Have you ever felt like the weight of the world is on your shoulders? If you would have checked your posture at that time, you might have noticed slumped shoulders, tension, and a collapsed chest. The mind-body connection is very much real, and your emotional difficulties are manifested physically. William James, a psychologist and philosopher in the 1880’s, stated that emotion is the mind’s conceptualization of physical sensation. You experience a physical sensation, and the mind assigns an interpretation to the sensation (Osman, 2019).
Take a moment to reflect on where you feel anxiety in your body
Perhaps your jaw, shoulders, chest, or stomach. Your mind attaches meaning and thoughts to this emotion (i.e. “I can’t do this” or “I feel out of control”). This effects your behaviors by avoiding situations, people, or places. To break this cycle of anxiety, in CBT a therapist might help you first examine symptoms, triggers, and core beliefs contributing to the anxiety.
All of this is wonderful, however a roadblock to long-term success is in remembering the information and staying grounded while applying what you have learned. Do you recall standing up in grade school in front of the class to read something? Do you remember what you read more or how you felt while you were standing up? Anxiety puts us in a fight-flight-freeze response. If we do not first feel safe and grounded, we will not be able to fully access the parts of our brain that affect speech, complex decision-making, and understanding different perspectives.
Get grounded with movement.
Movement combined with CBT facilitates grounding, feeling safe, and creating a stable environment for emotional healing. As a yoga teacher and mental health therapist, I find that yoga teaches us to experience discomfort in the moment, as it is, without attempting to escape. Deep insight into yourself is also achieved by combining the two modalities. My yoga instructor would often say to us “you approach yoga asana (poses) how you approach everything else in your life”. She is completely correct. If you notice yourself consistently pushing and forcing yourself into a yoga pose beyond your current limit, how else might you be pushing yourself too far at work or at home? Sometimes experiencing this physically is so much more powerful and impactful than attempting to understand it with the mind.
Find a therapist that’s right for you.
Emotional wounds can also become trapped in our physical body. There becomes a disconnect; we get sad or anxious, but we do not know why. Movement combined with CBT opens the door for you to calm the mind and let go of hypervigilance, deeply understand your body, regulate emotions, and root yourself in the present moment. Our anxious mind lives in a future tense, when we root ourselves in the here and now, anxiety dissipates. One of the responses from a yoga study implemented by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD summarizes the potential benefits of yoga and mental health therapy combined: “I can express my feelings more because I can recognize them more. I feel them in my body, recognize them, and address them” (Van Der Kolk, p. 2014).
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Kristie Powell is a therapist who specializes in yoga-informed therapy, DBT, and mindfulness. Since 2008, yoga and mindfulness have been her constant companions through life transitions, career changes, and motherhood. Through these practices, she was able to gain a deep understanding of herself and the world around her. She had more compassion, fun, and inner peace. One of the most beautiful aspects of life is that we create the meaning in our lives; which puts us in the driver’s seat and in control of our happiness.