Do you wonder what is going on in the body when we feel an urge to react when things don’t go our way, are hurt, or angry? Who are the first responders ? The thoughts in our mind or the physical sensations in the body?
I always thought “what the mind believes the body follows!” The mind notices pain and drives the body to react to it. I say so in my blog on December 13/2021.
Who is the boss of me?
The mind is made up of thoughts that are constantly going through our head. It is estimated that the mind has over 50,000 thoughts a day. Many come and go and are not necessarily true! Actually only 2% are fact and the rest are just chatter! We seldom think about challenging them. They become beliefs and then turn into deeper thoughts and before you know it, become our values.
The physical body sensation is the first responder to whatever is happening similar to the “flight or fight” response of the autonomic system. It’s a body sensation first. For example, when we experience pain, the immediate response is to react to a physical sensation such as heat, swelling, redness, or tingling.
Is pain physical or mental? Essentially, it is a thought associated to a body sensation. The mind is adding in the thought as a concept which associates it to the physical sensation. Then, emotion kicks in reacting with fear or triggering deeper sensations of intense pain.
The body responds with physical sensations that are taking place all the time to keep us alive. Many we notice and lots we don’t since we’re just doing what we do – moving, eating, living. Mindful awareness explores how the mind and body interact.
Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention in the present moment and observing body sensations and the mind doing what it does, thinking. Mindfulness is noticing thinking and the changing thoughts, perceptions, and influences that are effecting the mind and body. Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of the Mindfullness-Bases Stress Reduction program, refers to mindfulness practice “like weaving a parachute before jumping out of a plane”
For example, investigating pain with mindfulness brings awareness of those sensations when paying attention. Staying with the pain and noticing its changing qualities that will eventually dissipate within a few seconds or minutes.
Take some time and begin noticing how these sensations come and go, when thoughts come in and then alter your perception of an experience.
Today, we have moved away from listening to our body’s signals. We create habits by memory to function, yet our habits often get us into trouble.
The same goes for overeating that many of us do as an emotional response to stress. Often, mindless eating overrides the uncomfortable physical sensations in the body of what’s going on. The mind takes over with millions of thoughts to avoid feelings of hurt, pain or trauma. The body may need something else such as water, movement or nourishment because food provides a dopamine rush of pleasure that kicks in immediately.
Disconnecting from the body in these situations and the same for pain, allows the mind to go somewhere else. The practice of mindfulness provides opportunities to connect with body sensations which will subside or go away after a few seconds or minutes.
This awareness of body sensations as the driver of the mind, also follows the research on the gut – brain connection. Neuroscientists have proven that there is gut intelligence that interrelates with our microbes.
Each part of the human body is home to a different community of microbes, according to research conducted by the American Gut Project and the NIH Human Microbiome Project. (Credit: Adapted from the American Gut Project).
“These microbes, which live in the gastrointestinal tract, help shape the development and function of the brain. They can influence a range of complex human behaviors, including learning and memory, mood and emotion, and appetite and satiety. They have also been linked to disorders of the central nervous system including anxiety, depression, autism and multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s which is a consequence of an ecosystem that has fallen out of balance”
Such as the expression, “I have this gut feeling”, we typically associate it with a mental/emotional intuitive response to an encounter or experience. However, it is literally true, the brain is responding to an experience from the gut.
The vagus nerve acts as the communication highway between the two. Not only is there a physical and mental link between the foods you eat, the brain to think and the mind to feel, your digestive system supports that balance between your stomach acid, gut bacteria and the brain.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body that starts from the brain and goes to the stomach.
- 20% of vagus nerve fibres control organs of digestion, the heart, breathing and the immune system.
- 80% sends information from the gut to the brain and back.
- It activates the parasympathetic (relaxation) response (rest and digest).
I love these connections that highlight the importance of the digestive system having intelligence and our body’s own power to control outcomes. The digestive system is often overlooked in the medical field as a side problem and less about its powerful influence on the internal body ecosystem.
This alos explains how body image can be undermined by thoughts, how we don’t trust our body’s signals or recognize its intelligence for guiding us to supporting our health.
Mindfulness has much to offer in coping with chronic illness, pain and stress. Listen to the audio recording on Awareness of Breath meditation here.
So, who’s the boss of you?
In good health,
I’m Rani Glick, a certified holistic nutritionist, working with people struggling with chronic illness and stress. Applying nourishing foods, movement and mindfulness to cope with pain for living a better quality of life. If you are interested in knowing more contact me at email@example.com.