positive and empowering way for me to think about my body?” See what comes to mind. Check whether this thinking is positive or whether you need to do more work. For example, if you get an answer from your mind that says, “I hope that in the future I’m thinner!” – say “No!” to that. What you are seeking here is unconditionally love and acceptance for your body. So, a positive reframe of the above statement could be: “I cherish you and trust that as we create a strong and powerful team we will find a way for you to be strong and healthy.” Notice how this statement engages your body and invites it into an active collaboration for the benefit of your ‘whole’: mind, body, heart and spirit.
What you are seeking is an experience where your mind, heart, body are connecting and having a dialogue. Trust that your essence and spirit will also emerge. And if not, finish the practice reflecting on what it is, what it was and what you’d like it to be.
Want to explore how mind-heart conflicts affect the body?
There are many reasons why we don’t move forward even when we want to. We may lack clarity, energy, passion, or resolve. We may feel tired or impatient. We may be stressed from wishing to realise this or that.
I have established a unique way of looking at Mind, Heart, Body, and Spirit alignment that is key to getting results, feeling more at ease and in flow. In fact, I have been invited to the 2018 European Conference on Positive Psychology to give a workshop showing this which was very well received.
The process and practices I use form the basis of our day retreats. The idea for these gatherings is to work gently yet deeply to help participants realign these four critical parts for a stronger whole. Our returners are a joy to watch. They move with more ease, grace, confidence and their life flows more. I’m not surprised. When inner conflict leaves, more space is made and energy released to serve life.
Discover for yourself how you too can create more possibility in your life. Join us in London and other cities in 2020.
If you live in a different city and this work and process appeals to you, get in touch. We work with people who want to commission a facilitated retreat in their community. So far this includes other cities in UK, EU and also further afield in the USA and Latin America.