How Your Body Can Change Your Mind and Moods

Silhouette of young man doing yoga at sunset“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” —Thích Nhất Hạnh

Historically, therapy has been all about the mind changing the mind, but what if your body could change your mind? Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh believes it can. Scientific experiments also show when you smile, even if it feels fake and forced, the muscles in your face send a message to your brain that you feel good.

Of course, Thích Nhất Hạnh may be referring not only to physiology here, but also to the mind shifting into appreciation for the ability to smile. Not to mention the joy of smiling, for its own sake—being happy for no reason, as yogiraj Alan Finger used to say.

Luckily, there are many ways to use the body to change your mind and mood. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Use yoga postures to activate your “prana.” Yoga has always recognized the relationship of the body to the mind, formulating postures that work with both body and mind to create greater physical and mental health. Forward-folding postures traditionally soothe the nervous system, while heart-opening, or backward-bending, poses energize it. All yoga activates your life force, or prana, to unkink stuck feelings on all levels: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Yin and restorative yoga practices are also worth exploring, as they can be calming and rejuvenating.
  • Try the “Breath of Joy.” This is a simple little breathing exercise you can do anytime, even at work, to energize your body and calm your mind. Check out this two-minute tutorial.
  • Open a door or window and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. This refreshing mini-break may clear your head and stop rumination.
  • Close your eyes, lie down, and put an eye pillow on your eyelids. The light pressure activates the oculocardiac reflex, which slows the pulse by about 10%. It stimulates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system—rest and digest—to soothe you into stillness. If you don’t have an eye pillow, you can make one with a sock filled with oats and tied at the open end.
  • Take a walk. The rhythmic motion of alternating arms and legs in opposite directions activates the left and right hemispheres of the brain, creating hemi-sync, or balance.
  • Drink something warm without caffeine. This will also activate your parasympathetic nervous system, creating an oasis of serenity.
  • Hum or chant “OM.” You don’t have to be a yogi to enjoy the benefits of chanting. As you chant a mantra, your tongue moves against the hard palate of your mouth, stimulating 84 meridian points that then relay messages to the hypothalamus area of your brain. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating the pituitary, which affects your sleep, hunger, moods, emotions, sexuality, and immune system.
  • Put on some music with a great beat, then dance. The music itself is powerful, and rhythmic dancing can transport you to a slightly hypnotic trance wherein your obsessive thoughts may just float away.
  • Try Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds. This Japanese acupressure practice is incredibly simple, can be done anywhere, and really works. Hold each finger until you feel a pulse. An easy way to remember which finger is for which emotion is (stop) “Worry FAST.” Your thumb is for worry, the index finger is for fear, middle finger for anger, ring finger for sadness, and pinkie is for “too much” or feeling overwhelmed. Here’s a quick tutorial.
  • Take a nap. This can also reboot your mind and body. It’s amazing how often lack of rest manifests as crankiness, impatience, feeling overwhelmed, and brain fog.
  • To calm down fast, put the tip of your thumb to your mouth, make a seal, and blow while puffing out your cheeks. Hold for five to 10 seconds. By increasing pressure in your chest cavity, you stimulate your vagus nerve, which slows your heartbeat.
  • Make a habit of eating all your meals, and throw in a couple of small snacks. Skipping meals creates low blood sugar and exacerbates a bad mood. Low blood sugar can create irritability, snappiness, annoyance, and a general sense of dissatisfaction.
  • Give yourself an aromatherapy foot massage. Mix a couple of tablespoons of almond or melted coconut oil in a glass dish with a few drops of any essential oil you like. Peppermint may perk you up, while lavender is good for stress and pain relief. Using a small amount of oil, slowly massage your feet and toes. It’s a good idea to have a towel underneath, as oil can stain fabrics.

Any one of these physical interventions may have the power to change your mood. Try some the next time you want to switch emotional gears, and watch what happens.

Reference:

  1. Chung, C. J., Lee, J. M., Choi, S. R., Lee, S. C., & Lee, J. H. (2008). Effect of remifentanil on oculocardiac reflex in paediatric strabismus surgery. Acta Anaesthetsiol Scand. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18823468
  2. Kaur, S. A. (n.d.). Kundalini Yoga Mantra Introduction. Kundalini Yoga Info. Retrieved from http://www.kundalini-yoga-info.com/Kundalini-Yoga-Mantras.html#.ViDpnbxRA2w
  3. Kraft, T. L., & Pressman, S. D. (2012, September 24). Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/11/1372
  4. Psychiatric Nutrition Therapy: A Resource Guide for Dietetics Professionals Practicing in Behavioral Health Care. CD-ROM. Behavioral Health Nutrition, 2006.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 9 comments
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  • Stacey

    Stacey

    October 27th, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    Happy Body=Happy MInd!

  • Kat

    Kat

    October 27th, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Great ideas! I sing; all the time. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning singing. Often, when a thought comes to mind or when I speak a word, a song comes to mind for that word and I am singing it all day lol. 2zka

  • Tim

    Tim

    October 27th, 2015 at 1:58 PM

    You never Heard of gendlin??!
    Focusing?!?
    Recommended before writing this headline.

  • zacahry

    zacahry

    October 28th, 2015 at 5:18 AM

    I like to take a few quick walks during the day when time permits. It is especially helpful to me if I am feeling a lot of stress either at home or on the job. It is a great way for me to recharge, refocus, and clear my head of the troubling things that I might be dealing with. Highly recommend for anyone who just wants to get away from it all for a while!

  • Grace

    Grace

    October 29th, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    We often think more about those two parts in a way that is disconnected not giving that much though to how interrelated all of these aspects of our lives actually are.

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    October 30th, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    Thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts.
    Gendlin’s work is also very useful. This is only a partial list of options.

  • toni

    toni

    October 30th, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    wow that accupressure thing sounds kinda cool

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    October 30th, 2015 at 12:15 PM

    Hi Toni,
    It is shockingly effective. You might want to try it at night before sleep, while waiting in line, or sitting through a tedious meeting.

  • toni

    toni

    November 3rd, 2015 at 12:03 PM

    Thanks Nicole! This needs to become my new thing!

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