5 ways to improve your body-mind connection

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Did you know that the chit chat between mind and body goes two ways?

Your body is an integral part of how you think.

Your body, how you move it, and how you interact with your physical surroundings shapes how you think, feel, and behave.

In her new book How the Body Knows Its Mind neuroscientist Prof. Sian Beilock digs into the scientific evidence of the body-mind connection.

Sian Beilock is a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Chicago. Her research program sits at the intersection of cognitive science and education.  She explores the cognitive and neural substrates of skill learning as well as the mechanisms by which performance breaks down in high-stress or high-pressure situations.

She believes the body-mind connection starts early:

“Movement matters with everyone, but it is especially important for babies and young children. Mobile kids hit cognitive milestones faster.”

Simple steps like allowing babies to run around naked — when appropriate — can help them explore their worlds. Beilock said wearing nappies (diapers) and using baby walkers can limit a baby’s ability to interact with the world and hinder the process of learning how to walk. The more quickly children learn how to walk and explore, the faster their cognitive development.

Schools need to emphasize “the “4 Rs” — reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic and recess.

Incorporating physical activity can help kids learn in school, according to Beilock (and as the mother of two boys I concur!!)

“We can’t just keep students confined to their chairs — we have to get them up, out and moving. When the subjects are math or physics, getting students to actually physically experience some of the concepts they’re learning about changes how their brains process the information and can lead to better performance on a test.”

Movement also helps explain the connection between music and math. Why do kids tend to excel in both? It’s because the brain areas controlling finger dexterity and number largely overlap. In the book Beilock unpacks the latest research showing that when kids exercise their fingers through regular piano play, their grasp of numbers improves.

Exercise can aid mental health as well as academic achievement, according to Beilock.

“The research shows that getting kids moving is important not only for their physical well-being, but for their mental well-being, too.”

Boys’ academic achievement may especially benefit from recess, Beilock believes.

Exercise is not just for kids

Beilock believes that exercise is equally important for older adults, as it can promote healthy aging mentally and physically.

“There are clear differences in brain health in fit, older adults compared with their more sedentary counterparts. And these differences carry consequences for thinking and reasoning as well as for memory.”

Beilock stresses that aerobic exercise, which can alter the structure and functioning of the brain, is key for improving mental health. Activities like swimming, running, cycling, walking briskly or even doing household chores at a vigorous pace can benefit the brain, in addition to keeping the body fit.

How the Body Knows Its Mind provides many tips on how to use one’s body, actions or surroundings to stimulate the mind and to influence those around you.

5 ways to improve your body-mind connection:

  1. Take active breaks from work or vexing problems to give your brain a chance to regroup and reboot. Physically walking away from the problem for a few minutes may help you solve it.
  2. Your body’s posture and expressions are not just reflections of your mind — they can influence your mood. Stand tall to help give yourself confidence and to send a signal to those around you that you have brought your “A” game to the table. And be mindful of your facial expressions. Your brain uses your expressions as cues to feel emotions. Smiling can actually make you feel happier.
  3. Practice in the real conditions under which you will have to perform — whether it’s public speaking, a test or an important match. It’s also good to practice in front of others so when all eyes are on you, it’s nothing new.
  4. Write it out. Journaling can help you deal with the stress of a test or your worries in daily life. Physically downloading worries from your mind (by putting pen to paper) has positive performance outcomes and reducing that stress affects your health in good ways, too.
  5. Spend time in nature as often as you can, and find time to meditate. New science shows that a walk in the woods rejuvenates our minds and improves our ability to pay attention and focus. Meditation for even a few minutes a day can help alleviate anxiety and chronic pain. It also can help with self-control that may be helpful for working to break bad habits, like smoking.

“Little things we do can have a big effect…if we can understand the science behind how the body affects the brain, we will be in a great position to ensure that we’re always putting our best foot forward when it matters the most.”

Let’s improve on this list of 5 tips … leave a comment below and tell me YOUR tip for improving body-mind (or mind-body) connection.

Source: University of Chicago. “Mind-body connection not a one-way street.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2015.  Image credit: Wikicommons

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  1. Katie Stewart on January 14, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Mindful cognitive movement therapy is a new approach and modality that targets the mind/body connection. MCMT is a treatment technique for allied health providers that work with movement and the body such as physiotherapists and exercise physiologists. It embraces nueroplasticity, music therapy, body language, musculoskeletal soft tissue management and psychology.

    In the same way that that new research in nueroplasticity and knowledge of the brain and it’s functioning has enabled psychologists to revisit some traditional treatment therapies like cognitive therapy. This research and information has enabled physiologists and movement specialist like me to go back and revise our treatment methodologies with consideration of that research and the new developments in our own field around exercise intensity and frequency. The result – is the practice of MCMT and it’s supporting practice options called Mindful Movement & Mood Movement.

    By practicing repetitive patterns and physical behaviors/movements that we link to higher thinking/meta cognition we can change that persons relationship with their body and the affects that body has on their brain.

    Enhanced concentration, reduced anxiety, increased HIIT perception capabilities, reduced perception of pain, improved posture, improved self awareness and body confidence by improving physiological and biomechanical knowledge.

    The treatment applications for MCMT are wide reaching. Mild anxiety and depression, teenage self harm and anorexia, injury prevention, anti-aging, harnessing physical and mental performance, improving gait, post operative joint rehabilitation enhancement, weight loss & positive mindset.

    By focusing on these underlying human issues we subconsciously address and therefor prevent the defined bigger health issues of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

    “If we can change the way people think about how and why they move and the power of those movements we can change their world.”

    Traditional mind/body practices of yoga and mediation do wonderful things for those who are in a physical and mental condition to engage in them. MIndful Movement has been designed for those who don’t fit into that mould. By practicing mindful movement 3 x week the mind and body experience a deep sensation of physical and mental contentment. From there – the possibilities for the individual are endless.

    Katie Stewart
    Exercise physiologist
    Co-founder The Exercise Therapist

  2. Michael Hollingworth on January 22, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks. There is so much to explore in the body-mind space.The long acknowledged impact of breathing fully or properly is well known in meditation. I have practised this through pranayama in the yoga tradition and breath observation in the Buddhist. The body therapist Will Johnson, e.g. in his book The Posture of Meditation: Breathing through the Whole Body, has very subtle and interesting observations to make.

  3. Kelly Sanders on March 9, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    As a trained Psychosomatic therapist (Psycho-mind Soma-body) I understand intimately how someones state of mind is reflected through their face. Our thoughts affect our appearance and body. You can see by looking at someone how stress is being carried through their body,and how they approach life in general. We have the ability to control our health and happiness without external influence. By connecting and finding what it is we really love, we can be complete-that is if our minds, body, spirit and environment is in balance. As we all know however, the principle sounds easy, the practice is not always. Life tends to throw us temptations to keep us off track and test our resilience.

    Strategies like meditation, breathing, smiling, yoga, any form of exercise, supported with healthy eating, and appropriate stress techniques can help prevent illness affecting our bodies and mind. After all, we all want to live happy, full lives don’t we? xx

  4. Kevin on March 23, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Nice article… There are negative stress and proper dealing with your stress and proper Healthcare in one way to improve your mind and body connection.

  5. JB Mason on June 1, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    I love your article. When will this get into schools I wonder?
    I have been working with children and adults for years on re-gaining lost functionality due to injury, neurological events, poor movement pattern development, and more. I am so glad science has finally caught up in recognizing that we learn through movement. What science has not done is shown us how to improve how we move to optimize brain function.
    Through 20 years of studying and practicing how to move better, I realized that most adults and even children lose awareness of the foundations that underly all function. I have identified those five essential elements: how we breathe, yield through the body, differentiate components in the body, rotate, and propel ourselves in gravity, based on the laws of physics and Newton’s 3rd law of motion.
    I have just published a book that is a practical guide showing anyone how to integrate the five elements into all they do to realize their full potential in any endeavor. The book, called Getting Smarter – It’s Not What You Think applies to anyone at any age. Ideally, if it were taught and integrated into school curriculum’s it would transform the education system for teachers and students alike.

  6. Folden Darnell on January 22, 2021 at 3:17 am

    Thank You for your information.

  7. Alan Jennings on March 4, 2021 at 11:32 pm

    this is very informative and intersting, thanks 🙂

  8. Get active on April 26, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Thank for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

  9. Michelle Carlyle on February 8, 2024 at 7:15 am

    Thx Sarah and also for the book reference which I’ll look up.
    I love that simply “turning a frown upside down” can impact our mood.

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