How Your Embodied Mind Shapes Your Life
What’s Your Embodied Mind?
We tend to think of our minds as our thoughts and the partof the brain that’s always talking to us. But actually, this thinking, analytical mind represents just a mere five to ten percent of our full mind. The rest is located within the body (which incidentally includes the head). This large, complex, and important part of us is called the embodied mind or the body-mind. You may find this inconceivable or hard to fathom. But, neuroscientists, somatic practitioners, and other related specialists are rapidly gathering evidence supporting this claim and uncovering how the entire body interacts to create our minds. So, let’s take a closer look at what’s your embodied mind and how it shapes your life.
How Your Body-Mind Shapes Your life
Embodied Emotions Create the Feeling of What Is
We tend to use “emotions” and “feelings” interchangeably. Yet, they’re distinctly different. Emotions are innate automatic neurobiological reactions to significant (beyond a threshold) stimuli, which signal and engage nearly all of our body systems to respond. While emotions largely function unconsciously, they’re absolutely necessary for consciousness itself. (Damasio). Thus, in contrast to popular thinking, emotions are not valenced. That is they are not positive or negative, nor good or bad. They simply orient and shape us without valuation.
Emotions orient our bodily reactions and underlie how we perceive as well as hold experiences within the body. Thus, emotions contribute to the formation of our thoughts and beliefs related to those experiences. For example, bodyworkers — both physical and energetic — note that anger and resentment tend to manifest tension in the body such as clenched jaws and furrowed brows.
Feelings, on the other hand, are associated with the conscious cognitive awareness of these associated physical changes (Damasio, Scientific America). In other words, feelings are more direct expressions of our thoughts and beliefs about what happens.
In this way, emotions precede thoughts and thoughts precede feelings. Of course, the duration of this process is infinitesimal.
Bodies Align People and Create Connection
A particular type of neuron, the mirror neuron, regulates its activity when we move or express as well as when we observe the same or similar movement or expression performed by another person (NIH). This process transpires outside conscious awareness. However, we may feel a stronger connection to the other person.
In truth, the only way we can sense how another person is feeling is to sense within ourselves. Mirror neurons allow for this transference. Their existence is fundamental to our ability to sense connection, empathy, compassion, and others’ intentions and emotional states.
Of course, we could always think about what mirror neurons automatically do such as “I think she connected with me, because…” But, then this cognitive process is more complex, cumbersome, time-consuming, and likely to be woefully inaccurate.
Body Armoring For Both Protection and Restraint
Armoring is neurobiological wiring that keeps in emotions that are deemed inappropriate. Similarly, it can arise when emotions or energy directed at us appears negative or inappropriate. Furthermore, the memory of this wiring is held in the fascia (Blake). For example, we might cringe and draw ourselves physically inward toward our center when we or someone else makes an embarrassing mistake. All of this happens, and we’re typically unaware of it.
This structural, chemical, neurological, and energetic holding (i.e., armor) can become chronic and involuntary. Still, the posture or shape of constriction and associated energy alter our internal and external perceptivity of experiences and block our ability to exhibit alternative emotional expressions. In fact, armor can obstruct the change we are cognitively committed to.
Armoring literally shapes us and our lives. It alters our physical and psychological state and in so doing limits our options to act, react, or engage. Hence, it constrains our options for moving forward. As a renowned psychologist, Elliot Green, remarks: Armoring “portrays how the psychological and physiological elements of people dynamically interact to form resistance to thoughts, perceptions, and feelings” (Greene).
Embodiment For Better Decision-Making
The mind-body model developed by Rene Descartes, a 16th-century French philosopher and mathematician, reigns supreme in Western culture still today. However, its supremacy is noticeably eroding. While Descartes saw the mind and body as separate and exalted cognition and intellect, new models envision a kine of cocreation where the entire body interactively interacts to create the mind. Very simplistically, the sensory part of the brain, monitored by the insula, and the action part of the brain, monitored by the cingulate, problem solve and find resolutions together (Claxton). These new approaches are rapidly evolving and gaining broad support.
When we embody a choice before us, we can get the whole sense of a situation and potential outcomes albeit minus an accompanying logical assessment, of course. In contrast, our analytical mind gathers what it perceives as relevant thoughts and options. It then devises ways to calculate costs and benefits and prioritize options seeking the best possible solution. Unfortunately, most of us are all too familiar with how this process can lead to multiple “best” solutions, subtle manipulation to outright cheating in favor of a particular preference, or an ultimate reliance on intuition.
Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)’s Affect On Focus, Thinking, and Decision Making
Let’s look at one more way the body contributes to better thinking and decision-making: the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and regulation of stress.
Many people have heard of the survival or “fight/flight/freeze” stress responses. They may also have some knowledge of the physiological changes associated with it, e.g., altered breath patterns. But, they are less likely to know how the mind reacts to stress. For example, it becomes hyper-focused, inflexible, exhibits unoriginal thinking. Additionally, we feel anxious and disengaged. Being able to regulate the ANS can have a pronounced effect on executive functioning.
Embodiment is enormously more diverse and in-depth than what is presented here. And, embodiment science is rapidly evolving in its understanding of the structures involved, their interrelatedness, and their functionality and applications. Still, it’s my hope that this blog heightened your interest in the topic and in the incredible embodied resources you have as a human being, but perhaps have not yet fostered and developed. Maybe it’s time.
For More Information On or Assistance With Tapping Into Your Body, see:
- Personal Growth, Energy Healing, and Wellness Workshops. In particular: Getting In Touch With the Body (introduction) and How Your Embodied Mind Shapes Your Life and Living From the Inside Out (more advanced)
- FREE Guided Meditation Getting In Touch With the Inside
- Why Embodiment is Important For Self-Awareness blog post
- 3 Ways to Get to Know Your Embodied Brain blog post