We’ve all heard that getting our minds and bodies in sync can improve our overall health and happiness. The trick is actually doing it. When we do, the results can be profound and transformative. The “mind doesn’t dominate [the] body,” says Candace P. Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. “It becomes body—body and mind are one.”
I set out to find the 10 best tips from the experts to get your mind and body into a peaceful and powerful relationship.
1. Take a deep breath
Your mother may have told you to do this when you’re making a big decision. And you’ve likely experienced how this little tip can work in big ways. Focusing on the breath brings calmness and clarity almost instantly. Soft-belly breathing—relaxing your body and softening your belly as your muscles calm and your lungs breathe in and out—stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to control the relaxation response. Take a deep breath and your mind and body will relax. It’s that simple.
2. Be mindful and meditate
Get comfortable, allow your body to relax, focus on your breath and melt into silence. This is meditation, and it helps you become more present and conscious. Research studies show meditation reduces stress, fatigue, nausea, pain and anxiety and can improve mood, sleep, concentration and attention by positively changing the brain’s structure. Mindfulness is when you strive to experience moment-to-moment awareness as much as possible. Studies have demonstrated that mindfulness boosts your working memory, focus, cognitive flexibility and functions, relationship satisfaction and self-insights, all while lowering emotional reactivity and supporting your health by strengthening immune functions and improving overall well-being, for example.
Cultivate your breath through meditation and mindfulness. As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “Our breath is the bridge that unites body and mind.” To achieve stillness, try using a mantra, which is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration during meditation. A recent study involving common mantra-related meditative practices showed that using a mantra can indeed create psychological calm.
3. Turn stress into thriving
Stress is sticky stuff. It’s much too common, and it has all sorts of negative impacts, including disease. Instead, turn chaos into productivity. Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times best-selling author of Mind Over Medicine, says, “There is scientific data proving that certain miraculous stories of healing happen because people radically alter their body’s physiology by changing their mind.” She recommends identifying long-held beliefs from blind spots not known for years, and reflecting on the past, present and future. “If you’re fearless enough to face the truth about yourself, your life and any illness, you’ll have the opportunity to awaken to the bliss that comes with living in alignment with your Inner Pilot Light. And when you do, you relax your body, flip on your self-repair mechanisms and make the body ripe for miracles. Remember, anything is possible,” says Rankin.
4. Transform your ego
Being “present” and being in the “here and now” are vital for mind-body wellness. But challenges often come from the ego—the part of your identity you consider your “self” that’s often developed while growing up, which informs who you are. Negative emotions and thinking create many dynamics, including blocks and repetitive patterns of actions and behaviors that impact who you are now.
“Our words and our thoughts, and the words and thoughts of those around us, have very strong influence over our genetic expression. The effects occur within seconds. The reason: The immediate early genes swing into operation within seconds of any negative thought or emotion or trauma,” explains James L. Oschman, PhD, a nationally and internationally recognized expert on energy medicine, mind-body, bodywork, movement, research with cells and tissues and other topics. And it can happen at a very young age.
Identify the positive and negative emotions, thinking and beliefs that resulted from past events and behaviors. And then start to change them to transform your life. Strategies to gain self-awareness and self-knowledge include body scans (relaxing and being aware of your body parts from your feet to your head); dancing; shaking the body; the emotional freedom technique (EFT); listening to music with drums, or jazz or classical music; creating art; journaling; being in nature; doing yoga; and practicing studies of religion and spirit.
5. Let your vulnerability shine
In our culture, we’ve made vulnerability a negative. But there’s power in making it a positive. “We associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid, such as fear, shame and uncertainty,” according to Brené Brown, PhD, author of The Power of Vulnerability. “Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity and love.” Brown explains that intense vulnerability can turn into shame, leading to social isolation. Instead, she suggests trying “wholeheartedness” as a way of life. You’ve heard of living life to the fullest—that goes for emotionally, too. She says to try to harness the courage to be vulnerable, express your vulnerability and then cultivate compassion for yourself and others as a way to have healthy, intimate connections.
6. Find your calling
Identifying and pursuing your purpose in life involve a sense of openness and curiosity to explore who you really are. Sometimes it happens through a negative incident—a wake-up call—that turns adversity into an opportunity to understand what you should be doing with your life. Or it can be done through self-exploration techniques, including reading books that inspire you, journaling, attending retreats, asking what makes your heart sing or tracking how you feel when you wake up in the morning as you ask what you love in life. And listen to the messages and mystical moments that are signs of your unique calling. Knowing your purpose will give you a spring in your step and can invigorate your innate capacity to heal. Believe that it will come, be still, listen and engage in actions
7. Love thyself
There are many ways to love, and they start with loving yourself. But how does that happen, exactly? Ancient Chinese doctors wrote of the “silk threads” connecting the heart and brain. Research in the mid-1990s discovered the presence of an intrinsic nervous system in the heart, a complex network of tens of thousands of neurons processing information in the heart and transmitting that information to the brain, says Bruce Cryer, author of From Chaos to Coherence: The Power to Change Performance. “A mountain of evidence has now shown that positive emotions such as love, compassion and joy provide a healing bath of biochemical’s, not only improving the health and function of the heart, but also the entire body and brain,” says Cryer.
One of the first steps to loving yourself is addressing your wounds. “One of our greatest blocks to lovingkindness is our own sense of unworthiness,” explains Jack Kornfield, PhD, author of The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. “Love and compassion must begin with kindness toward ourselves.” So forgive yourself and let whatever is blocking your way fall away.
8. Watch what you put in your mouth
Yes, healthy foods make us healthier. Consuming organic vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, nuts, herbs, spices and fish is beneficial; eating processed carbohydrates, large amounts of red meat and chicken, as well as wheat, other glutens, sugar and dairy is not. But it’s more than just our physical health. Eating poorly affects our brain’s neurotransmitters and the ability to do its job, including regulating our moods. And that goes for alcohol and smoking, too. Make wise choices about what you put in your mouth and watch what happens to your brain, body and well-being.
9. Settle into sleep
On average, adults need seven to eight hours of quality sleep (although some get by with six, while others are still sleepy after nine, such as LeBron James, who has said he gets up to 12). A key hormone produced during sleep is melatonin, which helps regulate other hormones and the body’s circadian rhythms, which control brain and body functions within 24-hour activity patterns. Healthy circadian rhythms support the mind-body balance. You’ll sleep best when you eat a healthy diet, get some physical activity, are exposed to sunlight in the early morning and the end of the afternoon, relax into bedtime, take some melatonin and sleep during the night in complete darkness.
10. Shake that body
Wellness shines when you exercise several times weekly. Depending upon the practice, exercise involves developing a relationship with your body and cultivating the mind-body-spirit connection. Exercise provides major benefits such as improved mood, confidence, emotional balance, increased energy, strength, flexibility, stamina, reduced stress, lowered blood pressure and total cholesterol, and decreased body fat. Motivate yourself. Walk, run, bike, exercise at a gym, do yoga, try tai chi, take Pilates classes, dance, swim or hike. Embrace your personal commitment to thrive.
- Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by Candace B. Pert
- The Center for Mind-Body Medicine
- Soft Belly Breathing with James S. Gordon, MD
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Brain and Behavior – the “Mantra” effect
- Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself
- James L. Oschman, PhD
- The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage
- Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity
- International Agency for Research on Cancer