The Mind-Body Connection

by Pauline Goh, MA, RCC, CCC
June 2009

    Many years ago, when I took a workshop about physical health and healing, I was introduced to the causes of disharmony and disease and how important it is to listen to what your body is telling you. The facilitator of the workshop explained that there is a dynamic relationship between what is going on with our feelings and thoughts and what is happening in the body. For example, if your throat is the issue, it is about becoming “choked-up,” not able to express how we really feel. If your abdomen hurts, this is something to do with anger or unresolved issues, lack of “gut feeling,” indecision. A neck problem could be due a “stiff-necked” view or inability to put your “neck on the line.” In any case, this workshop certainly initiated my curiosity about the connection between body and mind.

    In my own psychotherapy healing experience, I have found it very useful to bring attention to my body in order to connect to my psychological and emotional self as well as my creative and spiritual resources. What am I noticing in my body? What am I sensing? What is that particular sensation or quality about? What is it trying to tell me? Indeed my experience is that “feeling life is embedded in bodily experience,” as described in Brant Cortright’s book Integral Psychology. In my work with clients, I have also observed the tremendous healing benefits they have experienced by being in touch with a held tension in the body for example – and moving through the phases of recognizing, accepting, releasing and/or transforming that energy.

    Deb Shapiro in Your Body Speaks Your Mind notes that studying stress is the clearest way to see how the mind affects the body. She says: “The cerebral cortex in the brain sounds the alarm whenever there is a form of perceived life-threatening or stressful activity. This affects the limbic and hypothalamus organization, which in turn affect hormone secretion, the immune system, and the nervous system.” Shapiro mentions research cited by Dr. Larry Dossey author of Healing Breakthrough where he illustrates a link between psychological stress and physical problems. Specifically, Dossey notes that research shows that more heart attacks take place on Mondays vs. any other day, and most often at 9am. This certainly also indicates the impact of job stress and dissatisfaction in the majority of people’s lives.

    John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening, and facilitator of the 2007 retreat I attended “The Healing Power of Unconditional Presence,” noted that the majority of us live in our heads and underutilize our body’s intelligence. Because the body is not looked at, it personifies a “haunted house.” He asked the retreat participants to imagine the many rooms that are left unopened, unexplored, the spider webs, the dust, and creaky doors. Welwood notes that most people suffer some level of disembodiment, where the mind is disconnected from the body, the heart, the belly, the earth, and the field of open, expansive awareness.

    How rooted are we in our body? How grounded are we in our physical being? As Cortright notes: “A complete vision of health must include not only integration and self-cohesion but also a more vibrant, sensorily alive state, a state with the joy, beauty, and pleasure that is the glory of embodiment.”

Cortright, Brant (2007). Integral psychology: Yoga, growth, and opening the heart. (pp. 19-20). State University of New York Press.

Shapiro, Deb (2006). Your body speaks Your Mind: Decoding the emotional, psychological, and spiritual messages that underlie illness. (pp. 18-20).

Welwood, John (2000). Toward a psychology of awakening: Buddhism, psychotherapy, and the path of personal and spiritual transformation.

Welwood, John (2007, July). The Unconditional Power of Unconditional Presence, Retreat, Tomales Bay, California.