Society is gradually becoming more aware of the connection between the mind and body. For so long the two have been treated as completely separate entities but in reality the bond between them is solid. The relationship between the two has become a philosophy I live by. I find it fascinating, mainly because I experience the effects one has on the other quite intensely when I do neglect one, or both of them. Often, the connection between them is so fluid we’re not even aware of it. A simple example being hunger, the physical tells the mental what to do. We feel hungry and our brains know we have to eat, but how often are we really aware of that connection. It’s so simple yet something which is continuously taken for granted.
Of course it runs far deeper than that. Think about your body in relation to different feelings and emotions. When we feel emotions, different physical symptoms arise depending on that emotion. When anxious, our heart beats faster or our stomach may be in knots and depending on our level of self awareness we either fall further into the grips of that emotion or mindfully acknowledge it and recognise that although we are feeling it, we don’t embody it. It’s something we’re feeling at that present moment and it will pass. Emotions are impulsive but don’t last and can be reduced through physical actions. For me, a yoga technique where breathing is alternated between the nostrils is one that really grounds me in moments of anxiety. It not only calms the mind but also the body. If you learn to observe your emotions before they take over it can be extremely beneficial. It empowers you to be more in control of your entire being (mind and body) and your behaviour as a result.
The physical and mental are further integrated through exercise like yoga. There is sometimes a misconception with yoga in that it focuses only on poses but in reality, yoga combines physical and mental strength. It’s as much about your ability to improve mental focus as it is to achieve strength and flexibility. Often, the more you relax concentration on the physical pose and put your attention on the breathing, the easier it becomes to achieve the movement. It’s a form of exercise that requires patience and persistence but one that can really improve your mental well-being as well as your physical. If I miss yoga, or skip walking for long periods of time I notice a restlessness in me that’s uncomfortable and agitated.
Another aspect I wanted to mention is the impact of alcohol. As I have gotten further into my twenties the appeal of alcohol has lessened dramatically. The physical nausea, tiredness and of course, “the fear” are just some of the reasons. We all know what someone means when they say they have “the fear” but summarising it can be quite difficult. I think it differs slightly for everyone but for me it usually involves extreme anxiety, not just about the night itself, but about work, relationships and sometimes profound realisations. These are all things as humans we think about anyway but after a bout of drinking they heighten to new levels. It isn’t just alcohol. Personally, even if I alter my diet I notice changes to my levels of anxiety and general mood. It makes perfect sense. What we put into our bodies is fuel. If you put diesel in a petrol car you certainly won’t have a pleasant journey. Our bodies are the same.
A knock on effect for me when stressed or worn out means I have to put up with migraine. They can be triggered by a number of very sensitive factors and mean I have to look after myself all the more. Symptoms vary for everyone but I tend to get an aura which involves an unsettling visual effect. The reason I bring this up is not only because it further demonstrates how important self care is but my ability to manage them, has improved through mindfulness and breath work. For those who experience aura they know they’re not pleasant and while previously I was frightened by them, I now have enough self awareness to pause, acknowledge what’s happening and begin my breath work. The exercise distracts me from the sensation until it passes. Learning how to stay calm is something which has really helped me with this and it further reiterates how mindset can help manage physical symptoms.
The relationship between the mind and the body is undeniable. What you do with one will play out through the other and it’s a relationship which is vastly underestimated. Self awareness is something everybody should invest in and it should be introduced in our education system. Take the time to learn about yourself, to heal from past experiences, to invest in yourself and give yourself the self care and compassion you need. Irish people have a tendency to put ourselves down and shrug things off with some humorous remark but it’s important to look after yourself and that includes the mind and body. Counselling, yoga, writing, educating myself, self observation and various life experiences have all contributed to my self awareness and it will continue to be an important part of my life. The interesting thing is that what led me to start all this was something I thought, at the time, I would never get over and in a strange way it has been one of the best things to ever happen me.Self awareness has completely changed how I live on a daily basis and it has been as a result of years of learning, reflecting and growing. I would encourage everyone to embark on the same journey. Look after all of you because the mental and the physical are intertwined and caring for both will mean a healthier, happier life.