You’ve probably heard about the mind-body connection at some point. It has become a thing in the integrative approach to health, known for centuries in alternative healing modalities.
While it’s nice to have an understanding of what it means, it’s even better to know how to apply the knowledge for your benefit. So let’s look into how the mind and body influence each other, what’s the biological background of some processes, and to what extent we have the power to impact it.
How can we program our brains and body for success?
Body-mind communication: Feelings mirror in posture
To give an illustration let’s think about a person who’s upset, feels low, or depressed. How do they sit? Their back is slouched, shoulders hunched, and chest closed. On their face, you’ll likely notice worried wrinkles on the forehead and around the mouth corners, all giving away they’re not feeling well.
Now on the other hand, how does someone who’s happy sit or stand? Their back is straight, chest wide, the whole posture is open with no crossed arms or legs, and they carry a smile on their relaxed face.
This is a clear example that what is going on internally is shown externally too.
Posture and facial expression translates into thoughts
The way we consciously position our physical body will translate into our feelings and thoughts. How so? At this point we can already hack the understanding above and change the way we feel by changing the way we stand, sit and „arrange“ the facial muscles. Try this little exercise called Happy Idiot. It’s called the way because at the beginning, that’s how you may feel.
Happy Idiot aka tell your brain you’re happy
Stand or sit in front of a mirror with your back tall, chest open, and soften your shoulders. Relax all the muscles on your face and pull the corners of your mouth upwards into a smile. It will feel fake, especially when you’re not feeling like smiling. Which is precisely the time this little practice is there to help.
Keep looking at your reflection in the mirror and keep smiling. Within a short time, just a minute or couple, you’ll notice the change in your emotions. From heavier to lighter, from sad to more optimistic. You will also experience different thoughts. If something bothered you, it will probably feel less severe and resolvable. A big result from a small time investment.
Let’s now look into research around mind and body connection. What is the psychology of it, and how does the body respond in ways we can medically measure.
Change your posture for two minutes and you win the job interview
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, and Harvard lecturer presented research on postural feedback, the so-called power posing. The results indicate that when you assume an open, expansive stance in which you appear taller and wider for only as little as 2 minutes, you’ll subsequently feel more powerful.
A power pose can look like standing with your feet wider than your hips, stretching your arms up into a V-shape. On the contrary, when feeling powerless one does the exact opposite. Closes up, wrap themselves up, and make themselves small.
There were 2 groups of individuals that held high and low power poses for 2 minutes. Before and after assuming the respective posture, their levels of two indicative hormones were measured. Testosterone, the dominance hormone, and cortisol, known as the stress hormone.
The findings on testosterone revealed that from their baseline, the people in the high-power pose experienced about a 20% increase while the low-power group showed a 10% decrease. When it comes to cortisol, the high-power group measured about 25% decrease and the low-power people about 15% increase.
To summarize, the high-power posture boosted confidence and decreased stress, while the low-power posture decreased dominance and increased stress hormone.
Two minutes of power posing in a day is time well spent, wouldn’t you say
How the type of workout influences your brain
Stanford psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal tells us that the way we move, and the type of exercise we chose influence our brain and thus behavior. In her book, she explains that movement is intertwined with some of the human joys, and acts as an antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Longer-lasting cardio is known to evoke the runner’s high. This is due to the production of endocannabinoids which help us worry less, feel better, and increase our pleasure from social contacts.
A session of heavy lifting or other ways of engaging the core produces the effect of feeling strong, not only physically but also mentally. It gives us the feeling of being powerful and evokes euphoria that calms down anxiety.
Every single movement has its own signature proprioceptive feedback. It means, that our moment-to-moment sense of self is informed by what the body is doing.
This gives us great power that comes from the ability to choose how we want to feel and find the exercise that matches our desired outcome.
It doesn’t take much time to change the way we feel. It rather takes an awareness of how we feel and deciding how we want to feel instead. Then we can lean into the body-mind connection and hack it to program ourselves to feel great.
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