MINDBODY: The Mind-Body Connection; the Fallacy of Separation
A term I use a lot is “mindbody.” Since language is the manifestation of thought into the external world, I think it is important to say what we mean. People are always talking about the connection between mind and body. This language reinforces a perceived separation of mind and body. My understanding, through personal experience and years of practice as a therapist, is that there is no separation between mind and body. For many, this statement seems absurdly radical and un-relatable. And that is ok! This reaction is understandable because Western society has been conditioned to believe in the separation of mind, body and spirit for hundreds of years. Modern scientific thought was founded on the philosophical conclusion that mind, body and spirit are separate entities. How did this happen?
To find an answer we need to go back in history to the “Age of Enlightenment.” Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727) were key players in solidifying the Reductionist school of thought, ultimately separating the mind from body and spirit. Also, the powerful and highly influential Catholic Church of that era had strong views about the realms of religion and science. The physical body could be given over to science, but the mind and spirit were the Church’s and God’s territory. Descartes was inclined to follow the Church’s lead on this, especially in view of what happened to his peers who didn’t, like Galileo.
The reductionist school of thought born out of Descartes’ philosophy perceives the world/universe as a machine that can be broken down into smaller parts to be examined in order to understand the whole. Descartes concluded that the mind and body are separate—that while the body can affect the mind, the mind cannot affect the body. Newton’s work generally expanded on this notion, culminating in his work Principia Mathematica (1687) which promoted this concept of the clockwork universe.
This perception of the clockwork universe informed scientific method and thought all the way up to current/modern times. In the medical field, the way we have studied the human body is like a machine in cadaver labs, cutting away and taking out parts to understand the whole. Which has been a VERY educational experience! Until very recently, we lacked the technology to observe a functioning, living system. It is hard to study the cardio-vascular system when the subject of study needs her heart to keep pumping in her chest. The widely accepted, underlying belief (or scientific theory) has been that the mind and body are separate, that we are basically ‘meat machines.’ This theory has deeply informed how we treat the mindbody in western medicine and even our individual awareness of self and approach to life.
Today, though, technology is evolving very quickly, and we are finally able to study whole, living systems. More and more research is coming out putting into question the long-held theory of separation between mind and body. New research on fascia, a connective tissue of the mindbody, is a major item on this list, providing a prime example of the limitations of reductionist theory in action. Before, our understanding through cadaver studies was that this tissue was the packing material of the body, a kind of organic insulator. Now, we find, fascia is actually the ground substance of our mindbodies and a powerful conductor within our living system. More and more, western science and medicine are finding ‘truth’ in, or scientific evidence of, the connected view of mind, body and spirit often associated with “Eastern” medicine.
Tissue Memory; Emotional Release
Let us take this new perspective as a real possibility, that the mind, body and spirit are inextricably intertwined. From here, try to understand that our experience of the world is not merely perceived by a brain acting as a computer but, rather, by the mindbody as a whole. My first glimpse of this through bodywork was with a classmate, let’s call her Tiffany, and a phenomenon called “emotional release.” In massage school that day we were learning techniques in and around the pelvis and abdomen. I was having difficulty finding the specific muscle attachment we were looking for, and asked the instructor to help me.
He came over to quickly, deftly locate the muscle, placed his hand on it--and Tiffany IMMEDIATELY burst into tears. Loud, wet, and sobbing tears, with her face reddening and shoulders shaking. It was as though a switch had been flipped. The instructor handled it well, and it was a great teaching moment on many levels. I learned how to handle situations like this (it happens a lot), and my eyes were opened to another world within the body. A world where our past life experiences and traumas are buried deep in the layers of our mindbody.
After many years of being a practicing massage therapist I have no doubt that the mind and body are beyond connected, that there is nothing but a perceived and learned separation between them. Hence the term mindbody that I throw around all the time. We perceive there to be a separation because that is what we have been taught to believe from a very early age. And every step of the way we have society reinforcing this ‘mentality.’ It has gotten to the point that the majority of people live almost exclusively inside their heads. Most of us are not aware of and are not present within our physical form, frequently only giving our attention to criticize our body for not doing what we demand of it in the moment.
Imagine what life experience is like with the acceptance and integration of this concept of MINDBODY. For a moment, see if you can think and feel how it would be different. To be conscious of your breath rather than always taking for granted the next one will be there. To listen to the feeling in your gut when you are making a decision that logically seems appropriate but you feel is wrong. To heed the early warnings from your mindbody that something is wrong and take preventative steps to heal, rather than waiting until your mindbody is screaming at you with a major dis-ease or injury.
Ultimately, the difference is in the quality of your relationship with yourself. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are more than just our minds. We aren’t just a bunch of floating heads! But, sometimes, we might as well be for all the attention we give our bodies. The relationship of self is the only one you know without a doubt will be life-long. See what shifts begin to occur as you allow yourself to fully know your mindbody. Trust that your mindbody is worth knowing, trust that ALL of you is deserving of attention, nurturing and love. And let the healing journey begin.