Understanding the intricate connection between our mind, body and emotions has for some time been an area of investigation in health, medicine, psychology and neuroscience. Through numerous research papers and influential works there is now a body of scientific evidence that experienes, thoughts and emotions are, indeed, embodied experiences. These studies have paved the way for a heightened awareness and respect of the important information encoded in our bodily sensations. The more we investigate this fascinating web, it becomes increasingly evident that tuning into our bodily experiences is a skill that we can learn and harness as a powerful tool for enhancing our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. The impact of joining these dots can be huge – learning to become Bodyful is an important widening of the mindfulness lens.
Below are some of the key concepts and works that emphasize the significance of cultivating awareness of our bodily sensations, the importance it serves as a cornerstone for nurturing our whole health, and how the practice of Chi Kung can be a transformative ally in this journey.
The Embodied Nature of Emotions:
Numerous studies, including seminal works such as "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk, underscore the profound impact of emotions on our bodily experiences. Van der Kolk's research delves into the neurobiological changes that occur in the brain due to trauma, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and addressing these embodied responses. We are so often not even aware that our feelings carry with them physical sensations. In paying attention to them in a way that feels safe we can transform patterns in which we can feel overwhelmingly stuck.
Linking Bodily Sensations to Emotional States:
Research, such as the study on "Bodily maps of emotions" by Nummenmaa et al., has identified consistent patterns of bodily sensations corresponding to different emotions. This reinforces the idea that our bodies provide valuable cues about our emotional states. The most powerful healing comes from mapping and paying attention to our own bodily states and reactions – each of us is completely unique – not only in our sensations but in how we interpret and experience the – and often that is all that we need to do.
Mindfulness and Bodily Awareness:
Many people practise mindfulness to notice their thoughts – but we can also practise paying attention to our body, with remarkable results. Studies such as "Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density" by Hölzel et al., highlight the positive impact of paying attention to bodily sensations. Mindfulness practices encourage a heightened awareness of the present moment, and with a bodily focus can foster a deeper connection with our bodily experiences.
Chi Kung and Bodily Awareness:
Chi Kung is an practice that combines movement, breath, and awareness. Chi Kung emphasizes the cultivation and balance of vital life energy, known as "Qi" or "Chi." Regular practice not only enhances physical health but also deepens awareness and regulation of bodily sensations.
Chi Kung, with it’s slow pace and repetition is ideally suited the curious observation of how we feel when we practise, inherently incorporating mindfulness principles, aligning with the findings in Hölzel's study mentioned above.
In "The Body Keeps the Score" Van der Kolk emphasizes the role of body-centered approaches in trauma healing, for example in the book states: “For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”
Chi Kung, with its focus on mindful movement and breath, offers much to this approach, offering a practical and effective way to address the impact of emotional experiences on the body. Practicing Chi Kung aids enhanced bodily awareness, as it involves paying close attention to bodily sensations, breath, and energy flow. By practising noticing our interoceptive feedback, individuals engaged in Chi Kung may deepen their awareness of the physiological, emotional and energetic condition of the body, fostering a more profound connection. This is citied as being important in work by A.D. Craig ("How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body" 2002) that highlighted the intricate relationship between interoception and emotional experiences, shedding light on how our internal bodily sensations play a crucial role in shaping our emotional lives.
In the journey towards emotional mental and physical well-being, the wisdom gained from research on embodied emotions aligns seamlessly with practices like Chi Kung. Cultivating awareness of bodily sensations, as supported by both scientific inquiry and ancient wisdom, emerges as a powerful avenue for personal growth. More even than that – Chi Kung offers us an avenue to positively influence those sensations, by practising moving in a different way, with different outcomes. By integrating Chi Kung into our daily routines, we not only honour the profound connection between emotions and the body but also embark on a transformative path toward holistic well-being.
"The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex" (Damasio, A. R., 1996)
"Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density" (Hölzel, B. K., et al., 2011)
"Bodily maps of emotions" (Nummenmaa, L., et al., 2014)
"How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body" (Craig, A. D., 2002)
"The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma" (van der Kolk, B., 2014)