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The Mind-Body Connection

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

You may have noticed by now that your mind and body are intricately connected.

The most obvious of this connection is how we tend to physically feel well when we have low stress, are with people we care about and enjoy being around, feel secure and at peace, and/or have finished exercising. You've also likely noticed the opposite, that we 'feel' more aches, old injuries when we have been living with higher levels of constant stress, we are worried about the stability of our security, and we are in conflict with people in our lives.

So why is that? Well, this could be a long, well discussed topic... the short answer is that when our nervous system senses danger, similar to how you would likely be more careful around a hot stove or boiling water, it sends cautionary signals in the sensation of pain as it has learned that pain is likely going to get your attention the fastest in a certain location. Over time though, the nervous system starts sending more signals, stronger signals, and/or becomes over cautionary (what we would call over-sensitized).

Mind-body connection

The good news is that as much as the nervous system can heighten it's signals, it can also learn, and change, to calm those same signals. That is called neuroplasticity. It is quite amazing as not many years ago, maybe even a decade or two, it was believed that once you, and your brain, became an adult (age 25) there was not much you could do to change.

Now, here is the main point of this article... while you can link your mind and body to calm your nervous system, I like to take that one step further, literally... I want to include learning ease of movement into the calming of the nervous system. Let me explain further.

Many pain management treatments (example) will work to teach you awareness, breath work, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, relaxation. All things that are excellent active techniques for you to build into your daily life. There is one thing that I feel is missing. The link to movement of the body.

What is the one thing you stop doing when you are in pain? Movement. Totally understandable. If you've read my post about kinesiophobia it used to make sense that we would stop doing what hurts, not to mention the medical professionals advice of rest and stopping activity. The downside of that, when you are in chronic pain, is that the lack of movement just makes things worse and leads directly to the pain/fear cycle where you now catastrophize every movement. We now know better.

What is the one thing that they have found helps the most with chronic pain, nagging injuries, cranky body parts, and aging? Exercise. In 2016 a meta analysis was done on the treatments for fibromyalgia and guess what... 'Based on meta-analyses, the only 'strong for' therapy-based recommendation in the guidelines was exercise.' I can cite article after article after article that confirms exercise, the one you will be most consistent with, is an excellent treatment for pain. Though one thing missing from most of these articles is how using both the mind-body connection and exercise affect pain and aging.

So how can we link the two? Working with the mind-body approach and leading into movement and exercise is possible.

While everyone is different, the basis of linking the two modalities is the same. Beginning with the awareness of breath and connecting it to the sensations in the body. Creating an observation of the thoughts and working to adjust the language around our experience. Then building on small, stable movements in the body that allow for ease. This is not pushing through pain. Even as you read that last sentence you may have noticed the difference in the language and its affects. Then, those small movements build strength and coordination... and you continue to build from there.

That is the basis of Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy. Relaxation into Movement building into Strength & Coordination. All while creating an awareness of the language around the experience. Thank you Gert van Leeuwen, the founder and my mentor, in Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy since 2005.

An example. One of the latest clients that I have worked with (and she has given me permission to use her story) had a severe ankle injury 20 years ago. When first talking with her, she explained that the surgeon, going into surgery, commented that she may never walk again. After surgery they told her that they put 2 plates and 12 pins into her ankle. She spent 2 years in physio and was able to walk again. No where along that path was she told that it wasn't as severe as previously thought, so all of this time she's had the belief that she is lucky to be able to walk from the car to her home and that every step is going to be painful. That created some serious hard-wiring, muscle tension, and very little movement. Looking at her xray (I love it when clients have imaging to look at, but disclaimer I am not a radiologist) I saw that the pins and plates were at the distal (ankle) end of her tibia & fibula (the 2 long bones in her lower leg). Now if you've also read my post about the feet, you know there are many more bones than just those 2. While previously talking to her, it had sounded like the pins and plates were throughout her ankle joints, but in the xray it was clear that those joints were not affected.

Anatomy of an ankle joint
Not her xray

Two things then happened. One, in me telling her that it was not nearly as bad as I had thought, that gave her immediate mental relief. She was so happy to hear that. Two, in working with her and the connection between breath and sensations in her ankle, she was able to feel muscle tension release. Mind-body connection is solid.

We'll be working on building up her ability to bear weight in her ankle (both ankles, since the other ankle hasn't had much movement in the last 20 years), create movement and awareness in the joints in her feet, knees, and hips. Continuing to build from there until she can walk around the block with her adorable dog and walk to the playground with her grand-daughter.

So, let's do this! I am currently working on an online program that will allow for building on the mind-body connection with movement in the body.

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