As I was getting my monthly massage this week, I reminded myself of just how important it is to pay attention to my body and my breathe while my muscles were being worked on. It always seems to amaze me when I pay attention to my body, I make so many connections. It even becomes emotional at times.
A few months ago, I was having some pretty intense knee pain. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to it and was extremely nervous I had some serious damage. I went to teach a group fitness lifting class and discovered that my knee was not being directed towards my toe; something I cue to the members regularly to remind them. A couple of days later I went to get my massage. I told her about what was going on and she decided to focus on the fronts of my thighs. As she started, I noticed that it was extremely painful when she went over my IT (iliotibial) band, which runs from your outer thigh, crosses over the front of your thigh, and connects near the inside of your knee. I about jumped off the table! My massage therapist said, “I guess we figured out where that knee pain is coming from”. She was right. My knee pain has completely diminished since I have been stretching and foam rolling it out regularly. Not only that, but I also pay closer attention to where my knee is directed when doing lunges, squats, Zumba, or any other activity.
Massages are not the only place I experience this. Yoga can be such a masterful mind-body tool. Many say they have a difficult time concentrating in a yoga class, that they get bored easily. While I understand this, I also tell individuals to give it a chance. Including the meditative component (when many class members decide to leave). Take time to really focus on your body. Is one side tighter than the other? If you have been experiencing back or hip pain on one side or another, yoga can be very beneficial in helping you discover where the pain may be coming from. Are you able to balance on one side but become frustrated and unable to hold your balance on the other side? It could help indicate that one side of the body may be weaker than the other. Through continued practice, you become more familiar with your body and can begin to work on strengthening the weaker side or stretching the tighter side.
There are ways we can apply the mind-body connection on a daily basis. When you are heading to the kitchen to get a snack, take a few moments to close your eyes and breathe. I mean really breathe. Take some breaths in and out through the nose (I like to say “between the eyes) and listen to your body. Are you truly hungry? Are you angry? Bored? Happy? Decide if food is really what your body is asking for, or if there is another way you can deal with your emotions. When you go for a walk, “smell the roses”. Cliche, I know, but it helps bring that mind-body connection to the forefront.
Now let’s discuss the psychological aspects of mind-body. While some Psychologists don’t believe there is a mind-body connection, there is plenty of research out there that shows a very strong correlation between the two. It is why we see the placebo effect. I participated in a study back at the University of Minnesota in 2010 for a medication they were exploring for those of us who suffer from raynaud’s syndrome as a secondary result from Scleroderma (an autoimmune disease I have). I was not told whether I was receiving the real medication or the placebo (a sugar pill). I believed I was seeing a decrease in finger ulcers due to the pills I was taking. I also wrote down side effects of the pill. I was experiencing dizziness, flushing in the face, etc. However, upon completing the study, my doctor informed me that I was on the placebo the entire time. So clearly, I had made up my mind that I was receiving the real deal. Therefor I was seeing the results I wanted to see.
I like to believe that my mind talks to my body and my body talks to my mind. When I take even just a few minutes a day to focus on my breathe and how my body is responding, I eat better and want to work out. I find I have a clearer mind and a better attitude in everything I do. When I don’t give the two of them time to talk, I find I become stressed and agitated. It is a very powerful feeling to have control of both your mind and body.
I believe often times when people hear “make that mind-body connection” they think it has to be some mind-boggling, extensive ordeal. But it can be as simple as taking those deep breaths, giving yoga another try, or getting a massage and taking cues from your mind. There is a strong connection and you cannot have one without the other. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I also want to note that if you are experiencing pain, it is important to consult with your doctor to ensure you do not have a more serious condition.