Mind/ Body Conversations
I used to have a company called ‘Spark Your Sukha’
Sukha is a wonderful sanskrit word, translating to: an authentic and lasting state of happiness ease and bliss.
It’s one of my favourite words.
It’s that feeling you have when you arrive on holiday. When you have tied up all of your responsibilities and so they leave your mind. You know you’ve got time in front of you to fully relax and you can already feel your body has started to let go. You feel excited, you’re going to see things you’ve never seen! Maybe you’ll finish a book, maybe more than one. You’ll be outside in fresh air, you won’t think about work; ah you have so much time to just… do anything! What will you even do? Agh, it doesn’t matter, this is great!
Hhhmmmmmmm…. A deep, filling breath and a slow exhale.
Nothing. There is nothing in your mind but a lot in your heart and a rested, smiling expression on your face.
That. Is Sukha.
Call it happiness, call it orgasmic, call it whatever you like. Wrap all the good stuff together with a bow and a chocolate truffle and you’ve got Sukha.
Breaking it down
We’re talking about emotions, feelings and the condition of the mind.
- Happiness = a feeling or emotion.
- Ease = a feeling or emotion.
- Bliss = a condition of the mind, stronger than happiness.
How do we know when we feel at ease?
Quite simply, we feel it, right? We feel in our body, our current emotional state is felt.
You know when you’re happy. You know when you are angry. You know when you are sad.
There’s a difference between an emotion and a feeling and both of these alter the condition of our mind.
A ‘feeling’ is a physical sensation felt in the body. Such as ‘butterflies in my stomach’ or ‘a knot in my stomach’, ‘a lump in my throat’ or ‘a heaviness in my heart’.
These sensations can be used to describe an emotion or feeling and you may feel more than one sensation for any given emotion or feeling.
As an example, I will describe how I personally feel the emotion, happiness:
I feel a rush of energy in my chest, like my breath is so expansive it moves inside and outside of my chest. I feel oxygen in every cell of my body, almost tingling or vibrating really subtly. I feel more energetic and ‘bouncy’ under my feet. I feel physically lighter and strong from the inside- my posture improves, I feel taller and more able to hold my body weight.
My stomach feels light and calm.
This might not be how you describe happiness, because everybody is different.
For this reason it is really important that you take time to notice how different emotions feel to you.
It is much easier to do than you might think.
Take time to think about and write down the sensations you notice in your body when you think of the following emotions and feelings:
Feelings are felt, (durr…)
Feelings are called exactly that because they are felt. They are felt because they are physical and not psychological. It is the brain that recognises and assesses emotions, which are an automatic and unconscious reaction to stimuli. The body then receives signals from the brain and produces feelings in the body (usually for protection), for example, the feeling of distress.
Psychological thoughts can create or change feelings but they are not feelings themselves.
Until very recently, the scientific consensus was that the brain was separate from the body and the two were treated irrespectively of each other. As a result there is little research and therefore understanding to explain exactly (scientifically) what a feeling is in our body.
Yet, “Neurologist, Damasio has strived to show that feelings are what arise as the brain interprets emotions, which are themselves purely physical signals of the body reacting to stimuli.”
According to Scientific American, “Damasio has been chair of the University of Iowa’s neurology department since 1986. He and his wife, neurologist Hanna Damasio, have created one of the world’s largest databases of brain injuries, comprising hundreds of studies of brain lesions and diagnostic images. As profound as some of the damage is to Antonio Damasio’s patients, all of it informs his understanding of how emotions and feelings arise and how they can affect mental illness.” Full article here
Feelings and emotions were previously linked together and described as reactions in the brain but until very recently, we missed the importance of understanding the physical side of ‘feeling emotions’ as sensations because although they are recognised by the mind, we can’t argue that they are felt in the physical body.
Damasio explains: “When we are afraid of something, our hearts begin to race, our mouths become dry, our skin turns pale and our muscles contract. This emotional reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously. Feelings occur after we become aware in our brain of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling of fear.”
While there is arguably a lot we are yet to uncover (consciousness still cannot be explained scientifically), research is starting to explain the subtle and largely unconscious ways the body and mind are communicating. Our minds exert a powerful effect on the body through the nervous system, neurotransmitters and hormones. It works both ways as the body can also release neurotransmitters and send messages via the nervous system which alter our mental state. For example, poor hunched over posture lowers testosterone in men, whereas standing upright and taking up space increases it.
I have many more examples I could share but this demonstrates how closely linked the body and mind are, and that although the mind does have the ability to control the body, we now know that the body is also communicating with the mind and it should not be ignored.
So what can we learn from the body?
We can learn what makes us feel good, bad and Sukha. We can learn exactly what we need to maintain Sukha like feelings and stay with a holiday blissful mode most of the time, even in stressful times. Life is not supposed to be all rainbows and blooming flowers. Life is supposed to be like riding a wave. But it can be a blissful wave, if you choose to view it that way.
By listening to your body and understanding what you need to feel good, you can allow yourself to return, more easily to a more sukha-like state (ease, bliss whatever you want to call it).
We can also learn what makes this positive feelings leave the body and be replaced with something less positive. Anxiety, rage, fear for example.
These feelings are actually good to have. They teach us what we don’t need or want in our lives. Times of trouble are hugely empowering if we see them as lessons to be grateful for. The key is to learn the lesson and move on.
All these feelings are signals from the body, telling you more and more about yourself. What you need and don’t need in your life. The better you can listen, the better you can get to know yourself.
Knowing yourself brings true confidence and power. The next step is to make positive changes in your life which align with this knowledge, doing only things that serve you.
This is done in the form of boundary setting. More on that next time
Next time: Boundary Setting for Wellness