“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” James Allen
Take a moment to think of something that truly excites you (is it the thought of seeing your loved one tonight, the excitement of nearing the end of the working week or knowing the holiday you booked is just around the corner)? Now, how do you feel? Light hearted? Euphoric? Warm? Have you got butterflies in your stomach or goose bumps on your skin? I certainly have (especially at the thought of seeing my bubba after a day at work!) Now what if I ask you to thin of a truly sad personal experience? Do you feel low? Do you have tears in your eyes? Do you have an empty aching feeling in your stomach? Finally, how do you feel when I ask you to think of making love to someone you hold dear? Does it awaken you below?
Mind/Body ConnectionI use this simple exercise to help illustrate just how strong the mind/body connection is, and to get you thinking about the implications of this for overall health. I am hoping that by the end of this post you will see that the mind really does matter when it comes to attaining wellness, and that the answers to many questions regarding wellbeing could actually be all in our heads.
The Wholistic Nature of NaturopathyI first searched for the answers to these mysteries by pursuing a psychology degree, a modality which primarily defines the brain and mind as being quite separate from the body. I found this view to be quite one-dimensional and I finished my course feeling inspired, but far from satisfied. I continued to search for a more wholistic approach to how the mind and body are interconnected which lead me (thankfully!) to my naturopathy degree. This painted a more complex and varied picture of the human body which is intimately interconnected in ways we don’t quite understand completely. I now base my understanding of health on a personal paradigm, which takes into account both the physical and mental aspects of the complex human creature.
How Anxiety Affects Body and Mind
For example, I find that when people are feeling anxious, they often breathe fast and shallow. On a physiological level, this leads to a lack of oxygen that actually sends a message to the brain that things are not okay. This tends to magnify the feelings of anxiety and I speak with all my clients on the importance of breathing deeply and meaningfully as a way to counteract the effects of anxiety. Simply helping someone to focus on taking deep slow breaths can quickly give them a feeling of safety and security.
Your mindset matters
I am excited and inspired daily by the stories that other therapists and members of the public tell me, about the power of the mind affecting health. I remember speaking to one person who had tried every vitamin under the sun to treat her low mood and lethargy for years, but it wasn’t until she really changed the way she viewed herself and her lifestyle, (she woke up one day and started to believe that she could get well!) that she noticed a huge improvement. Supplements and dietary changes can of course have a big impact, but unless we can address underlying mental factors or patterns that contribute to ill health, these treatments will only take us part way on our journey towards wellbeing.
Do You Want to Heal?
Often if the intent for self-healing is absent, (such as when people have been pushed into seeking help by loved ones rather than of their own accord) or if mental stress continues and individuals give up hope of being well, health continues to elude them. Getting them to open up this mind/body conversation and be courageous enough to listen to what is being said, can be the difference between continuing on the same path or taking a different and dynamic direction towards health and happiness.
How Meditation Helps
The concept of healing the body through the mind is of course not a new notion, with meditation being practiced for many centuries. There is much evidence and personal experience to suggest that quietening the mind can have positive effects on stress, blood pressure, depression, anxiety and overall wellbeing. I remember spending time with a Buddhist monk named Tenzin in my teenage years who taught me to meditate. I initially found it hard to concentrate, suffering from what he used to call the ‘monkey mind’, where my mind jumped from thought to thought, restless and unfocused. A simple way he suggested to overcome this was to close my eyes and view myself as an observer of my thoughts rather than as a participator. I was told to imagine sitting under a beautiful tree as I watched my thoughts flow gently past me in a bubbling stream. At first I found it hard to detach myself from the thoughts, afraid to let them pass by, snatching at them as they floated away, but within a few minutes of this exercise, I was able to let all my concerns and anxieties move right by me. This exercise really does liberate you. I urge you to try this truly beautiful technique, which I continue to use any time that I need some inner calm.
Set A Morning Routine
I also find that the first couple of minutes of the morning are important when it comes to setting the tone for the day. Spending a few moments focussing on what you are looking forward to, or what you are grateful for, can really set the mood and get your day off to a great start. I am continually inspired and intrigued by how just one thought has the power to change everything. How often have you had a terrible start to the day when nothing seems to be going right, then someone shows you a random act of kindness, or you see something hilarious or inspiring and it sets the course of your day in a totally different direction? What about going back to work after spending wonderful times away on holiday. It can be hard returning to these everyday realities, but just one simple thought about a special moment can make you feel impervious to the mundane monotony of life. It is trying to make that feeling last which can of course be the challenge.
There are many naturopathic beliefs centred around food as medicine which I will explore in another post but I am hoping that you will also think of the notion of mind as medicine and how we are what we think, as well as what we eat; a concept that is definitely food for thought! Have you found this post interesting and want to get in contact? Get in touch here. I look forward to connecting with you.