You have probably noticed. After a day spent in the workhouse of the mind, the body suddenly tells you that it has a few aches and pains. Tension across the shoulders, a headache, stiffness in the neck. It has, in fact, been giving you little signals all day via the Central Nervous System, but you just weren’t listening.
Life requires us to be solving problems, rushing about, thinking and planning and worrying, but sadly, ignoring what is going on in the body has consequences.
For starters, a lot of the tension we have in the body comes from emotional disturbances in our minds – take that stabbing pain across the shoulders and upper back for instance. How much of that is due to all the niggles and irritations you felt while going about your daily tasks? There are connections between mind and body that often surface when we experience an emotion – a sick feeling in the stomach, a pain in the chest from an anxiety attack, that warm butterflies feeling when you think of a pleasant memory or anticipation.
Trauma sufferers shut down parts of their brain, leaving their fight or flight mechanisms on high alert. It means they can lose touch with their senses because numbing of feeling is the only escape.
We developed our sensory inputs as an evolutionary advantage. Think of the barefoot hunter-gatherer treading silently towards his/her prey. There was a need to know that they were being deathly quiet and to feel if there was anything spiky or rocky about to assail the soles of their feet which might cause pain or injury.
Nowadays we are desensitized because we do not need to worry about such things. We wear shoes that deaden the need to be aware of what we touch on the ground with our feet. We have much less need to rely on our sensory inputs from the body, so they wither and die as neural pathways. Use it or lose it.
We all know that we feel pain from the body through our nervous system and receptors in the brain. What is less well known is that by tuning into and exploring this using mindful meditation techniques we can dial down our pain. We reduce the anxiety surrounding it and even limit the pain itself because our mood can affect the levels we experience.
So how do you get in touch with the body again? Here are 3 tips to re-map those senses and neural networks.
1) When reaching for a mug from the kitchen cupboard – stop a second – slow down the movement so you can feel what parts of the body are involved here, from head to feet. Just noticing that helps you re-map what your movements are. It is also getting you out of autopilot and perhaps switching off rumination.
2) Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation or a Body Scan Meditation. Here’s a link to one of mine here. (https://www.rightmindfulness.co.uk/free-audio) A great way to relax and a curious side effect is that of gratitude for the bodies we have, not judgment.
3) Get into a habit of sensing the body by latching on to another habit. For example, when you reach for your phone – as we all do often enough – take a few seconds to note your hands. The shape of the fingers, sense any blood flow or tingling. Just micro-moments of feeling and sensing have a huge impact on getting in touch with our bodies again.
Keep the body in mind whenever you can. It’s more than just a chauffeur for your brain.
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