The Mind and Body Relationship: Seen Through Art and CrossFit
There was a time I felt completely lost mentally and emotionally so I went and got lost in another country. While being lost I have never felt so much at home.
I felt more comfortable in “lost” than I did in my own house.
I recognized my body as my home internally felt lost and now I was matching my external world to my internal feelings.
As art therapists we are trained to pay attention. Pay attention to body language, patterns, the way someone presented themselves, materials someone may be attracted to etc. All of these things help to inform us as art therapists.
While I spend time paying attention to the patterns of those I work with I also started to pay attention to the patterns I noticed in myself.
If you aren't familiar with art therapy it is a mental health profession where we utilize a creative process as an integral part to the therapy sessions and you can read more on art therapy at the American Art Therapy Association page about this field.
We focus on the process where the goal is not always intentional on creating an aesthetically pleasing piece. We must familiarize ourselves with a variety of materials and we know when someone is attracted to a specific material this is informing us of something pertinent within the therapeutic process. This varies per person and situation what that meaning may be as a specific material chosen does not equate to the same meaning per person. For example, just because someone chose dry felting this does not have the same resonance meaning per person on why they may have chosen this material.
Over time I have come to recognize the patterns in my own life. I recognized when I was able to re-align myself in all aspects of my life I felt more connected and self-aware.
At a time I needed to feel strong I found my art evolving to the themes surrounding perseverance and resiliency which included my own physical strength to create my art and patience to make these pieces as well.
In the same sense I found myself physically attracted to the need to lift heavy weights and flip tires.
Photo Credit: Rookie Rumble Competition at 8th Day CrossFit organized by Lex Artis
So what do my own patterns and the mind and body have to do to help us work through challenges in life?
I personally work a lot with grief and trauma and if you aren't familiar with how the brain works in a survivor mode state we must first understand some key components. To touch quickly on this there is one purpose our brains have and that is to keep us alive. In this survivor mode there may be times we respond out of emotions because when we respond from an emotional state that is the way our brain is feeling it must do under stress to just get through. This may relate to arguments when you say or do something you did not intend, well that's because we responded from our limbic systems (which can be emotionally driven) rather than our pre-frontal cortex (our rational and logical thinking). Located in the limbic system, there are two small almond shapes known as the amygdala which through sensory stimulation receives responses to indicate if we are in danger and will act as an alarm system if it senses we are in danger. If so it will send a signal down the brainstem to have a physical response. This may include heart racing, sweats, a physical reaction, also known as flight, fight and freeze responses.
Take an Argument:
Situations when we may notice we respond from an emotional state may be in an argument when someone's voice raises or starts yelling our mirror neurons match and we may respond with a similar tone and voice. In addition, our brains may start kicking into survival mode if we feel threatened by the loud voice which may evolve into an argument because we respond in a way to protect ourselves by yelling back. Lastly, we receive signals to our brain faster to our limbic system than our prefrontal cortex because when we respond emotionally sometimes we just need a short amount of time for the second signal coming to our brain to enter that rational thinking before we respond.
Non Survivor Mode:
Now this is all in a survivor mode, other examples may be when we are feeling sick. An example where most people have felt the relationship between the mind and body is when someone has the flu or cold and while this a physical illness a lot of time people share they feel mentally foggy-even though we know the mind is not the part that has the illness.
For those in the medical field we can take cancer as I was doing my own research in cancer care I noticed there is a lot of research that indicates the triadic relationship between the mind, the immune system and cancer.
So what if we applied this relationship between our mind and bodies not just in a survivor mode but our day to day processing?
I started to notice patterns over the last three years of my life-
Especially between my mental process and the things I felt I needed to do on a physical level as well.
Earlier I shared how I felt lost so I physically met myself where I was at and got lost
I found myself in a state of perseverance and internal strength and I felt the need to physically lift heavy weights
At times I felt I had racing thoughts I felt the need to physically run-hard and fast
Now, at the end of 2018 as most people have reflective moments on the year I did as well.
I felt the need to create what my life had felt like with where my energies were being spent because I knew shifts had to be made for a better balanced and more wholesome life. I began with creating a pie chart of some of the most important things in my life and another for the end of 2019. This included bullet points describing what would been each section as well. I found slices were slivers and I couldn’t keep my life this way so I put aside emotion and wrote down what I can control to make those changes-because let’s face it I can only do what I’m able to control.
From there I made some actions, as the year
turned I found myself being attracted to practicing balance physically. Several people asked me why I am always upside down-and there are a few reasons I believe this is and that's a great question.
Why do we do the things we do?
As I created my pie chart (as I do each quarter of the year to see if movement has shifted and if more changes need to be made) and here is an example-take my fitness piece. It looked like a sliver and I wrote down why that is and what I can do to make that piece larger. Same with the academic piece that was my intellectual piece that keeps me engaged in my field and become a better therapist. These sliver pieces are very important and they need to take a shift in size for a better visually balanced piece.
Then I noticed I had recently been attracted to practicing handstand balance work. You probably see the pattern now too....
This matched my visual process. Again, I noticed the pattern of my mind and body connecting and aligning together. This process took an interesting turn after my first quarter pie chart in recognizing things I wasn’t expecting that could potentially be strengths and weaknesses. At around the same time I found some weaknesses in my handstand practices that I recognized need some extra attention and strengthening areas. By practicing a mentality in one aspect of our lives we may recognize the same pattern in other areas as well.
This is a process.
An important aspect is to pay attention to the patterns you are noticing as this will increase self-awareness. We are the only person we are going to be with the rest of our lives so we might as well try and have the best relationship we can with ourselves. And when we get to know ourselves better we are able to feel a better relationship with ourselves, enjoy our own company, have better relationships with others as we are also better communicators in knowing what it is we need too whether that be expressed to someone else or what we need from ourselves.
By paying attention to these patterns we will notice shifts take place as we continue to move in both our mind and our bodies-this is not just a one time adjustment this takes practice, observations and paying attention.
If you're interested in learning more about the mind and body relationship The Body Keeps Score is highly recommended. And if you would like to learn how to process visually you can start your visual process practice today with this workbook to get you started: Visual Journal Workbook
Any questions can be addressed to Leara via email at: Leara.firstname.lastname@example.org