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Linking the physical body to mental wellbeing

I find that when I step away from the busyness in my life, I often feel that I have not breathed out for a long time. I am often either holding my breath or focused more on my in-breath than my out-breath. I find a great relief in taking a deep breath in and letting out a big, deep sigh. There is a good reason why it is called a sigh of relief! Why not try it now for yourself?

Becoming aware of how we are breathing is an important way to work with our body. Are you holding your breath for long periods of time, for example while writing an email? Are you breathing deeply or shallowly? Are you breathing into the upper part of your lungs (chest and shoulders moving with your breath) or are you breathing into the lower part of your lungs (belly moving with your breath)? It turns out that deep slow belly breaths help to calm our nervous system and release stress. If you combine that with big sighs on the out breath, you are likely to calm down quickly and easily in stressful situations.

We spend 24hrs a day with our body, and without us having to think about it. If we are fortunate, our body spends 24hrs of every day keeping us alive. It breathes for us, pumps blood for us, allows us to move, senses the world, allows us to communicate, keeps us at the right temperature, fights diseases, digests food, gets rid of waste and supplies everything that our brain needs in order to function properly.

And yet, many of us completely ignore our bodies, except for worrying about whether they are fit, thin or muscly enough to meet some unknown expectation.

However, the body provides so much information if we are willing to listen. It holds so much vitality if we are willing to open to it. It also holds onto so much stress. By bringing awareness to our bodies we can transform a lot of our day to day and long term experience of stress and challenging emotions.

There are a number of powerful techniques to connect to our bodies, both to listen to the wisdom and to let go of what we no longer need. Techniques such as mindfulness, UZAZU, breathwork, somatic therapy, yoga, martial arts and chi gong can all bring us back in touch with our physical body. In turn we can become more masterful in many areas of our lives.

The mind and the body

When our mind identifies a threat, it uses several strategies to put our body into a heightened state of alert. These includes hormone releases and nervous system impulses. The combination of chemicals and electrical signals get our body ready to “fight or flee”. This response is vitally important to the survival of all mammals and has certainly supported our survival as a species. This response was probably essential for us as early humans to help us fight bears and run away from tigers.

However, in today’s modern society, we no longer experience the same threats. Today’s fight or flight triggers are “will I get this promotion at work tomorrow?” or “how much money can I afford to spend this week?”. Our bodies do not know the difference and that is why our population are experiencing more anxiety today than ever before. Rather than experiencing a highly level of stress every now and again, which gives the body time to release, we face ongoing cycles of stress. These continuous cycles of stress take their toll on the physical body and the mind.

Most of us experienced some stress as a child through a perceived or real lack of safety when we were young. Perhaps our caregiver did not respond to us the way we needed at the time, o