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  • Writer's pictureBrian Lissak

3 Simple, Quick, and Effective Body-Mind Connection Techniques

I often find myself stuck in a destructive loop inside my own head where a bad feeling leads to self criticism. This leads to a worse feeling which leads to harsher self criticism which leads to...and on and on until I’m so in the pits that doing anything besides lying down is inconceivable. It took me a long time and a lot of trial and error, but I eventually discovered a few core practices that allow me to escape this self destructive loop and come back to myself balanced and revitalized.

At one point in my life I was essentially crippled by depression and anxiety. My early attempts at picking myself up were clumsy, cumbersome, and ultimately not nearly as effective as they are now. My morning routine continued until the afternoon, and even then it felt like much of the progress I’d made evaporated as soon as I tried to do anything that wasn’t directly related to my healing. The prospect of having to repeat this tiresome routine the next day, just to feel a modicum of normalcy, was overwhelming and ultimately led to more stress.

It wasn’t until I sought out the help of a psycho-somatic therapist (the act of reaching out for help was healing in itself) that I started to make some lasting progress. With her help I gained an understanding of how the mind and body are connected, and developed some streamlined, effective techniques for fostering a balanced, healthy mind-body connection. The practices I’ve listed below are quick, simple, and effective, whether you’re mildly down on yourself or in an intense bout of despair and hopelessness (both of which I’m intimately familiar).

The “Now” Exercise

The “now” exercise helps you become aware of your immediate environment through the senses, starting with the external and continuing into your internal. Becoming aware of the “now” is just another way of saying “becoming present”. Being present will help make it clear where certain emotions are presencing (word choice not coincidental) themselves in your body. You can use that as a doorway to accessing that emotion and learning from it in order to heal.

So, what does a “now” exercise entail? I’ll give an example of me, right now as I am writing this:

Now I hear the birds chirping outside my windows. I hear two different types of birds. Further away I hear the drone of cars and a rumbly motorcycle. I see the indirect sun light up the opaque windows in my kitchen. I hear my neighbors speaking and can only make out what they’re saying if I really focus. I hear and feel my cat purring in my lap. His fur is soft against my arms and I feel the plastic jump of the keys under my fingertips. I hear the keys click and clack as I write this. I feel the pillow behind my back and the cushion under my butt. I feel some tightness in my hips and knees from sitting cross legged. I feel the warm air breezing in from the open door. I taste the lemon on my tongue from the glass of water I am drinking. I feel my shirt on my collarbones. I smell the remnants of my breakfast unwashed on the countertop. I smell the flowers of my garden coming in with the breeze.

You can get as detailed as you want and go on forever. You’ll realize that the amount of sensory information available to us at any given moment is infinite, and that in itself has some pretty cool implications.

After doing that exercise (which took about two minutes), I am drawn into my internal landscape. Without even intending to, I am now aware of a slight tightness in my chest and a tension in my jaw. Just from the act of acknowledging the tension and tightness I have already felt them dissipate slightly. Now I have the opportunity to sit with those feelings for a moment in a calm, quieter space. In another article I describe how ‘negative’ emotions are actually our friends, and how we can heal from listening to the message that they have to tell us. The “now” exercise helps ground us in the present moment, revealing access to our emotions and their physical manifestations.

Smile Meditation

This one is possibly my favorite because it’s just so damn pleasant. All you do is find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and put on the biggest smile you can. Even if you feel ridiculous (which you probably will) keep the massive grin on your face. Your cheeks will soon feel tired, and here’s the cool part: even if you drop your smile, it will naturally jump back into place. Smiling becomes effortless. I often feel a warm tingling in my belly and chest that spreads to my throat, neck, spine, upper back and shoulders.

The logic is pretty straightforward: it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re grinning from ear to ear. To me, this has always been a powerful example of the mind-body connection, that doing a physical act can so drastically impact my emotional state. I usually do this meditation for about 10 minutes, but you should experiment. It’s your smile, your time, your practice. Do what feels right.

Raise your arm, and drop it

This one may sound weird, but weird is good, because normal doesn’t seem to work so well for a lot of people. I find this one really helpful in letting my body relax and let go of tension I wasn’t even aware I had.

Stand up. Lift your arm out to the side and nearly straight up. Now drop it.

I think you’ll find, on doing it for the first time, that you had some resistance. You didn’t actually let your arm drop freely, with only the forces of gravity working on it. Now try it again. See if you can really let it drop freely, without any resistance or attempt to slow it down. Let it fall heavy, let it pull your shoulder, let your whole body lean to the side. Keep doing it until you feel no resistance (there should not be any pain).

If you look in a mirror before you switch the other side, you may notice that the shoulder that you’ve been dropping is actually lower than the other one. This is tension released that your body was storing and that you probably didn’t even know was there. From this you may feel the urge to start shaking out the rest of your limbs and seeing what other bottled up energy can be released.

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