Applied Psychology

The mind-body connection: Can the body be used to heal the mind?

May 21, 2018
Mind Body Connection

You’ve heard of ‘mind over matter’ but what about ‘matter over mind’? The connection between mind and body is strong, and could potentially work both ways.

Today, it is widely accepted that the state of our mind and the state of our body cannot be separated.  Typically, when we present our sick body to a medical practitioner, our emotional temperature is also gauged and it is common to be advised to manage our stress and muster a positive outlook to help our body heal.  That’s the proverbial ‘mind over matter’ in action. We know that if we can change our thoughts for the better, we can get a better result from our body.

But that connection between mind and body is open and it goes both ways, and therefore the potential exists for the body to equally help heal a distressed mind.  This is the premise of somatic psychology, which deliberately includes body awareness in the psychotherapeutic process. Modern life has intensified mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, addiction and bipolar.  How can our bodies help us heal our troubled minds?

With a Masters in Somatic Psychology and a book newly released, called The Mindful Body, best-selling author Noa Belling, will be a guest speaker at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning.  She points out, “There is an array of scientific evidence that you can change your mind simply by shifting your posture and facial expression – this is the less talked about ‘matter over mind’ in action.  Our malleable minds and bodies are in a continual dance with each other that evolves from moment to moment as our feelings and our physicality change.”

In essence, we don’t need scientific research to tell us this is true.  It’s our lived experience. We do calm down while taking deep breaths. We do feel brighter when we look out and up.  We do have more sense of courage when we straighten up and square our shoulders, and feel much less positive when we hunch.  Even in the moment when we fake a smile, we cheer up.

With the mind-body connection as a dynamic, open, two-way street, Noa proposes that we become skilled navigators of a mindful body.  “The benefits of a somatic approach can include a relatively quick and direct connection with a truth that can lie beneath the surface of our words or our conscious awareness,” she says. “It can also offer a path to making psychology tangible, measuring progress in physical terms and anchoring psychological progress firmly in the body or felt experience. These abilities can become valuable life skills that can be empowering and energizing as people learn to feel into, track and appreciate life experience from an embodied perspective.”

But there’s a deeper perspective rooted in our history that’s very important to our current mental well-being.  Noa explains: “The body has a memory of its own, called implicit memory.  It has a non-verbal, feelings-based and physical record of our life experience. A somatic approach has unique, direct access to this implicit memory system. This kind of ‘body memory’ forms a foundational, felt sense of life experience that underpins and powerfully influences our explicit or verbal narratives about life. It is the only memory system online in our first years of life, so working with body awareness can allow accessing and working directly with even very early life experience that is proven to exert a significant influence throughout our lives unless worked with along the way. For example, a core belief of not being worthy, or loveable or bad in some way often has roots in our first year of life. Shifting deep-seated beliefs like these is greatly assisted by a somatic approach.”

Noa Belling will dig deep into the mindful body as part of the Cape Town programme of the upcoming 7th annual Festival of Learning.

SACAP’s Festival of Learning takes place in Johannesburg on 17th and 18th of May, and in Cape Town on 24th and 25th of May 2018. 

Tickets for the 2018 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets.  Costs are R200 for the full-day programme which includes dialogues and panel discussion. Tickets for the short-talk evening programme which includes catering and networking opportunities is R200.  There is a special offer for students at R80 per ticket.

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