A healthy mind, a healthy body: understanding mind-body connection

As the saying goes, a healthy body is a healthy mind. But what does this actually mean? For so long the Western world has viewed the mind and body as two separate entities, but awareness of the mind-body connection is by no means new. Many cultures around the world, particularly those that subscribe to Eastern philosophy, consider the mind and body of being in constant communication, having the power to influence each other both positively and negatively.

Essentially, how you feel affects how you think, and vice versa. Have you ever noticed the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, your hands shaking when you’re anxious, or a shortness of breath when you’re stressed? These are all undeniable examples of the mind-body connection and proof that emotions are observed in our bodies, and not just in our minds — hence terms like “heartache” and “gut-wrenching” alluding to the physical manifestations of feelings.

While the body is responsible for our physical health and ability to move, the mind houses our spirit and our motivation to function. In the words of the famous Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, “health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit.”

There’s even a day to honour this connection: International Mind-Body Wellness Day, which is celebrated annually on January 3. While we encourage you to focus on efforts that balance this harmony year-round, acknowledging this day serves as a reminder of the many benefits of a better, more holistic approach to your health and wellbeing.

The science behind “a gut feeling”
There’s a reason for our gut being referred to as the “second brain”. The gut microbiome, which consists of over 100 trillion bacteria, affects everything from skin health to energy levels and hormone balance. To better understand this, we need to acknowledge the recent discoveries showing that the brain and the gut communicate through what we call Gut-Brain Axis (GBA), which is responsible for sending messages between the central and enteric nervous systems. Your enteric nervous system (ENS), or ‘second brain’, is a system of 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. Research on the ENS has uncovered the very real link of digestion to our mood, health, and even how we think.

This constant feedback loop between the body and mind links cognitive centres of the brain with bodily functions (validating the science behind the mind-body connection), but what a lot of us don’t realise is that this link is bidirectional, meaning it sends signals in both directions. It’s not a case of our brain talking and gut responding, but rather both organs listening to each other as part of a two-way conversation.

Why the mind-body connection matters
Close your eyes for a moment and take a series of deep breaths. As you do, check in with yourself: how are you feeling mentally and emotionally? And what about your body? Observe any mental or physical tensions or sensations that run through you. You might notice you feel different after that exercise, perhaps you feel more relaxed or energised. This is the power of the mind-body connection and the harmony that B.K.S. Iyengar mentioned.

The effects of strengthening the mind-body connection can be immediate or long-term, but the benefits are endless. Some include:

Less stress reactivity: While there’s only so much we can do to lower your cortisol, we have a lot more control over how we respond to stress in the moment. The mind-body connection helps us gain a better understanding of thoughts we think and emotions we feel as they happen, empowering us to interrupt our negative thought loops and choose how we want to respond to them.

Improved digestion: Have you heard of the “rest and digest” response? It’s the part of the brain that’s responsible for our digestion and is controlled by our parasympathetic nervous system. If we’re stressed or distracted, digestion is often more difficult. A simple solution is to use the mind-body connection to shift into a more relaxed state by taking a few deep breaths and bringing awareness to what you’re doing.

Decluttering the mind: Whether it be a result of fatigue, illness or overwhelm, we’re all familiar with brain fog and lack of concentration. A connected mind and body allows us to look inward and pay better attention to what we’re doing at any given moment, giving us a sense of greater mental clarity in our day to day.

Tips to strengthen the mind-body connection

Practice meditation: The magic of meditation is that it redirects attention to the present moment, washing a sense of calm over our mind and body as we focus our awareness. If you’re new to meditation, you might want to try a guided class. Or, if you want to ease into it, try meditation through movement such as dancing or drawing.

Breathe better: If we breathe shallow, we think shallow. This is because everything in our body is governed by the breath — our bones, blood, tissue, organs and, believe it or not, even our cells have a rhythm in which they breathe and operate within us. Try connecting your mind and body through breath during a guided breathwork practice.

Mindful movements: Centred around breathwork and slowness, yoga is a great practice for entwining the physical with the spiritual and deepening your mind-body connection. It can help relieve emotional tension and energy stored in the body, while activating the vagus nerve — responsible for helping us relax and de-stress.

Nourish your gut: Our gut health is moldable, meaning it will change depending on what it’s exposed to. Read our blog to learn how incorporating probiotics, prebiotics and lacto-fermented foods into your diet can help to balance your gut microbiome.

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