What exactly is the mind-body connection? Simply put, it’s the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs affect our physical wellbeing.
For an example, let’s talk about stress for a moment. We all know how stress can negatively impact our health. Even the most conventional doctors will tell you that too much stress can cause symptoms like high blood pressure. When we don’t feel at ease internally, we tend to manifest symptoms externally.
But how can we harness the mind-body connection to enhance our wellbeing? This is where yoga comes in. In the West, we often think of yoga as a physical practice that helps us become strong and flexible. While this is true, it’s not the whole story. Yoga is also a valuable meditative practice that develops awareness of the mind-body connection. With this connection strengthened, we can enhance our well-being by making conscious tweaks to the feedback loop between our body and our inner being.
Have you ever experienced an emotional release while breathing into a hip-opener? Yoga fosters an awareness of how our body processes negative emotions and thoughts. It shows us where we physically hold onto stress and how our bodies reflect long-term beliefs.
This means developing an increased understanding of our internal state and how it affects our physical wellbeing.
Breathing is the only automatic bodily function that we can easily alter at will. In other words, we breathe either with or without awareness. For this reason, the breath is thought of as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious minds. Through pranayama, the name given to breath work in yoga, we are able bring unconscious tension to our conscious awareness. Even better, yoga teaches us how to move and breathe to release these internal issues and blocks.
With more awareness of how our inner state affects our health, we become motivated to focus on thoughts that make us feel good. Of course, there will still be times when we have to deal with situations that stress us out. But the good news is that we now have awareness of how this stress affects our bodies. At the end of a challenging day, we can stretch our tight muscles and breathe deeply to consciously guide our awareness to a place of peace and relaxation.
Any form of meditation improves concentration by developing our ability to focus. Yoga is a meditative practice that places our focus upon the body. We feel each finger as we reach toward the sky; we plant each toe firmly as we ground into the Earth. Through yoga, we begin to notice even the subtlest movements and sensations in our bodies.
By developing mindfulness in yoga, we also foster a deeper awareness of our bodies as we move through the rest of our lives. After beginning a yoga practice, many people find that they automatically begin to make healthier lifestyle choices. These choices feel less like a struggle of willpower and more like the simple desire to be nice to yourself. Some even give up addictions like smoking, nail-biting, or eating junk food. This is why many people have great success including yoga in their weight loss routines. Not only is it a form of exercise, but it also enhances the mind-body connection so that maintaining a healthy weight comes more naturally.
Yoga also improves our gut-level instincts so that we intuitively recognize how our movements affect our feelings. We begin to notice how standing up straight increases confidence, while smiling makes us feel buoyant and joyful. These are valuable tools that improve our quality of life–not to mention our posture.
It’s as simple as that! Practicing yoga makes us more aware of how we feel in the moment, whether we’re on or off the mat. We learn how to use our breath to bring buried tensions to the surface, allowing us release them effectively. Meanwhile, an increased awareness of our bodies helps us stay empowered to make healthy lifestyle choices.
In a world increasingly full of distractions, staying connected is a valuable asset to have in your wellness toolkit. With a strong mind-body connection, you will be able to naturally improve your instincts as well as your sense of wellbeing. You may also experience one more side effect: the desire to keep doing yoga!
By: Sarah Baldwin