Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Body Barometer to Emotional Health

When you feel overwhelmed or sad, where do you feel it in your body? Where do you feel it in your body when you feel excited, happy, confident?
What happens to your breathing in each of these states, or the way it feels around your heart, your head, your thoughts?

The amazing thing about our emotions is that they always have a physical component. Our bodies tell us how we feel. And our bodies often get their cues from the thoughts that are running through our minds at any given moment. If your body is feeling dejected and foggy, your thoughts probably are too.

Why is this important? Because once we start to notice this mind/body link, we can do something about it. If stress is making your heart race or if negative thoughts are making you slump over your desk, you can begin to ask--through the body's cues--if you'd like to be playing a different soundtrack in your head, one that would change the way it feels, literally, to be in your life.

It's an empowering moment when we realize that our body is actually taking in everything we think and believe and mirroring it back to us. But the opposite can also be true: if we can find a peaceful and open place in our bodies, we can often move ourselves to a different mental space, simply by shifting how the body is experiencing this moment. If you're feeling tight, tangled or foggy, take a deep breath and see if that changes your mental space. Give your body permission to unfurl, imagine itself on a beach in the sun, or take a few minutes to stretch and notice how the blood flow and movement affects you.

You can also do this experiment the other way around. Try thinking thoughts that are negative, judgmental and hopeless and watch what happens to your body: your posture, your breath, the sense of aliveness in the core of your body. Notice how this changes if you replace those thoughts with loving and open ones. How does your body respond?

Our bodies give us an important barometer not just for our physical but for our emotional health. They are like a litmus test for what we are doing to ourselves inside. If your body feels crappy, see where your mind is and try changing one or the other: with a different set of thoughts, a deep breath or a movement of opening that gets you away from your desk and into something more positive. Use your body as a reflection of your state of being and be willing to alter what's happening if it's not working for you.

Often we become aware of our dysfunctional reactions to life through our bodies first: the quickening of our pulse, heat, reddening. I will often ask clients to check in with their bodies in those moments to see if the reaction they're having feels helpful or defensive. One way to begin to shift our dysfunctional behaviors is to watch how the body experiences them and see if we can approach the same situation with a deep breath, with less charge and greater calm. Our bodies tell us when we're seeing red.

Try playing with using your body's cues to work with your emotions and your thoughts. If you notice tension or stress in your day, break down what thoughts might be creating your body's strong reaction and see if you can shift it. Alternatively, experiment with relaxing and opening the body as a way of relaxing and opening your mind and your perspective.

Our bodies and our minds are intimately connected and reflections of each other. The more we understand and appreciate this, the more we can use it to help us become healthier and more connected to the life we want to be living, the person we want to be living as.

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