We’ve spent the past few weeks talking about the work of doing, and last week we introduced the work of being. This week, we dive deep into the practicalities of resilience. Specifically, how the mind-body connection can help us build our resilience muscles in small, incremental ways from the inside-out.
The mind-body connection sounds like a fancy esoteric term, but in actuality its a very practical concept that we all unknowingly use in our daily lives. The basic premise of the mind-body connection is that our brain and our body are always communicating. They are inextricably linked. Just like gravity or electricity, the mind-body connection is a law of nature that’s always doing its thing in the background, whether we’re paying attention to it or not.
We’re actually very familiar with the mind-body connection: butterflies at falling in love, heart racing before a big meeting, that gut feeling of knowing things. That’s the mind-body connection at work. Here’s a visual snapshot of the magic that can happen in the body during those moments:
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Whether or not we voluntarily participate in this exchange, our brains are continually sending signals to our bodies, and our bodies are responding accordingly. Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually influence this communication for our greater good? Well, we can.
Strengthening the mind-body connection is a learned skill. When we are intentional with this communication and learn how to harness this natural phenomenon, we can have profound effects on our resilience.
The first step is to learn how to get out of our heads and into our bodies.
It’s a conundrum that while the mind-body connection is an effortless and natural phenomenon, tapping into it intentionally takes a little effort and can feel unnatural at first. That’s because most of us- with the exception of elite athletes- spend a lot of time living in our heads rather than in our bodies. Our bodies may be sending signals to our minds and vice versa, but we may not always recognize them.
It takes time to build a solid mind-body connection, just as it takes time to build our resilience muscle. But like an athlete, we can train ourselves to do both by using these three techniques below.
1. THE POWER OF MUNDANE, REPETITIVE TASKS
Building a solid mind-body connection in everyday life doesn’t need a glamorous spa, plush robes or even a remote Himalayan mountaintop. The work of getting strong in mind and body is decidedly unglamorous. In fact, one of the most effective ways to tap into the mind-body connection is through mundane, repetitive tasks. Things like opening the blinds each morning, your first cup of coffee or tea, washing dishes, cleaning your kitchen table after meals, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn (see below).
There are so many moments throughout the day that are ripe with opportunity to build resilience. And especially during quarantine, when it seems like these mundane moments fill our days, they can be incredibly valuable gateways to strengthen our mind-body connection and build our resilience muscle.
Let’s start with how. Pick one daily mundane, repetitive task to focus on. (As you get better you can add more tasks to this list.) Whenever you’re doing in this task each day, ask yourself three simple questions:
Can I notice my breathing when I’m doing this? Can I pay attention to my posture and body doing this? Can I notice my feet on the floor as I do this?
This quick inventory of breath, posture and feet can spark your mind-body connection into action.
And through daily repetition, you can impact your mind-body connection every single day in this small, incremental way. Over time, this can have a big, lasting impact on your resilience.
Source: New York Times
2. INHALE. EXHALE. REPEAT.
Did you know that the breath is the only physiologic, bodily process that is under voluntary and involuntary control? Meaning we can intentionally control our breathing and if we let go, our body takes over for us. That’s why our breath is one of the most powerful tools we can use to strengthen the mind-body connection and build resilience.
We’ve talked about how we can voluntarily control our breathing through various relaxation techniques and how this has a profound impact on stress, the mind-body connection and resilience.
But we can also strengthen our mind-body connection through letting our breath do its thing involuntarily. There are many formal meditation techniques to learn how to do this, including mindfulness meditation. But for those of you who can’t sit still long enough to meditate, the technique that’s most useful for you is called informal meditation.
Here is how we can all practice informal meditation:
When going about your day, take a few minutes to pay attention to your breath without interfering with it. Be the observer. Notice if you feel your breath in your nostrils, your chest or your belly. Notice how it cycles in and out of your body at a specific cadence. This is your breath’s natural rhythm.
Familiarizing yourself with your natural breathing pattern stimulates your mind-body connection and is an effortless way of building incremental resilience.
A good tip to practicing informal meditation is during transition points of the day. As you settle into your home office to start your workday, after you’ve sent your last email, the moment before your family gathers at the dinner table, as you’re getting ready for bed. Informal meditation is a way to create a bookend, or compartmentalization, to your day.
Taking stock of your natural breathing pattern during these transitions throughout the day also creates spaciousness. And when we’re crammed into our shelter-in-place bubbles, some mental space can do wonders for building our resilience.
3. GET GROUNDED
Another fantastic way to get out of our heads and into our bodies is through our feet. If we want to get grounded, our feet are literally where the action happens. They are an incredible grounding force for strengthening our mind-body connection and building resilience. Did you know that our feet consist of 30 bones and 100 muscles? That’s a lot of power in one tiny area of the body.
A great exercise to learn how to ground yourself with your feet is to stand tall and try to imagine your feet as sticky webs, taking up as much surface area as they can. You can do this while you’re brushing your teeth, doing dishes or just about anywhere. Feel the connection and sturdiness your feet impart on the ground as they hold you up. Dig into that support.
Then try this grounding exercise while walking. As you walk, articulate your feet on the ground as you move from heel to toe. This is called mindful movement and can have a great impact on building your mind-body connection.
Grounding ourselves with our feet, whether standing still or through mindful movement, helps us stay anchored in the present moment. That alone can have such a profound benefit on our resilience, simply through the act of being here in the now.
English translation: “You Are Here.”
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