The Mind-Body Connection

What exactly is the mind-body connection? Where The New Plan A is concerned, it’s the simple fact that the connection really does exist.

Here’s how it works. To the extent that you’re feeling stressed (i.e., your mind is thinking stressful thoughts or you’re experiencing a painful emotion), your body is going to be stressed (i.e., holding the tension physically). That is, stressful thoughts or painful emotions will cause tension to arise somewhere in the body. It’s a self-reinforcing loop; stress in either place (mind or body) will show up in the other place too. Think of it as a kind of neuro-chemical text messaging system in your brain:  a “message” (specific hormones released in response to stress) gets sent and a “response” (more stress-hormones) gets sent back, and then the “conversation” between mind and body is off and running. Common physical stress responses include things like stomach aches or headaches, back and neck pain, and trouble sleeping; emotional stress responses include depression, anxiety, and difficulty focusing or concentrating.

If you’re in the grip of emotional devastation after life-changing loss and would like to be able to relax, it’s going to be important to raise your awareness of what’s going on in both your mind and your body.

This is the only way to interrupt the “conversation,” to stop the train before it picks up too much speed, and break the pattern. Try this: stop whatever you’re doing right now and focus on your breath for a moment. Breathe in slowly and try to feel what that’s like. Inhale as long as you can, hold it briefly, and then breathe out, exhaling as fully and deeply as if you were squeezing all the air out of a balloon. Now, do it again, only this time, close your eyes and imagine you’ve got a flashlight in your hand. The flashlight is your attention, its beam bringing into your awareness whatever you see as you point it in whatever direction. With your eyes closed, imagine pointing that beam at the top of your head, and then slowly move down into the rest of your body, first one side and then the other, front and back, all the way down to the tips of your toes and including your arms and your hands. It’s like you’re exploring a house with no electricity, just going room to room with your flashlight, seeing what you see in the light of its beam. In this practice, the idea is to just notice any sensations you find. You may observe things you’ve never noticed before. And where you do notice tension, try to direct a deep breath into that place and imagine the area expanding, releasing, and softening.

It’s natural to need to do this more than once sometimes.

Imagine your breath helping to enlarge constricted places, inflate collapsed places, and straighten hunched places. All the while you’re doing this, remember to take deep breaths and exhale them as fully as you can. Try to be curious, easy, and non-judgmental with this experience. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. You’re doing fine. I call this practice “The Inventory” and it’s a kind of body scan. So after you’ve scanned, see what you notice about how you feel compared with how you felt before you scanned. See how your mind feels before and after too. And remember: your life circumstances may not have changed in the few minutes it took to do this practice, but if you’re even just a little less gripped by misery and even just a bit more relaxed, your perspective may have shifted in a helpful way.