The Mind-Body Link
Through research performed in the last twenty years, we now have ample scientific evidence for the existence and power of the mind-body connection. Numerous studies have increased our understanding of the mind-body link, demonstrating it to be a powerful tool for improving the quality of our lives. Mind-body exercises and strategies can enhance our ability to deal with stress, help us to prevent and heal illness, improve performance, increase creativity, reduce tension, anxiety, and depression, and promote a state of mind-body that fosters healthy relationships.
You have been given the key to health and happiness and you can learn to unlock this potential, and all that is good within, by training the mind-body. Your work in the exercises is a moving meditation, a daily practice intended to discipline the mind to be fully present in the body. This conscious union of mind-body is the key to unlocking the door to your inherent and true nature. Your true nature does not change with age or circumstance—what is most important never changes. As you work in the exercises you come to realize that all that is good within is ever-present. Your training is not intended to make what is infinite and eternal bigger or better—this is not possible. Your training is to discipline the mind-body to recognize all that it was meant to be, to consciously unlock and reveal to you the inner, true nature of self.
To realize all that you are truly capable of being, you must open the door to your inherent potential and step into the space of the present moment. You do this by disciplining the mind to stay present in the body.
In other words, you not only have to believe in the power of the mind-body link, you must begin to exercise that power. The training of mind-body is essential preparation because the challenges we face in life can tempt us to let our past hold us back or become tense or immobilized by fear of the future. In either case, when the mind is not present, we close the door to all that is good within, whether consciously or unconsciously.
When the mind is not home—not fully present in the body—we can expect to feel tension, discomfort, and anxiety. These feelings are not necessarily harmful. They can be a force for good if they prompt us to remember that the present moment is the door to all that we are meant to be. These feelings can remind us to stay present, to be at home and at ease in the space of the body. In this space of union we remember that we have all we need within to respond effectively to the tension, discomfort, or anxiety. We learn to be “response-able,” able to respond to the stresses and challenges of life in ways that promote optimal well-being.
Three conditions lay the foundation for our training:
Faith: Belief in the inherent goodness of every person.
Letting go: Let go of the idea that you have to work to attain this gift of goodness and light. It is already given and present within. You only have to train the mind-body to perceive it.
Practice: Daily practice is essential. Our intention is not to work to attain peace—this is not possible. Only through movement can we practice the awareness of peace within moment to moment.
If we truly desire peace in our minds and hearts, our attention must always be directed first inwardly to experience the peace that is ever-present. In time, and with practice, this peace will flow effortlessly outward into the world. Our training begins with an awareness of the life energy within that can be sensed by following the movement of the breath in the body. Simple deep breathing exercises increase this awareness and also the flow of life-giving oxygen to all organs and tissues of the body, including the brain.
Stand tall and feel both feet on the ground. Center the body over the midline, resting the hands in prayer position. Take a deep breath in and notice the expansion at the level of the belly as you feel the spine lengthen and the heart center open. As you exhale, notice the soft feeling of release. Continue the deep breathing for several cycles, feeling the lift with each in-breath, and the soft release of unneeded tension or tightness with the out-breath. Do not strain. Breathe easy.
For a more intense breathing exercise, start with your arms extended at your side, palms facing upward. As you breathe in, raise your arms slowly overhead and let the palms come to touch at center. On the exhale, turn the palms down and slowly release your arms to your side, repeating this deep breathing exercise for three to five repetitions.
Deepen further by stepping forward on the left leg into a lunge position. Align the left knee over the ankle as you step into the Warrior Pose. Keep the shoulders over the hips with the body centered over the midline. Engage the muscles of the core by gently pulling your belly button toward your spine to experience strength and stability in the exercise. Release the arms to your side with the palms up and repeat the deep breathing exercises as above. Repeat on the right side.
When the mind is wholly present in the body you will find within a source of vital energy that will lift and sustain you. You will experience a sense of balance and remain grounded and centered, even under stress. You will find an inner strength that does not fail with age or circumstance. You will find an open heart that endures and a sense of peace and well-being that allows you to move in life with greater ease, and experience a flow to life that some call grace.
A certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, and nurse with experience in brain and spinal cord injuries, Mary Jo Ricketson is the author of Moving Meditation: Experience the Good Within. For more information on mind-body training and additional exercises, visit her at thegoodwithin.com.