What is a true mind-body connection?
To better understand the meaning of mind-body connection, consider for a moment what it means to be, to exist, as the underpinning of our aliveness. It’s tempting to think of ourselves as mere minds wandering around in flesh suits, interacting with our environment, making things happen, and having things happen to us. But if this were true, it would hardly explain our wholistic, multi-dimensional experience of being. This word, experience, has the cursory connotation of witnessing some event or happening, but I want to guide us toward a deeper understanding of being, such that our existence requires our engagement with the world around us. And, most importantly, our bodies are the conduits between us and the world. Thus, to exist is to have a conscious, embodied experience of being in the world.
Why a mind-body approach?
“The body is our general medium for having a world.”— Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
My approach, then, in mind-body therapeutics is to consider existence across these multiple dimensions of experience: sensory, emotional, cognitive, relational, and spiritual among them. I seek to understand who we are in terms of what is. Working together we strengthen a friendly connection between body and mind by opening the lines of communication between the two. When we listen to our bodies, we gain access to information about our being-in-the-world that isn’t available to the mind alone.
This valuable knowledge strengthens our trust in our ability to accurately interpret our bodies’ feedback and know how to respond appropriately. In fact, knowledge from the body is thought to be a form of intuition, a concept that is not only supported by neuroscience, but is also philosophically sound. Alas, the analytical mind just isn’t equipped to make decisions at the embodied level. Thus, all aspects of experience are interconnected and should be addressed integrally in order to achieve heightened levels of well-being, mental and physical health, and flourishing.
How do we strengthen the mind-body connection?
The tools available to a trained mind-body practitioner are grounded in polyvagal theory, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience and include parts work (Internal Family Systems, Inner Relationship Focusing), somatic and relational dialogue, movement, and contemplative practices. This work arises from present-moment, direct experience at the embodied level. A session with me may include one or more of these modalities when looking at a specific issue related to eating behaviors and attitudes.
I believe we must look at both mind and body in order to have a coherent approach, given that neuroscience continues to make it clear that the dominant Western view of the mind-body problem is all wrong. The truth is that the body is fully innervated and without a clear locus of total control. We must take into account the role of the gut and heart, for example, in our nervous system regulation. Cognitive therapies, including secularized mindfulness practices, are proving to not be enough on their own. Movement therapies, like postural yoga, often aren’t integrated at the cognitive level. The hope is that a more fully embodied way of living can facilitate a more grounded and connected experience of being-in-the-world.