Busting the Myth of the Mind/Body Split

“Alignment is when all of the processes that define our human existence are working together.” 
Garry Lineham, Co-Founder of Human Garage

I wanted to take a minute to step back today to define what we mean by “mind/body repair and alignment” at Human Garage. It’s painted across our walls, it’s the hashtag we put on all of our Instagram posts, and it’s a part of our vocabulary in much of what we do. A belief in the undeniable link between mind and body is at the core of our work as a company.

In previous blogs, I’ve alluded to and hinted at the connection between body and mind but I’ve made the assumption we all come to the table with a similar understanding of what this means.

And it’s interesting: people often refer to us as “bodyworkers.” But I think this runs the risk of oversimplification. We are bodyworkers, yes, but it is because of the powerful connection to the brain and the mind’s powerful connection to the body that our realignment work takes root.

Societally speaking, we go to the doctor to fix our bodies, we see a psychologist to fix our minds, and we connect and access our souls in churches, mosques, and temples (or whatever is your place of worship).

But, what if there was a place and a type of work that allowed you to connect to all of these?

Our Westernized society has essentially fragmented human beings into compartments. We’ve boiled yoga down in the West to a series of asanas (physical postures), often losing sight of the essence of these practices. We’ve boiled human suffering and healing down to an easy fix of talking via accessing the mind or operating on a table as cure-alls for most of our ills.

When we look for answers to “issues” life throws our way, we are shuttled around to a variety of places to meet our many needs, be them physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.

This isn’t a new concept. Philosophers have been debating the connection between body and mind since the time of Plato and Descartes. Plato was an influential thinker in the idea of dualism, the idea that the mind and body are completely distinct entities and can only be understood apart from one another. This way of thinking, however, is particular to Western views of medicine. Eastern traditions based in Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese herbal medicine have long held a more holistic view of treating body, mind, and spirit as one.

While I’ll save you a long history lesson in the origins of this, suffice it to say the West is finally catching up as waves of research in neuroscience, psychology, and traditional medicine are beginning to validate what Eastern societies have long known: when you bring the body into healing modalities and treat the person as a whole, the results are powerful. 

I have a master’s degree in clinical psychology. It became all too apparent to me that the field of psychology is often guilty of this, treating individuals from the shoulders up. As a graduate student, we engaged the mind and I sat in chairs for several years with professors talking about how people heal. And, I learned a lot. Yet something felt limiting about the belief that we only heal from the confines of a chair in the doctor’s office or through pill popping or talking at a therapist alone. This is starting to shift, but psychotherapists like me tapping into mind body connections are still a minority, even with new research and science on our side.

All too often traumas that impact us occurred in the body to begin with. So wouldn’t it make sense that we have to engage the body, too, as a path to healing? Think about the traumatic car accident survivor or survivor of assault: their traumas are inherently body-based.

I just finished reading an incredibly insightful book: The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who has treated countless trauma survivors, chronic pain sufferers, and many veterans in the VA (Veteran’s Administration). He shares a growing body of neuroscience research that backs up the idea of a powerful mind-body connection.

Some of the questions he asks: what about the chronic pain sufferer that has no memory of an actual injury causing their pain? What about the person in a traumatic car accident, who has no cognitive memory of their accident but their body remembers and they react in an instant with panic and fear while driving at the slightest noise?He suggests we may be doing a disservice to clients when we treat just the body or only the mind.

Is it really possible to heal the mind while ignoring the other 97% of our physical existence? We don’t believe so.

After all, the mind (our brain) is housed in and lives within the body. If we ignore the body, we are ignoring the very vehicle from which we live our lives. It’s the mode of transportation that carries us through every interaction.

The body is our home. So why don’t we start treating it that way?

And don’t get me wrong, there is value and importance into having a cognitive level of understanding to things around us, including our traumas. I found value in talk therapy for many years. But at a point, I found I had grown tired of talking and there was a deeper level of understanding I craved. I’d hit a wall. And no traditional modality had a logical answer for my chronic pain. I’ll also note, I still work with a therapist but I’ve connected with someone who values my body experiences and encourages me to tap into its wisdom.

Working with both body and mind created a level of understanding that often lacked words. It was a level of understanding that came from deep within my body, not from the incessant chatter of my mind.

The wall for me of battling chronic pain in my hip and in my head didn’t start to come down until I had deep release work in my fascia and muscles where memories and trauma are stored.

As my physical pain started to release, I began to have memories come to my mind. As the pain released, my emotions followed. They too had been wound up and stored for, well, decades.

I’d completely forgotten about an injury in my left ankle some five years prior. It had almost required surgery and took me out of any physical activity for six months. I sat with that painful memory, that dreadful pop no athlete ever wants to hear, while a Human Garage motion mechanic released a part of my lower body. I breathed. With each inhale, the pain eased, the trauma softened. Suddenly that memory didn’t seem so painful. It was as if my body had reminded my mind of its occurring, but the memory softened. I felt at ease.

My body, indeed, was talking to me. I reflected on how hard I had been on my body as a distance runner. It was as if in that moment my body thanked me for finally tuning into what it really needed.

I understood what “alignment” meant in that moment as my body, mind, and soul connected. 

Perhaps you are skeptical. I understand that, too. Ask any of my colleagues: I’m a very deep thinker. I analyze and deconstruct, sometimes to a fault. My brother is a neuroscientist and my father is an engineer. His brother was a cognitive psychology professor for decades. I’m hard wired sometimes to overthink, question, and demand rational explanations for everything. I’ve lived much of my life in the mind and it’s probably why I had constant migraines for most of my 20s. My mind was tired of doing all the work.

Our minds are part of the gift of being human but our beautiful minds also get us into trouble when we ignore the place they live: the human body. 

I’m challenged by this line of mind and body work because in some way I’m having to unlearn certain ways of thinking.

I could link to one hundred articles highlighting the connection between body + mind (and if you’d like those please feel free to email me). Ultimately though, we’ve found the most powerful teacher on the relationship between body and mind to be experience, deeply rooted in the body.

After all, it’s the mind that wants rational cognitive explanations but the body speaks from a deeper place, an intuitive, experiential level of understanding. It’s from there I’m talking to you. Have you stopped to ask your body what it wants and needs from you?

Many of our clients have experiences with us they find difficult to explain to friends and colleagues and loved ones. In part, this relates to a certain language the body speaks that can be difficult to translate into spoken word. This stems from a society that values cognition over body-based experiences. It’s this idea we’re challenging. Allowing the language of the body to inform the words of our minds  can feel obscure until you feel it for yourself.

So come experience for yourself. Feel what it’s like when your body and mind begin to realign. Come feel what it feels like when all of you, not just part of you, comes into balance and realigns.

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