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Self-Knowledge • Behaviours

Work Outs For Our Minds

We’re used to the idea that gyms are places we might go to do exercises to improve our bodies. What’s less familiar is that certain of these exercises might be performed in a spirit that can address distinct problems in our minds.

We know in theory that our minds have a habit of sending issues that they can’t quite process or address down into our bodies. When a relationship gets filled with a degree of resentment that can’t be admitted to, we may find ourselves with grave tension in our lower back. If we are the offspring of a parent who enrages us by never listening, our shoulders may end up rigid and pulled up towards our necks. A sense of being unlovable and shameful may evade our conscious notice but inspire a stooped posture and a curved spine. A lack of confidence in our right to complain can manifest itself in a stiffness in our hamstrings.

The professionals that we appoint to help us seem – despite themselves – to miss a lot of these connections. Gym instructors are seldom overly interested in the mental states that might lie upstream from a physical condition; they will still primarily think of us as suffering from ‘a lower back problem’, not (perhaps) ‘a lower-back-inspired-by-an-avoidantly-attached-partner-problem.’ Or they will notice that we have ‘a stooped posture problem’; they aren’t so much on the look out for a ‘stooped-posture-generated-by-a-lack-of-esteem-from-a-parent-problem.’

Similarly psychotherapists, though they know a lot in theory about mind-body connections, may notice that someone sits rather awkwardly in their chair and might connect this up with what they know of their early years. But, within the confines of a standard consulting room, it is hard to do very much more than point out the matter with gentle words.

Yet we can imagine performing exercises that would much more intentionally address the psychological issues that had been uncovered behind bodily ailments. This wouldn’t necessarily mean having to undertake unusual kinds of exercise, more often just consciously marrying up certain familiar ones with a fresh awareness of the psychological challenges that had made them especially necessary.

We might, for example, be motivated to strike a punching bag suspended from a gym ceiling with all the standard techniques but this time be uniting our physical movements with a sensitivity to our reserves of latent rage against a long dead father’s belittling ways; every time we struck the leather of the punching bag, we might hope to let some of the humiliation loose in order that we might henceforth be able to walk less apologetically through the world. Or we might stretch our limbs on a mat and at the same time summon up a vivid sense of how much in our past had forced us into a confined rigidity and how much we were seeking to correct a hampered mental state with extensive, fluid and cathartic physical movements.

People Meditating in a Yoga Class

We can imagine a new hybrid figure – a trainer versed in therapy or a therapist versed in exercise – who could get to know our minds and bodies at new depths and put us through targeted and blended workouts as a result.

We might in such a workout start by being guided to curl up tightly into a little ball, hugging our knees closely to ourselves, to reconnect up with our childlike selves that we might have a tendency to disavow at our cost. Thereafter, we might aim to throw off a feeling of inferiority to a sibling with a vigorous set of sweeping motions in our arms. And then we might embed a realisation that we are allowed to be content and make claims on others by doing a very fast circuit up a hill on a stationary bike.

It isn’t enough just to know intellectually that our bodies are the repositories of mental pain. We have to take this insight out to where it really counts. We need to start to articulate our limbs in such a way that they can send messages back to the minds that hampered them. We should learn to move in a way that says, implicitly, ‘enough of the sense of inferiority’ or ‘let’s overcome the feeling of restraint’. We should use physical equipment to help us articulate the message: ‘here is to a more assertive future’ or ‘there is nothing now to be afraid of’. Our gyms are waiting for us to explore their full potential as places to consider all that our minds have been unable to fix on their own and sent down into our bodies in the hope that they might there be noticed and healed.

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