Reconnecting Body and Mind 19/11/15
In an acquisitive age, where we are encouraged to seek solutions from outside ourselves it is easy to forget the knowledge that to a child would seem obvious: Your mind is in your body and your body wants to move. Your body wants to communicate what is going on in your mind and children think naturally with their bodies and minds as one. They have a free flow between thought, feeling and expression. As we come into adulthood, whilst we may continue to value the intellect in exams, interviews and academic achievements, many of us start to subtly disengage emotionally from our bodies.
The split between mind and body is often a result of trauma but it is also, for very different reasons, a result of our modern culture. As technology races ahead inventing faster vehicles, faster computer programmes and quick thrills to keep us buzzing, as we communicate so much in virtual reality, our bodies, as well as our patience and peace of mind, can be left behind. Our feelings can then get lost in the body, lying dormant and unexpressed and upsetting our mental health and general well being.
Another problem arises from the value that our culture places on appearance, and the often narrow confines of the aesthetically acceptable. Instead of seeing our bodies as a vehicle for unique expression, many of us are in danger of attacking it as an embarrassing vehicle for our perceived imperfections; “I’m too fat/short/tall... I hate my hair/body…” or, as we get older, “My body doesn’t do what it used to”, as though the body were at fault for the natural process of ageing, when in fact we could do with showing some kindness to this inevitable development. Perhaps we spend so much time working against ourselves that we forget how to listen to the messages our bodies are trying to communicate.
Furthermore, our bodies can hold memories and traumas of all kinds that our minds have forgotten about because they are too painful or disturbing. Traumas can include major accidents, some clinical procedures, involvement in natural disaster, witnessing disturbing events and physical and psychological abuse. If such experiences are not processed, for one reason or another, then the trauma can get stuck in the body and split off from the mind. This is a natural defence mechanism, which serves to protect us at the time of the event, but if the split persists the trauma remains locked in the body and the mind suffers. Peter Levine in his seminal work “Waking The Tiger, Healing Trauma” has researched extensively into the third response to a traumatic event, other than the well known ‘fight or flight’ response, which is to ‘freeze.’ Having described the energy it takes to shut ourselves down when we are in a fearful situation, he goes on to suggest that this energy, once we are back in a safe place, ”does not simply go away. It persists in the body, and often forces the formation of a wide variety of symptoms e.g. anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic and behavioural problems”. These and other symptoms, such as panic attacks, are related to the trauma but we can struggle to find words adequate enough to release the trauma, which is essential for a full recovery.
The good news is that, whether we are carrying trauma or have simply drifted away from our body/mind relationship we can heal ourselves. Movement, dance, body psychotherapy and dramatherapy, are singularly well placed to heal trauma and to aid the recovery of our body/mind relationship, because these therapies are very much to do with embodiment. When we can’t find the words, or feel the words we are saying, the body can speak for us. The body is a map of memories that, with the guidance of a therapist, can be read with understanding and responded to appropriately, leading to healing, change and growth. This journey can be challenging, joyful, exciting and surprising.
The deeper the connection we make with our bodies the more we discover. There are un-charted territories, new landscapes within us that can be imagined, explored and integrated into the reality of the developing self. The body’s inherent ability to communicate is wise and true if we give it time and space. No movement is insignificant, no gesture too small. By reengaging our mind and body, we can return to a childlike wholeness and experience the flow of an expressive life.