This week systemic coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister James Pereira QC discuss the importance of connecting the mind, body and the space around us, and the ways in which this can be achieved.
Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” The dualist view that mind and body are somehow separate is pervasive. Convention tells us that thoughts and emotions are the product of the mind that is found in the brain, and that the body is essentially a mechanical object, controlled by conscious thought and regulated by the subconscious and the biological systems that work unseen in our day-to-day lives. The traditions of western medical science reinforce these beliefs, and they are particularly prevalent in professions such as the law.
Lawyers tend to see themselves as engaged in an intellectual endeavour of the mind, for which the body’s role is to make the morning commute, sit at the desk, consume coffee, express the mind’s will through reading, typing and speaking, and then carry us safely home in the evening.
But pause for a moment and the falsehood of this belief soon reveals itself. Anyone who has suffered trauma as a child or adult knows that the mental, emotional and physical responses of the self are not neatly partitioned between mind and body.
Modern science now accepts that the body’s physiology changes under stress and trauma, and that emotions and feelings are stored in the body – the body keeps the score.
On a day to day level, all of us experience the body’s interaction with thoughts and emotions: the “gut feeling” about something; headaches caused by tension; irritable bowel syndrome caused by stress; inability to sleep caused by anxiety. These physical manifestations of poor well-being accumulate if left unattended, and the risk of long term health problems increases.
And there is another, important dimension to our holistic well-being which is often overlooked: the way in which we connect and interact with the space around us. Little attention is paid to this in our daily lives, as we tend to take the space around us for granted. Yet our language is full of expressions which testify to the profound relationship between our thoughts and emotions and our place within the physical space around us.
Hence we have expressions such as jumping for joy, feeling down, being on a steep learning curve and staying grounded, to name but a few. Despite this awareness, most of us spend the majority of our time relatively static at our desks, staring at a screen, with little connection to the reality around us.
So how can we make better sense of the mind-body connection and the effect that our interaction with space has on our well-being?
One method which can bring strong and relatively quick results (and which we have both practised) is the Bothmer method of movement. Created by Count Fritz Von Bothmer in the 1920s, in collaboration with the philosopher and social reformer Rudolph Steiner, Bothmer movement consists of a series of movement exercises that expand our spatial awareness, and our understanding of the link between physical movement and action, and our emotional state. Teachers such as Trudy Lewis run workshops and one to one sessions teaching Bothmer exercises. The movements are based on a profound understanding of the way in which spatial forces pass around and through the human body. By moving differently, we feel differently.
For example, some exercises lead you through a transition from the confidence and vitality of an upright, open and balanced posture, through to the stored tension, vulnerability and pressure of a tight, crouched and stooped pose, and then finally on to a triumphant release as the body straightens out and reaches tall again.
Other exercises are far simpler, yet can provoke a profound emotional response. The practice of walking purposefully to a fixed point at eye level on a wall while maintaining a horizontal gaze was found to generate a surprising amount of strong, masculine energy. While standing still and consciously shifting one’s gaze from the horizontal to the floor, provoked feelings of sadness. In this way we can naturally open up and iron out the mental, physical and emotional creases created by long work hours in a relatively pressured and static environment. All the exercises we practiced gave fairly instantaneous insights into the connection between body, space, movement and emotion. Indeed, one of the benefits that Bothmer has over other more well-known practices, such as yoga, is its accessibility.
As Lewis explains, “Creating an awareness of gravity and space allows us to relate directly to our head and feet, our mind and body, and the absolute necessity for balance. Bothmer grounds us and supports mind-body harmony which leads to a work-life balance, and in turn allows our well-being to be maintained.”
So next time you are feeling “under pressure” or you are finding it hard to cope with life’s “ups and downs”, or perhaps you need to “keep a level head”, or simply feel “uplifted”, consider whether it is time to “take steps” towards a deeper harmony between your mind, body and the space around you.
The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles.