Your Body Speaks Your Mind: How Your Mind and Body Work Together

By Deb Shapiro,Contributor

In Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall, Diane Keaton wants to know why he isn’t angry. “I don’t get angry,” Allen replies, “I grow a tumor instead.”

I recently had a burst appendix and I am immensely grateful for medical intervention that saved my life. I know that illness is real, that accidents happen, and how medicine can help. So I am not writing this to try and convince you that the sole reason for your illness is in your mind, and that you must have done something wrong or are to blame for being ill. Nor I am not saying that simply by understanding how the mind and body work together that you will be able to miraculously cure yourself of whatever it is that ails you.

What I am saying is that the role of the mind and emotions in your state of health is a vital one. It is only a part of the overall picture, but it is the part that is invariably overlooked. By understanding this relationship you can understand yourself more deeply and can claim a greater role in your own wellbeing. I remember having an upset stomach when I was a child and my grandmother asking me if I was having a problem at school. What she knew instinctively we are at last beginning to prove scientifically: that there is an intimate and dynamic relationship between what is going on in your life, with your feelings and thoughts, and what happens in your body. In January 2005, a Time Magazine special showed that happiness, hopefulness, optimism and contentment, “appear to reduce the risk or limit the severity of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, colds and upper-respiratory infections, while “depression–the extreme opposite of happiness –can worsen heart disease, diabetes and a host of other illnesses.”

If we separate an organism into its component parts it cannot function. Each piece has a role to play, even if it is a very small role, so if only one component part is malfunctioning it will affect the whole. Recently our car broke down. After it was fixed, we were told that it had been just one small wire that had caused the problem yet the engine could not function properly without it. In the same way, if you ignore the role your feelings and thoughts play you are ignoring one of the most important component parts that make up your whole being. And it may be the one that needs to get fixed.

Generally speaking, we tend to think of our bodies and minds as separate systems and believe they function, for the most part, independently. We feed and water the body, take it for walks or give it exercise, and enjoy its sensory capabilities. Likewise we feed the mind with ideas and intellectual pursuits and amuse it with various sorts of entertainment, while also experiencing all sorts of emotions that we usually attribute to the way we treat ourselves or how other people treat us, making us feel either good or bad. When anything goes wrong in any of these systems we go to someone to sort it out, such as a doctor to treat the body or a psychotherapist to treat the mind.

Yet instinctively we know that is not the whole story. For instance, can you remember the last time you had an interview for a job? Or went on a first date with someone you were really trying to impress? In either case, no doubt you wanted to appear calm and collected but at the same time you were feeling quite self-conscious and nervous. Can you recall how your body felt? Self-consciousness will tighten your buttock muscles (so you are literally sitting on your tension), you will sweat more than usual, may feel slightly nauseous, and you will probably fluff your words, just when you want to appear suave and confident. In other words, your emotions affect you physically. However, it might be easy to understand that a scary thought gets our heart beating faster, but it is harder to realize that loneliness, sadness or depression can also affect us physically, and when it comes to more complex emotions or illnesses few of us consider our emotions to have any relevance. As there are obvious physical causes for illness, such as viruses or accidents, how can states of mind have anything to do with it? Emotions may influence the nerves but how can that have any relevance when faced with a disease?

In this blog I want to show you how the mind and body are not two but one–a single bodymind–and how every part of the body is the mind expressing itself through that part. When something goes wrong it is invariably a combination of both physical and psycho/emotional causes. I am not saying that by understanding the bodymind relationship you will be able to cure all your physical difficulties but what I am saying is that such an understanding adds an essential, and invariably overlooked, component to your healing process. By learning the bodymind language of symptoms and illness you can learn what is being repressed or ignored in your psyche and emotions and the affect this is having on your physical body. From this vantage point you will soon discover that there is an extraordinarily intimate two-way communication going on that affects both your physical state and your mental and emotional health.

Updated November 17, 2011

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