Body-mind, as the word suggests, refers to the unity of mind and body, as opposed to its duality: the mind (including thoughts and emotions) reflects itself physically – the body stores our emotions and thoughts, and vice versa – our physical state affects our mind and emotions.
You may ask why is it important? What it has to do with burnout and fatigue?
We all know that one of the main causes of burnout is prolonged exposure to stress that the body can no longer cope with, which then leads to chronically low energy. This is when we lose touch with the sensations in the body and the warnings that it sends us when the first signs of exhaustion occur.
On a practical level, body-mind awareness teaches us when to stop and not overdo. But on a subtler level, it makes us more present, connected, grounded and receptive to what is going on physically, mentally and emotionally. This allows us to discern which action to take, situations to avoid and changes to make to improve our health and wellbeing.
There have been studies linking chronic illnesses including chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ ME) to physical or emotional trauma. According to Dr. Peter A. Levine, who dedicated his life to researching trauma and created a process called Somatic Experiencing to heal it, it is common for people who had a traumatic experience to disconnect from their bodily sensations as a physiological coping and survival mechanism. Thus rebuilding our body-mind awareness is also an essential element of trauma healing.
Here are two simple our body-mind awareness exercises, which are beautifully described by Dr. Peter A. Levine himself in his book called ‘In an Unspoken Voice’.
Body scan and mindfulness exercise to restore body-mind awareness
The first exercise, much like meditation, focuses on rebuilding the awareness of the body as a whole:
“Let your attention leisurely wander through every part of your body. Without judgement of good/bad or right/wrong, simply note what parts you are able to feel. To what degree does your body exist for you? Initially, you may be surprised that you do not actually feel a part of your body, even an area as large as your pelvis or legs. Of the part of the body that you do feel, you will, at first, probably be mostly aware of uncomfortable, tight and painful areas.
Next, bring your attention to muscular tensions. Attend to them without trying to do something about them. You may want to try to relax them prematurely. It is important, rather, to just let the tensions remain and follow them as they change spontaneously. Notice, now, your skin sensations: can you feel your body as a whole? How does your breathing feel? Can you sense whether it feels full and easy or whether it may get “stuck” in your chest, throat or belly?”
“There’s no winning or losing, success or failure, with these brief daytime trips into the body consciousness. The only objective is to continue the journey, exploring a little further each time with a sense of wonder.”
You can take this exercise a step further to notice the connection between sensations, images and thoughts:
“First attend to what you see, hear and smell in the external environment. Then softly invite your focus inward. Note any images (pictures), muscular tensions, visceral sensations or emotional feelings. Allow yourself to become aware of when you switch from feeling or sensing to thinking, and then gently draw yourself back to inner sensing. You might say to yourself something like, “And when I have the thought that … what I notice in my body is …” At first you may find it difficult to differentiate between sensations, emotions and thoughts. Give yourself time as you accept the perplexity of this challenge. With practice you will become much more clear and adept at untangling the various aspects of body/mind.”