Are you paying attention to your body? Many people don’t understand this question. We go about our lives consumed by work, family, friends, and all our unending responsibilities without ever taking time to tune in to ourselves.
Unfortunately, that mind/body disconnect has some negative effects, from increased pain and stress to weight gain or even depression. More and more health professionals are encouraging patients to get in touch with their bodies through physical and mental exercises that in effect tap into our parasympathetic nervous system to help us more effectively handle daily stressors.
Stress Effects on Your Body
How many of us have caught ourselves unconsciously clenching our jaws when we’re angry or feel tension in the muscles of our backs and necks when we’re under a tight deadline? How often do you catch yourself frowning or squinting while engrossed in work? Does your emotional state often interfere with your natural bodily functions?
These unconscious stress reactions have very real impacts on your health. They’ve been linked to increased blood pressure, chronic pain, overeating, obesity, diabetes, and more.
Mindful Body Awareness Reduces Physical Stress
Engaging your parasympathetic nervous system can help reduce the impact of unconscious reactions, calm automatic stress responses, and help you deal with chronic conditions like pain, depression, anxiety, and more.
How? By getting in touch with your body and pinpointing those stress responses.
In fact, even simply acknowledging a stress response can minimize its impact. Try it the next time you’re frowning or clenching your jaw. Simply think “I’m frowning” and you’ll feel those muscles relax just a little bit.
However, taking it one step further and proactively attacking that stress response through conscious movement can have even more significant results.
Ancient Techniques for Our Modern Life
Ancient techniques for mindful conscious movement include:
- Certain types of yoga
- Tai Chi
- Qi gong
- And aikido
Conscious movement includes slow and deep breathing along with focused attention on your bodily sensations. Both of those elements help to activate the initial stages of the parasympathetic response and work as stress relievers.
But how effective are these body aware movement techniques?
Some medical practitioners are actually offering these ancient therapies in addition to or in place of traditional drug-based pain management therapies for individuals suffering pain from chronic conditions like:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- and more
Indeed, according to 2 separate studies, just 12 weeks of hatha yoga or tai chi offered better results for people suffering from chronic back pain and rheumatoid arthritis than traditional treatments. Improvements included less pain, fewer instances of depression, and decreased self-reported amounts of stress.
How to “Trick” Your Brain Into Relaxing
What stresses you out? Do you catch yourself grinding your teeth while sitting in traffic? Do you tense up before or during meetings at work? Do you get anxious when visiting relatives for the holidays?
While you can’t always roll out the yoga mat or run through an aikido kata, you can always breathe. One of the simplest (and most effective) ways to control your physical response to stress is simply to breathe. Slow, purposeful breathing automatically engages that important parasympathetic response and “tricks” your mind and body into unclenching and releasing that harmful stress.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do anytime and anywhere that will have noticeable, immediate effects.
Step 1: Inhale for a count of 3
Step 2: Exhale for a count of 5
That’s it. (The important thing to remember is that the exhale is always longer.)
It’s a simple technique you can use to be more aware of your body, what it’s telling you, and what it needs from you.
Advanced Mindfulness Techniques
The breathing exercise above is a simple example of a mindfulness technique you can use to de-stress. More advance techniques will help improve the mind/body connection so you can effect real change in your life. Whether those changes include empowering yourself to do better work, being more present with your family, or losing weight to live healthier, putting your mind in control of your body is an essential first step.