The other day, a client came in to see me with complaints of shoulder and low back pain. Instead of performing manual therapy to relieve her pain, I took another approach that I am going to call BodyMind Mapping. I asked her to write a list of five ‘negative’ thought statements she most often has. Then, I asked her to: 1) Repeat each thought aloud, 2) Notice what emotion was connected to that thought, 3) Notice where she felt that emotion in her body, and 4) Write each statement on the corresponding body part of the gingerbread person I drew out for her. Three thoughts she wrote over her painful shoulders. Two thoughts she wrote over her painful low back.
Together we worked on changing the statements to something more emotionally positive and meaningful. She crossed out the old "stories" on the body template and wrote her new story at each body part (each shoulder and low back). Again, I asked her to read each statement and notice how that corresponding body part felt. Every new, more positive statement had decreased the pain and tension in her shoulders and low back. She said she felt “like a weight has been lifted off of me.”
This makes me wonder, can pain be conceptualized as a feeling? What we think creates an emotional response, which affects our mood of feeling happy, sad, etc., or in pain.
Your body is a map of your emotional experiences. Emotions are expressed in the body as feelings. The neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Candace Pert, theorized that neuropeptides are the biochemicals of emotions. Dr. Pert believed that emotions are stored in the body at neuropeptide receptor sites and therefore, the body is the subconscious mind. This makes sense when we think, for examples, all those times that we feel sick to our stomach from anxiety or our shoulders become painful and heavy when we feel overwhelmed and overburdened. After years of research, Dr. Pert stated that she could “no longer find a strong distinction between the brain and body,” and began referring to the human body and mind as a singular, integrated unit, an integrated BodyMind.
So how do we change our health and state of wellbeing?
By being mindful of our words and thoughts. Words and thoughts engage specific emotions that we feel in our body, which directly affect our physiology. Louise Hay's famous books, Heal Your Body and You Can Heal Your Life, identify numerous illnesses and their probable emotional cause. Hay is famous for her use of positive affirmations as a healing modality. Her belief was that when we give ourselves the opportunity to heal emotions by changing our limiting thoughts and beliefs, we heal physically. We might even consider her an early pioneer of the Rewire the Brain movement with her use of positive affirmations--positive thoughts with powerful emotional intention--to create a path towards health and wellness.
Let' take this one step further
Frequently, I hear the terms negative thoughts and emotions. Yet, let's think about this word and how it feels to us. The word "negative" has a connotation that often produces an emotional fear of feeling whatever we deem negative. The word "negative" creates a "negative" emotion, which creates a "negative" feeling in our body and a "negative" physiological response.
Instead of labeling thoughts and emotions as bad or good,
what if we label them as the BodyMind perceives them, healthful or unhealthful?
In other words, thoughts and emotions are nothing to fear, but something to feel and understand so that we know how we are affected by them.
We focus so much on diet and exercise to keep our body healthy. But, did you ever hear the phrase, "You are what you think"? Do you ever stop to think of what you say to yourself and others, what others say to you, and how these affect your physical and emotional health? Words leave an emotional resonance which affects our body's wellbeing.