“Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you.”
— Six Pāramitās Sutra
The Buddha. Jesus Christ. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Many of our most well-known thought leaders, wisest spiritual guides and smartest smartypants have highlighted the existence of our mind-body connection — long, long before the scientific community ever even thought of researching the connection. Often, these leaders and gurus have taken the view that mastery and control of the mind unlocks mastery of the body and our physical actions. And rightly so! “A man is but the product of his thoughts,” Gandhi once wrote. “What he thinks, he becomes.” Self-awareness and enlightenment are key links to our bliss and finding our true purpose and happiness in life.
While it’s true that you are “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2), the scientific community has now caught up with the spiritual community in exploring the mind-body connection. In fact, more and more research is now pointing out that the mind-body connection actually goes both ways. Rather than the body being subservient to the mind as a simple tool through which the mind works, a growing number of studies are finding that our body may actually influence and dictate our mind!
We think not just with our brains, but with our bodies. A series of studies, the latest published in November, has shown that children can solve math problems better if they are told to use their hands while thinking. Another recent study suggested that stage actors remember their lines better when they are moving. And in one study published last year, subjects asked to move their eyes in a specific pattern while puzzling through a brainteaser were twice as likely to solve it.
— The Boston Globe; “Don’t just stand there, think“
Scientists call this new concept embodied cognition or embodiment, where we “think with our bodies.” They theorize that our physical movement and actions actually influence how we feel on an emotional, mental and spiritual level. This is such a powerfully revolutionary way of approaching self-improvement! Here are a few studies that show a practical application of embodied cognition:
- Numerous studies have found that changing our posture can actually change our internal mood. For example, in a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, people who walk like they’re happy actually start to feel happier. And of course, there’s the TED-famous “power pose” that releases adrenaline and makes you feel more confident.
- Our body’s temperature influences our mood, too. Researchers have found that warm weather makes us more likely to help those around us. Similarly, giving someone a warm drink makes the person you’re gifting it to more likely to treat you generously.
- The clothes we choose to wear affects our mental performance. If we dress like a smart person, we might actually act smarter.
- In the Journal of Consumer Research, scientists found that people who clench their fist while ordering food off a menu make healthier choices. The theory is that a clenched fist represents willpower, and this in turn fortifies our mental strength.
All this has led researchers in the science journal Frontiers to report that “the most exciting hypothesis in cognitive science right now is the theory that cognition is embodied” and that “the brain is not the sole cognitive resource we have available to us to solve problems.”
If this doesn’t feel like an Oprah-worth ah-ha! moment, I don’t know what is!
What embodiment looks like in daily life
We often sit and ponder, “If I could only think such-and-such type of thoughts, I’ll feel such-and-such a way.” But as we are slowly learning from embodied cognition, perhaps it’s time to stop thinking and start doing. New actions could unlock new ways of thinking and feeling!
Instead of reading another self-help book or sitting in silent meditation for weeks and weeks or attending yet another yoga conference, take action. Do something that is a physical representation of what you want to get out of your life, and the universe will serve that intention.
Step 1. Ask yourself what you want out of life.
Step 2. Write down what that goal looks like in terms of concrete actions. This gets you away from airy-fairy concepts and into the hard, real, gritty world we live in.
Step 3. Do one of those actions.
Step 4. Rinse and repeat.
If you want to be happier, what does a happier version of your self like to do? Start doing it, and science says you will invite more positivity and happiness into your world. (This is not unlike all those studies that show that the physical act of smiling elevates our levels of happiness and pleasure)
It’s shockingly simple, but not easy. There’s a lot of fear in our lives — a lot of concerns and questions and worries — that hold us back from reaching our goals and becoming the type of person we yearn to be. Those fears are real. Those fears are often warranted. But hope and bliss is not found in sitting in fear. The only way to overcome it is through it and stepping out in faith and in action.