If you’re reading this then it’s likely that you’ve got an interest in the science of the mind/body connection. An interesting thing you may have noticed, and it might be because of the way the term is constructed, is that most attention is paid to how the mind affects our body. Whole books are devoted to the power of the mind and how it can be harnessed to heal the body, or improve its performance in some way. From my experience with clients, and in my own life, I take this as a given, and I’m gratified that nowadays barely an issue of New Scientist comes out without more research confirming it.
What I’d like you to consider is the power of the flip side of this equation (did I just mangle a metaphor?), how the body affects the mind.
Recent research into mirror neurons highlights how useful knowledge of this body/mind connection could be. Researchers found that, if you put a pen between your teeth (or similar object) and not allow your mouth to touch the pen, that your ability to interpret people’s emotions is impaired. They presently surmise that, when we see someone, we observe their facial clues and our mirror neurons cause the neurons in our motor cortex responsible for our facial muscles to run a simulation of that person’s expression – we mimic them. This then enables us to interpret the other person’s state – we, literally, feel the other person’s happiness or pain. It explains why laughter is contagious, and why recently I was so touched watching Frank Lampard score in the game after the death of his mother; in many respects I was responding to his loss as my own. Mirror neurons appear to be the root of empathy – and so much more (which I hope to expand on at a later date).
So, when working with a client, don’t have a pen in your mouth.
When I read this I immediately connected it with another study I read last year which showed that, by holding a pen in the same way, people were less able to feel depressed or anxious. This ties in with the work of Paul Ekman, author of Emotions Revealed, who found that humans across the globe non-verbally communicate 7 basic emotions using the same facial expressions – they’re hard-wired, not the result of cultural transmission. Interestingly, when he was getting some volunteers to be photographed holding their faces in these positions, they reported beginning to feel the emotion connected to the expression; so even though they were just ‘pretending’ to be angry, they nevertheless began to feel that way.
The conclusion currently is that the mind and body interact and are interdependent in the process of accessing, interpreting and expressing emotions. So, if you’re feeling depressed but your mouth is forced into a smile by holding a pen between your teeth, this incongruity causes a change of state, and the mind will begin to assume the mood that the body is ‘in the shape of’.
So, with my clients, while I’ll be working on whatever mental connections they’re making with a situation that causes their body to begin to panic or feel uneasy (ie working in a mind-body direction), I’ll also often teach them principles of this ’embodiment’; how to assume the physiology of the state they want to be in for a particular situation, using their face and body to communicate the desired mental state (working from body-to mind) and so cover all the bases.
If they don’t, they’ll be hijacked by whatever feeling currently dominates them in that situaton- like John Terry about to take a penalty in the European Cup Final (forgive me while I weep) – he didn’t physically look like he was going to score, and his mind obliged his body. What we all need to work on is the harmonious interaction of a psychology and physiology that enables excellence.
If you know anyone at Chelsea, please give them my number. I’ll work for free. Almost.