We are not our minds

In Western culture, we tend to not only view the mind, the body, and the spirit as separate parts of our being, but we also tend to place the highest value on the mind. I think this is slowly beginning to shift, but the priority we place on the value of our minds is something that is still an often unconscious assumption that underlies our choices, our behavior, and where we place our attention. Our body is often seen as just a housing for our minds. Likewise, western religion has shown a tendency to see the body as just the vessel that holds our spirit, with the spirit being given the greater value than the lowly vessel.

While most of us do acknowledge the obvious effects our bodies can have on our minds—like the fact that we may have a harder time concentrating when we are tired or have a harder time controlling our emotional responses when stressed—research continues to show us that these interconnections are more pervasive and more subtle than we often assume.

I read a fascinating post today in Scientific American online called A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain by Samuel McNerney that shares some history of the field of embodied cognition as well as some of the latest research findings. The entire article is absolutely fascinating! What they are finding is that our thoughts are much more strongly influenced by our physical experiences than we have previously realized.  Many of the metaphorical expressions we use every day are indicators of this connection.

For example, one study found that in a brief interaction with a stranger, a study participant who was holding warm cups of coffee was more likely to find the stranger trustworthy than a study participant holding cold cups of coffee. This impact of warmth on our perception of another person fits well with our expression of “warming up” to someone as we get to know them and develop a positive perception of them. This influence also works the other way. Another study showed that study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were socially accepted judged the temperature of the room to be about five degrees warmer than study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were snubbed.

These sorts of unconscious interplays between mind, body, and spirit are occurring every moment of every day of our lives. When we attempt to place our priority and our focus only on our “rational” minds, we lose sight of the fact that the mind is interconnected with our bodies and our spirits in a way that cannot be cleanly divided into separate areas.

For me, yoga has been one powerful way for me to become more aware of my full state of being. The development of a witness, or observer, consciousness through asana practice and meditation has allowed me to live with greater awareness of my body, my spirit, and my mind in any given moment so I can evaluate my thoughts and feelings with a more complete data set. It brings a greater mindfulness to all that I do.

In one of my coaching classes last night, we discussed how often we react to situations based on past experiences that have pre-conditioned us rather than responding in the present moment to the situation that is actually at hand. The most powerful way to break these pre-conditioned reactions (or what yoga calls samskara) is to take a moment to become aware of the information that our emotions and our body itself is giving us before we respond.

Not only has taking that time to notice helped me begin to change long-standing habits and make better decisions, it’s also helping me place a higher value on taking care of my body. I still have LOTS of room to grow in this area, but I am finding myself paying more attention to how much I sleep, what I eat, how much water I drink, my physical posture, and how much activity I am getting. I’m starting to make better decisions about my self-care, and I am learning to take the state of my body into account when I consider the messages my thoughts and feelings are telling me. It has truly broadened and enhanced my world.

How do you make these connections between your mind, your body, and your spirit? Do you give an equal priority to all of who you are? If not, can you think of one thing you can do today to start bringing better balance?

Buddha’s Brain

This past weekend I had the opportunity to read Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (affiliate link) by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius. It’s a book that’s been on my “to read” list for quite some time, but it finally made it to the top of the list because a book club that I am in chose it for this month’s selection.

I am so glad they did! This is an easy-to-read book, but the amount of information packed in these pages will have me re-reading it multiple times over the coming months.

The book describes the ways that neuroscience is showing us how our flow of thoughts can actually change our brains, for better or for worse. Not only does the book share the results of a large number of scientific studies in easy to follow language (it’s also well footnoted in case you wish to read the actual studies), it goes on to use the results of these studies to suggest practical tips and skills to use to begin using your mind (your thoughts) to change your brain for the better.

Many of these scientific discoveries just confirm what Buddha and other spiritual teachers have been telling us for years (hence the title of the book). We have just now come to the point that we can scientifically explain how it works.

I was amazed to discover that my brain is so capable of change and to learn how much control I can achieve over its functioning. I am already using some of the tips from the book and finding them helpful in being more aware of why I think the way I think, why I react the way I do, and how I can change my thoughts and reactions in ways that make me happier.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough for anyone who is interested in how the mind works or is interested in making changes in their lives to create a happier life.

Reiki for depression

When I first diagnosed with depression and went through the worst bout of it almost twenty years ago now, I had not heard of Reiki. In the time since then, I have learned to manage my depression through a variety of self-care techniques, including diet and supplements, sufficient sleep, exercise, meditation, journaling, and self-talk management. All of these things have been truly helpful in my own efforts to manage this condition.

Shortly after I began learning how to use Reiki a couple of years ago, my entire world fell apart in an ongoing sequence of personal storms that would once have been more than my self-care routines would have been able to manage. I have deeply struggled through parts of this journey, but I have not succumbed to the black depths of depression that I once would have before I was blessed with Reiki.

The use of self-Reiki and receiving Reiki from others has been instrumental in keeping my depressive tendencies to a manageable level despite the challenges I have faced. I am extraordinarily grateful for all that Reiki has done for me during this time, but my experience is hardly unique.

Pamela Miles, a well-known Reiki practitioner in New York City and author of the book , recently wrote a blog post called You Are Not Alone that shares some research showing the difference Reiki can make in the lives of people struggling with depression. More information about the study she cites is available from the Center for Reiki Research in a summary of the study (PDF, 22 KB).

Although this study was performed on a relatively small sample, the results are encouraging and are in agreement with what I have experienced in my own life. I am excited to see that research is being published in this area and hope to see more studies of this nature in the future.

If you are struggling with depression and would like to try Reiki as another tool in your journey toward wellness, please don’t hesitate to contact me and give a Reiki session a try. I’m so glad that I did!