Yoga and the Mind Body Connection

One of the clearest expressions of the gift and power of yoga comes from the work of Matthew Sanford, the founder of Mind Body Solutions, who focuses on developing adaptive yoga programs for people with disability. Matthew is a yoga teacher and paraplegic and in his compelling book, Waking: a Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (2006), Sanford poetically describes a connection between mind and body, deeper than most of us realize. He uses the word “silence” to describe the mind-body disconnect that occurs in its extreme form with spinal cord injury, but is also present in varying degrees in all of us. Matthew describes the process of yoga as a powerful path of reintegrating mind and body. He writes, “When yogic instruction rekindled a feeling of energetic sensation within my mind-body relationship, it felt like settling into a warm bath – the relief, the feeling of nourishment, the calm and quieting reference. I grew in dimension as my entire body began whispering to me again, albeit in a more eloquent voice” (2006, p. 168).
The sensation of coming home into our bodies is the most important gift of yoga practice and the most relevant to our health. Richard Freeman of the Yoga Workshop says that yoga is the act of deep listening. Our bodies are constantly working toward achieving balance or homeostasis and most of the time our mind-body disconnect prevents us from listening to our body’s signals and needs. Western culture emphasizes “mind over matter” and there are times this is needed, but as the current epidemic of chronic disease confirms, we ignore our bodies at our own peril. Being numb to our bodily experience can lead to diets that perpetuate anxiety and fatigue, lack of sleep, inadequate exercise and habits such as excessive alcohol or sugar that drain our vital energy. Being out of touch with our bodies also leaves us feeling ungrounded and un-centered and dulls our intuition which tends to expresses itself through the body.
The act of listening seems so simple but is absolutely essential to our wellness. Listening to our bodies changes our mind body relationship from domination to compassion, and lifestyle changes rooted in self-compassion tend to be long lasting, intelligent, and effective. Body and mind begin to work together. This approach rewards the practitioner with improved vitality and well-being. The previously “silent” parts of our body begin contributing to the whole. The everyday wellness decisions we make – what to eat and drink, how much to exercise, how to tend to relationships and so on become easier and feel nourishing rather than punitive. Intention and intuition replace guilt and shame as motivators. The practice invites us to come home to our body again and again…and listen.
Yoga simultaneously strengthens muscles, increases flexibility, helps back pain, improves heart rate variability and engages the relaxation response. The therapeutic classes here at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Exempla Good Samaritan emphasize these important tangible benefits. Most importantly though, embedded within sun salutations and downward dogs, our instructors are gently inviting students to explore and strengthen the mind body connection through the act of listening.  This is healing whose root means making whole. This is true integrative medicine – integrating mind, body, and spirit.

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Teacher Shayan Landrum leads Yoga for Back and Neck Health

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