What is the Mind-Body Connection?
By: Michelle Grim - Licensed physician assistant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and also a 500-RYT certified yoga teacher
When I first began my journey with yoga, I didn’t really even think about the fact that how I used my body affected my mind. Even when I could easily acknowledge that practicing yoga made me feel better physically and emotionally, it still didn’t really come to me that my mind and body influenced one another greatly. I felt in control of my life. I felt in control of my body. I felt in control of my mind…for the most part.
Interestingly, for me, it wasn’t until I felt out of control with my body, the thing I had always found never failed me, that I began to encounter the deep connection my mind and body had with one another. I was diagnosed with a permanent and progressive ankle disorder and could no longer run (one of my greatest passions), and then I got hit by a car while bike commuting and dislocated my shoulder. Suddenly, I was unable to do most things with my body that I had been doing for my entire adult life. I could no longer ride a bicycle, I could no longer run. I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t even do yoga. I had daily pain in my ankle, some days worse than others, but all days noticeable and leaving me hobbling by evening. I found myself contemplating my pain worsening for the rest of my life, and mourned the imagined loss of my capacity to do more and more of my favorite activities as it worsened. Instead of feeling intrigued by the fact that I also felt incredibly sad and confused about my life direction and motivations during that time, I felt completely consumed by those emotions. I felt aimless and discouraged. But, like what often happens when your world feels like it is collapsing, the lack of stability in my life encouraged me to seek answers. And within about 3 months of feeling stuck in the trenches of my own sadness, I found myself in a yoga nidra class hoping to find the yoga I had been so deeply missing.
Yoga nidra is a class that involves literally just lying on the floor for an hour accompanied by a meditation that is body based. I felt defeated that this was all that I could muster, but I had to try it. Walking boot and all, I showed up to a yoga class having no idea what to expect, longing deeply for the physical exertion I craved, but knowing I wouldn’t get it, and also hoping that something else good would come of it.
My first class was the beginning. Similar to my physical asana practice, yoga nidra somehow made me feel better. I couldn’t explain it, but I immediately knew I needed to teach it. And it was at the first yoga nidra class I ever led that my intrigue, curiosity, and, ultimately, an overwhelming experience of wonder, inspired my deep dive into the study of the mind body connection that continues to this day. At my first class I led, I noticed a shift in my body, and my ankle pain disappeared for 5 solid days; no hobbling, no wincing while walking, nothing. Nothing physical had changed with my body, but my pain was gone. And I felt happy! I was astounded! I had to know more.
My first dive into the world of mind body medicine was in the form of a training program for psychotherapists. I was the only yoga teacher in the room, and most definitely the only physician assistant, but it was just what I was looking for. The class uncovered the previously mysterious world of “Mind-Body” and explained it in terms of brain function and somatosensory input. It made so much sense to me that it laid the foundation for my continued studies. Within a year, I was in an 800 hour yoga therapy training certification program, which I continue to pursue today.
What if we better understood the way our mind works and the way it interacts with the body? What could you accomplish? To me, I see that the possibilities are endless. I haven’t cured my ankle pain, but I have healed. I feel at ease in my body and my mind despite occasional pain; I run occasionally, but I also hike, and bike, and swim, and I practice yoga (with modifications as needed). I am happy and feel in alignment with the direction I am moving in my life.
How did this happen? I learned about myself. I observed the way my body influences my mind, and the way my mind influences my body. And that awareness allowed me to choose. I choose to use my body in a way that supports my mind, how I think about myself and my place in this world; and I use my mind to support my body.
Learn more about how your mind and body influence your life in my upcoming workshop What is the Mind-Body Connection? on Saturday June 9th. Also, you can contact Infinity Holistic Wellness & Yoga directly to learn more about services that integrate both mind and body.
Michelle Grim is a licensed physician assistant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and also a 500-RYT certified yoga teacher. She is committed to integrating these two worlds through education and direct experience. Providing experience of the mind-body connection as a route to healing is the foundation of her teaching.