Updated: Aug 9, 2018
The manner in which we lead our lives in the modern technological world is incompatible with optimum human functioning. The relentless pace of keeping up with the virtual world, indulged in smart-phones and laptops, leaves the ratio of ‘living in our head’ and ‘living in our body’ lopsided. This disconnection can be attributed to the rising incidence of physical ailments in our society such as musculoskeletal conditions and lifestyle diseases. Perhaps less recognisable is the negative impact that this disconnection has on our innate ability to identify, analyse and regulate emotions that are expressed in the body.
There are obvious pros and cons to having unlimited and instant access to information. The positive aspects of this can be seen across most sectors of society, cognitively however this poses a great risk as our attentional systems become compromised with information overload. Having difficulty paying attention to a thing for a prolonged period is not the only drawback of this, there are also physical repercussions of our current lifestyle.
Expectedly there is an entire industry created to address the consequences of the modern western lifestyle. Meditation, life coaching and mindfulness are just some of the modalities that instantly spring to mind. The common denominator in all of these therapies is that they tend to make the primary focus one’s psychological well being. This of course is a fundamental aspect of our health and brilliant results can be achieved through this approach. There are however other practices which adapt a different approach to psychological and physical well-being.
Practices which involve movement of the anatomy increase body awareness, improve attentional capacity and improve the ability to modulate emotions that are expressed in the body. These skills can be cultivated in practices such as Pilates or Yoga. Learning to pay attention to the body is of paramount importance in this practice. The journey that one undertakes when learning the art of Yoga or Pilates is one that brings to the fore the attentional systems in the brain. The trickle down effect of this is a highly improved ability to focus on, analyse and regulate emotions in any situation.
Utilising the body as the medium through which we train our attentional system allows for a environment in which we become attuned to the more subtle and highly informative bodily sensations. With this comes the ability to monitor if the body is attempting to relay information to the cognitive mind. The subject of these messages can vary from physical pains, fluctuations in the autonomic systems (raising blood pressure etc) or emotional states (negative or positive). A more in-tuned connection with our own body enables us to flag when something important might be occurring and in turn make an informed decision on how best to deal with the situation.
Learning to interact with the experiences that this practice brings in an accepting manner is one of the most important aspects of body centred mindfulness. By practising to relate to our thoughts and emotions, relating to others in a more compassionate way becomes more accessible.