Not long after I started grad school to become a therapist, I began experiencing chronic pain in my hands and feet that was later diagnosed as Rheumatoid Arthritis. This was a drastic change in my life, I was only 29 years old and had been an athlete since a young age, and now chronic pain dictated my life. Medication was prescribed for my newly acquired auto-immune disease and pain medication followed.
Thankfully, I had some good people in my life that didn’t quit until they got me to a yoga class. I’d never taken yoga seriously, I was an athlete, after all, and yoga seemed too easy to have any worthwhile effect. Yet, my friends and my doctor persisted, and it was the best decision I ever made to attend that first class. I was hooked immediately.
As I mentioned, during this time I was in graduate school for psychology. It was during my first semester that I discovered the Mind-Body Connection. The Mind-Body Connection theorizes that our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. In other words, our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are!
Keep in mind that what we do with our physical body…what we eat, how much we exercise, hours of sleep a night, even our posture, can impact our mental state positively or negatively. This results in a complex interrelationship between our minds and bodies.
Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, every one of us experiences the mind-body connection every single day… we just need to tune in and listen to what it’s telling us. This may seem like a daunting task if you’re a novice. So, instead of thinking of the connection as something far out of reach, or something that you can only obtain through hours of yoga or meditation, remember it is a part of you already.
“All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” - Buddha
The Mind-Body Connection is more of a mindset than rules to follow. Try recognizing it instead as a change in your perception, or your view of the world, that will help you rewrite your personal story. If you can, imagine putting on a pair of glasses that will allow you to look at the world differently. A few simple changes in the way you look at things can add up to enormous shifts in how we think and feel.
Always remember that our bodies react to our thoughts. In simple terms, if we are constantly engrossed in negative, self-destructive thoughts, our bodies will follow along. This could lead to an emotional and mental imbalance that can include stress-induced headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, back pain, and unhealthy weight gain or loss. If instead we make the conscious effort to think more positively and develop healthy mechanisms for coping with life, we can help our bodies immune systems become stronger with nothing more than a positive mindset. In simple terms, think positive, be a glass half full kind of person, smile more.
Food. It’s a big word and a big part of our lives. Recently, we’ve learned that the old saying, “you are what you eat”, is truer than we ever could have imagined. Food has a huge impact in how we look and feel. Remember that every single thing that passes by our lips has some sort of effect on our body and brain. Eating too many carbs and too much sugar can decrease our sensitivity to serotonin, which leads to bad moods and obesity. Eating protein can be a solution to keep your mood uplifted and avoid a sugar crash later. Simply said, make choices that are good for your well-being when it comes to food. Start thinking as ‘eating to live’ rather than ‘living to eat’.
Sleep is another great place to start implementing the mind-body connection into your everyday life. Aside from food and exercise, sleep plays a huge role in maintaining healthy serotonin levels and keeping our minds and bodies happy with each other. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies and our minds are negatively affected. One of the primary actions of serotonin is to sedate, making it closely tied to our energy levels. Lack of sleep can begin seriously messing with our brain’s response to serotonin and lead to serious changes in mood, memory and learning. Make sleep a priority in your life! It is by far one of the best ways to nurture the mind-body connection.
Exercise can be one of the cheapest and quickest ways to boost our focus, moods and overall health, but it’s hard for many of us to find the time and energy. Try switching up the exercise you’re doing or better yet, changing your motivation for working out. By this, I mean finding an activity that may not burn an enormous number of calories per minute, but something that you actually enjoy. I am grateful to have found yoga, but there are many mind-body therapies that use the body to affect the mind, such as tai chi, qigong and dance. The key is finding something that allows you to stimulate BOTH your body and mind, even if it’s as simple as taking a walk and enjoying the world around you.
A few years after my diagnosis, I was in so much pain that I gave up. I stopped moving and stopped caring, I had completely given up hope. That is, until fate came along and (thankfully) forced me down a different path. I realized that I was never going to get better unless I did something for myself. A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to put my health first and get my life back after 15 years of not being kind to my body. I made my health my top priority. I got off the immuno-suppressant medication and detoxed from the opiate pain killers I’d been on forever (not easy!). I started eating whole, natural foods, quit smoking, started exercising more and sleeping much more often. And it worked. It was grueling and terrible and horrible and every day I wanted to quit…and SO ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT! My Rheumatoid Arthritis has been in remission for nearly 3 years, and I have truly never been happier.
If only I had discovered EMDR Therapy at the beginning of my journey to better health. It would have eased the process while I made the tough changes in my life, implementing healthy habits and trying on a more positive mindset. EMDR therapy would have lessened my physical pain and the depression I felt while the chemicals in my brain adjusted to an opiate free existence. PainQAscale.com states that ‘EMDR therapy for chronic pain involves focusing on pain-related memories, current pain sensations, or anticipated stressful or painful situations while engaging in rapid eye movements. Focusing on these thoughts while engaging in rapid eye movements may reduce pain intensity. In some cases, the pain relief from EMDR may be enough to reduce or eliminate pain medications and reduce disability. It may also improve mood and help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Maximum pain relief generally occurs with a minimum of six to eight sessions.’
It really comes down to being kind to ourselves, whether it’s what we think, eat, drink or breathe. Learning to listen and really pay attention to the connection between our minds and bodies can lead to a daily practice of mindfulness with a motivation of self-love. It doesn’t have to be a major life makeover to feel the difference. If we strive to fill our bodies with a little better-for-us food, sleep a few more hours a week, and feel our bodies move a little more often, we can utilize our mind-body connection and learn to really listen to ourselves.
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