How I Found My Way Back to Myself Through Mind-Body Healing
Updated: May 12, 2021
For the last several years, I have prided myself on taking the alternative route when it comes to my health. I found some success through non-traditional modalities and went all in with the philosophy that it is better to get to the root of the problem than to only treat the symptoms. I thought I was doing everything “right”, as if I had it all figured out. Until I had this realization last month – I have been approaching the holistic wellness world exactly as the traditional western model would.
Treating the Whole Self
The definition of holistic is “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” I don’t know how many times I have heard our experts on the podcast talk about treating the whole self. I would nod my head and agree whole-heartedly that that is the right way to go. And yet, when I entered this world looking for root causes of the issues I was facing, I started and ended with the symptoms. I started meditating to work on my anxiety, went to an acupuncturist and a chiropractor to work on pain in my right shoulder and in my jaw from grinding my teeth. I thought of them as localized issues that needed correcting, and, once I addressed them, I would be good to go. While the anxiety has gotten so much better, and the pain that I experience is manageable now, nothing quite got to the root of the problems. That is, until I truly started treating the whole self.
Enter Mind-Body Healing
I’d like to say that this is a beautiful story unfolding so effortlessly as if out of a movie, but the reality is that I stumbled upon this answer. In typical traditional Western fashion, I had another problem that I was trying to fix – it was the height of the pandemic, and my husband and I were constantly bickering. I decided to hire a relationship coach to fix the issues that we were experiencing (side note: I would highly recommend Natalie if relationship coaching speaks to you!). It was completely transformational for my relationship, and I learned so much about myself, too. But the frame that I put on it in my mind was strictly focused on the relationship. Until I attended a weekend retreat where the facilitators were addressing inter-generational trauma, and I realized that the tools they were using were exactly the same. This made me pause and seek to understand what these tools were, and it all came together for me.
Mind-Body healing is the most common definition of this broad space, and it basically means that the body and mind affect each other. Our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are, and what we do with our physical body can impact our mental state. Mind-body healing modalities focus on the relationship between the two and work with both the body and the mind to heal. The truth is that everything is connected, and the best way to get lasting results with any health issue that you’re experiencing is to truly treat the whole self. The problem is that we are extremely complex living organisms, so treating the whole self is not a simple task, especially for someone who has seven minutes to evaluate you, like a traditional western doctor.
How Do You Do Mind-Body Healing, Then?
I wish I had all of the answers for you. The truth is though, no one knows what you’re experiencing better than yourself. So, the best advice I can give is to first be your own advocate. If you’re not satisfied with the answers you’re getting from a doctor or otherwise, seek out more opinions. Second, if you’re completely new to the idea of mind-body healing like I was, here are some things I would recommend you try out to start to familiarize yourself with how your mind affects your body and vice versa:
Yoga – this was my first introduction to mind-body healing without really realizing it. If I could go back to my 20 year old self who was just starting out with yoga, I would tell her to pay attention to what she was feeling as the hour went on. Because this is not easy to do if you’ve been disconnected from your body for a long time (which most people are!), I would give her this homework:
check in a couple of times during each session and notice 1) if you can feel where your breath is in your body, and 2) if when a thought arises, there are any sensations that occur in the body when that thought happens. If so, notice where that sensation occurs and what the consistency of it is.
Meditation – is a great way to start getting quiet enough to listen for these interactions between the mind and the body. A few minutes a day is enough, as long as it is something that you build into your day consistently.
Nutrition – there is more and more research out there suggesting that gut function impacts mental health. Starting to eat healthier is a great way to clean up the gut, which both helps your physical body function better and can help alleviate common mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. We had a great nutritionist, Julie Keene, on the podcast who has some easy tips to get you started.
Language of Sensation – this is a technique that many somatic therapists use to help patients connect with the sensations in their bodies. Here is a great intro article if you’ve never heard of this, and also check out our episode with Chicago-based somatic therapist Sarah Wolfman if you want to learn more about working with a professional on something like this.
I can truly say that utilizing mind-body tools, like the ones I mention above, on a consistent basis has changed my life. Particularly, how I perceive my life and the inner dialogue that happens because of it. Where once I used to react to something as simple as a passive aggressive work email, I now have the awareness to respond from a place of compassion (well, most of the time!). I also have the tools to release whatever emotions are triggered by said email. The tools above were the starting points for me; if you want to delve deeper, here are some further resources.
Want to dive deeper?
The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown – a research backed book that details out how to live your life from a whole hearted place
The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk – more detail on the mind-body connection and techniques to utilize to heal trauma
Inner Child Work – I would recommend you learn the process for this with a therapist or coach, but once you know how it works for you it is extremely helpful in checking in with yourself and what you need emotionally, in addition to healing past trauma