Each post is designed to evoke your thinking and thoughts! A topic is presented to you, the reasons why, some evidence is shared, and how we apply whatever it is to our own world. This is a shared space to test what we know, what we think we know, what we don’t know and what we are coming to know.
Let’s get stuck in, be inquisitive, chat, and share my friends!
Where are our emotions? Are they in our minds? Are they rooted in to our psyche or nestled in the physical body? For decades psychologists have acknowledged that bodily processes are intertwined with our thoughts, feelings and how we act. The term embodiment comes from the notion that our emotions and behaviours are embedded in the physical body and respond to our perceptions of our external world (1).
Embodiment has become a well-regarded theoretical approach in many psychological domains which attempt to examine and understand the body-mind connection. I find it all incredibly interesting and as such, embodiment will be the basis for most of my research throughout my final year at university. It perhaps comes as no surprise that I would put all my efforts into a topic that explores body work and understanding the mind! They are my areas of specialism through teaching essential body movements, yoga and studying psychology.
“…sometimes I may feel that I don’t want to feel anything, that I just want to be. I understand that is ok and recognising this feeling as an emotional state is enough. It is sitting with that feeling that can sometimes be tricky” Amy, EoW, 2018
Understanding the body-mind connection can be a useful insight in to how we experience emotions and how we mediate them. If our understanding of the interplay between body and mind is as accurate as the evidence suggests, it can provide us with the knowledge and tools we need to navigate ourselves (in a balanced way) through day to day life and experiences. We can recognise feelings; perhaps of anxiety and we can lessen them, we can sense a low mood and elevate it, we can notice anger and diminish it (no-one really appreciates a road-rager!), and on a more positive note, we can also feel joy and choose to create situations that repeat it. Who doesn’t enjoy how a wonderful book, a film or a walk with a dog can make them feel (2). How we perceive our environment, through our body and our thoughts impacts on our emotions. We are starting to understand this more and appreciate why it matters…
Most of us can think of a time where we felt an emotion. You may be able to remember an emotion that felt happy or sad. You may even be able to recall experiencing this emotion on more than one occasion or notice that similar situations initiate a familiar feeling. Recent studies have discovered some incredible findings when examining embodiment. In one study researchers found that when participants had just consumed a warm drink, they were more likely to perceive people they met at that time as warm and welcoming, as opposed to if they had drunk a cold drink (3). Perhaps this can explain why we may find coffee shops so appealing and comforting…warm drinks = warm environment?!
Another example which has been well researched is food labelling. According to more recent studies the label on the food does a very good job of driving our thoughts and behaviours (4). Can you recall how you may have felt when buying certain foods…or have you ever been food shopping with children?! It is sometimes no secret how they have felt when seeing a cute bunny rabbit on the front of the latest cereal box! They have absolutely no idea what is even inside the box, let alone how it tastes, but by gosh do they want it! All consumed with raw emotion they let you (and every other person in the store) know how much! It appears my friends, that this emotional driver follows us into adulthood. The difference as adults is that there is no one pushing us away from said item at speed in a trolley. Which is quite possibly a great shame for us, but good for shops!
Cue: Well done advertising and marketeers – who says marketing is not a science!?
Furthermore, the same study found that depending on the words used on the food labels, more positive thoughts were associated with the food itself, which then led to a higher level of consumption. This was said to demonstrate an embodied effect. Therefore, it may not come as a shock that some (many) fast food chains have rebranded and assigned new colours which are said to instigate certain emotional cues. Let’s look at green as an example…green is a colour that many humans associate with health, wealth, nature, and balance to name a few. I can vouch that I am very sure I feel healthier when I make a green juice, before I even drink it…go figure!
Now, real life:
It feels like it has become my life’s work to try and understand the interplay of the mind-body connection. How the world and all that comes with it, is perceived by the body and in the mind and then how that plays out in our emotions and behaviours. Throughout my own life I have noticed how I respond to situations. Going back to the example of food shopping, I am (mostly) aware that I respond emotionally to things and those emotions guide my behaviour.
When I have seen an image of an attractive young woman in a shop window wearing a smile and drinking a bottle of juice which is sold in store, I have caught myself smiling and then wanting to buy that same juice!
Those are my emotions driving me.
Not my need for a juice or
that I truly believed the juice was responsible for the woman’s smile and her attractiveness...
(rather than perhaps her genetic disposition and receiving a pay check from the juice photoshoot!)
Similarly, I have found myself in unsettling situations where I have felt that I needed support, perhaps support from friends or family, which for whatever reason, was not readily available. I needed to look inwards and create balance and keep myself well and pushing on (functioning). Sometimes, pushing on was not an viable option, so I needed to look inside and allow myself to just be with my emotions. Which has not always been a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, has always resulted in good outcomes when done without expectation or judgement 😊
…And now my yoga living:
What my yoga practice continues to teach me is that connecting the body and mind can act as a critical support tool. Moving my focus away from the mind and focusing it on the body has allowed me to experience emotions in a different way and learn how to recognise them as soon as they begin. For example, in situations where I may feel anxious, I will recognise my bodily sensations: perspiration, increased heart rate, shallow and restricted breathing. Recognising these signals helps me balance them and appreciate them for what they are and importantly test whether they are helpful in the immediate situation. This level of mind-body understanding has been one of the most valuable skills I have acquired and continue to practice in my adult life. It is incredibly beneficial, IF I allow myself to engage with it.
I would appreciate your thoughts (and feelings) on this very brief snippet in to the world of embodiment.
Till next time, take good care and be well x
(1) Niedenthal, P. M., Barsalou, L. W., Winkleman, P., Krauth-Gruber, S., & Ric, F. (2005). Embodiment in Attitudes, Social Perception and Emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9 (3), 184-211.
(2) Winston, R., & Hill, D. (2004). Human Mind. Transworld Publishers Limited.
(3) Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth influences interpersonal warmth. Science, 322, 606-607.
(4) Topolinski, S., Maschmann, I T., Pecher, D., & Winkleman, P. (2014). Oral approach-avoidance: affective consequences of muscular articulation dynamics. Journal Of Personality and Sociology and Psychology, 106, 885-896.
Disclaimer: I am very aware that there are instances where specialist interventions may be necessary, and professional support and advice should always be sought from a qualified health practitioner. All the information provided on elements of wellness is presented within the scope of my practice and intended to motivate you as readers to conduct your own research which leads you to making your own informed health and nutritional choices.