Updated: Oct 23, 2020
I recently read a book called the The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, a Psychiatrist and expert on trauma. This book opened my eyes to how much the body and mind connect. The central premise of The Body Keeps the Score centres on how trauma festers in the body like a pernicious disease: People who have suffered childhood abuse ‘often feel sensation (such as abdominal pain) that have no obvious physical cause,’ (p25).
Van Der Kolk discusses how social inequalities, such as low income, a lack of education and/or job opportunities and substandard medical care, increases our chances of encountering traumatic incidences in our life. A high percentage of individuals who have experienced trauma are at greater risk of developing conditions and diseases, both physical and mental.
The connection between the mind and the body was largely cast aside by western medical science. This is largely attributed to Rene Descartes’ Cartisan duality theory; which, back in 1641, maintained that the mind and body are separate entities and the body merely acts as fancy transportation device/nexus to ‘external reality’. However, today we are finding out through research and technological developments (fMRI) that this connection between mind/body is deeply integrated more than we ever could have imagined.
In The Body Keeps the Score Van Der Kolk outlines a number of protective practices that enable us to mitigate and eventually ameliorate the negative impacts of trauma. For example, one of the paths to recovery include daily Yoga and Mindfulness practice to support the recovery process and encourage brain/body reconnection.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and is believed to have been developed in the 5th Century BC. However, Yoga could be over 5,000 years old. What many do not realise about Yoga is that it was initially a meditation and breathing practice. Patanjali, the progenitor of the Yogic discipline, said: If you can control the risings of the mind in to ripples, you will have experienced Yoga. The physical and flexibility aspects of Yoga, that we predominantly practice in the west, were not introduced until very recently.
Mindfulness and Yoga strengthen our awareness of sensations and interactions between the mind and body. This enhanced inter-connectedness helps us to learn about ourselves and our interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, Mindfulness, more so than Yoga, has been shown to augment peoples’ situational awareness whilst enabling them to develop emotional resilience; if we choose to respond positively or negatively to situations and experiences.
Some Science Behind Mindfulness & Yoga
One benefit of Mindfulness practice is that it strengthens our Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex (MPFC) which has been shown to aid recovery from trauma. The act of Mindfulness over time allows the rational part of our brain (MPFC) to override our emotional and often irrational part of our brain.
Alongside this Yoga has shown to promote physiological improvements by normalising heart rate variability and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (known as the rest and digest state). This allows for a calming state in both mind and body. Together these make for a formidable force towards wellbeing, whilst allowing the balance to be restored.
Not only do these anachronistic practices support therapeutic interventions, but they also offer an ongoing and integrated way of life that anyone can practice. As a practitioner of Mindfulness with limited experience in Yoga, I cannot emphasis enough how wonderful and cleansed I feel after practicing these ancient health techniques. Together they support a connection between the mind and the body that many of us have lost (at least I know I had). However, once our mind and body become one, as they should, our sense of well-being increases, and we can enjoy a calmer, more tranquil existence.
It seems that the body really does keep the score.