Train your Mind-Body coupling!

First of all, I want to make clear that I am no therapist, I’m a Human movement Scientist. I call this also a training because it is focused on the body and not on any mental issues. Moreover, the challenges offered in this training aren’t that demanding or dangerous to practice.

How often do you love to get out of bed? How often do you hate to stand up because you need to go to the toilet, need to drink something, need to do choirs, or even reach for the remote control? Our daily lives consist of many of these little transitions which seem quite some effort. I think we all struggle with these “little” transitions because I’ve never met someone who thinks it’s super easy to get out of bed. Even though, it is rationally just standing up. Nobody likes getting out of bed, but once you’re out, it might feel alright. Nevertheless, having the strength to execute these little transitions is a very impacting one in your daily life. We can have very good plans and intentions to do stuff once we are at home, but if we are not able to get execute them once we need to do them, it might go all down the drain. If going to work feels difficult, if getting groceries feels difficult, or even getting up from the couch, this training might be something for you. We are, however, not going to work on your motivation. I think you have quite some motivation to do the things you want to. We are going to work on getting your body involved in your daily life. Therapists and counselors are trying to strengthen your mind to get you to do what you want to do, but sometimes you just need to do with your body.

In this article, I try to explain the difficulties with starting and stopping (also known as transitions) from a mind-body coupling perspective. Although the mind and body might be the same thing, in the end, there is the mind that thinks about things, and the body that does things. First we’ll dive into their relationship and then I designed some exercises which fit with the mind-body relationship.

The mind as the thinker, the body as the doer
When we start and stop doing things, the mind, and the body need to be in place to successfully execute that action. Firstly, the mind needs to desire something. Your mind might want to work on that article, get enough sleep, and reach those deadlines you have. We can fantasize for hours and make amazing plans about doing what you want but in the end, you need to actually do it. Sometimes it feels like your mind does not have that much control over your body. We need to have compliance from our body, our body needs to move along with our mind to actually reach the things we want. For example, one might decide that he wants to go to bed, but the body needs to stand up and physically go to bed. The body is an equal, if not larger part of this whole decision process. Without the physical body, your thoughts are powerless and can ruminate and ruminate, making you feel bad about yourself, even though you had such good intentions.

From the body to the mind
On the other side, the body also takes many decisions by himself without that much cognitive interference from your mind. For example, do you ever notice that your hand reaches automatically for your phone or candy on the table while hardly thinking about it? This type of body-mind decoupling can also lead to bad behavior and to good behavior. One can make heroic saves with their body while mostly depending on reflexes and intuition. In this training, we are going to make use of this capability of our body to make the connection between the mind and the body quite stronger.

The coupling of mind and body
You can visualize your mind and body like two streams of ongoing entities that perform certain actions over time. When they are coupled, your mind is connected to your body. So for example, when you do directly what your mind thinks about doing, they are coupled. Or when you directly physically say the things your mind wants to say, they are coupled. You can also think first, wait a while and then say them. Then they are coupled, but not in synchrony (look at the figure below). If there is a delay in the mind to the body this could lead to undesired situations. But one could also not say the things the mind wanted to say. Then, there is a complete decoupling. You might be silent (keep your mouth shut) to that annoying aunt at the Christmas dinner while your mind is swearing intensely at her. In psychology, they call it cognitive dissonance when your behavior conflicts with the attitude you have about the thing you are doing. But decoupling it isn’t necessarily a conflict, sometimes your mind thinks about different things than your body is doing. I believe that decoupling actually happens much more often than we realize. For example, we can think about deep stuff while walking, we can think about sexy people while dancing in the club, or think about eating while cooking. In habitual behavior, this coupling is often quite loose but in new behavior, we really “focus” (couple) our behavior with our mind. Both our body and our mind should then do similar things, which could be considered coupling; the alignment of the streams of energy. Coupling nor decoupling is either good or bad, it depends on the context which type of interaction is required. Therefore, one should ultimately focus on controlling the amount of coupling in each context.

A picture of a timeframe (left to right) of the stream of the mind and the body. The thoughts and behavior are depicted and the orange lines represent the synchrony between them.

How to train with coupling?
There are several ways to train the coupling of the body and the mind. One could cognitively change strengthening the mind by learning about things and understanding why to change behavior. But we won’t focus on this, as this is the usual way for therapists which lacks the involvement of the body. I rather focus on training the body in its behavior, to make it a stronger entity, and make it more connected to the mind, let’s call this “body decisions”. With body decisions, one could change behavior more easily without too much involvement of the mind. But one could also try to play directly on the coupling and decoupling of the body and the mind. Several exercises can either strengthen or loosen the coupling. Which exercises are most beneficial for you is something you have to choose. I might say, as every trainer would, try all the exercises! But honestly, do whatever you want. And this might also be the overall goal of this whole training: “Do whatever you want!

Playing with delay
As shown in the first figure, after your mind makes a decision, your body might not always follow directly. When they are completely synchronized, you might talk about “impulsive actions”, you do while you think. The goal of the exercise is to play with different delays to think and become aware of the connections. So, we’re going to consciously think with our mind, wait a while and then almost unconsciously, lift the hand. When you lift your hand this might feel a bit impulsively, which is good! Then, you start to get stronger control over your body. Let’s do it. First, decide to lift your hand up and then wait 4 seconds before lifting your hand up. Same thing: 3 seconds, 2, and 1-second delay.

Exercise 1: (Playing with delay)
Decide (with your mind) to lift your hand up and then wait 4 seconds before lifting your hand up, do this without thinking too much. Try the same thing with a delay of 3 seconds, 2 seconds, and 1 second. Then, play a little bit with the delays that seem fun to you.

Playing with synchrony
A zero delay in movement will be synchrony. Now, the moment your mind makes a decision, you do the action with your body directly. This is the type of coupling you would like to have in many situations. If you want to get up, get up directly.

Exercise 2 (Playing with synchrony)
Sit on your most comfortable chair (or ly in bed), decide to stand up, and stand up directly. Repeat this a couple of times. Try to surprise yourself while doing it. Try to train this during the day at the most relevant moments of the day. Just whenever you want things, do them directly.

Body control
With this exercise, we are going to feel the body while not interfering with the mind. You need to try to turn off the mind a little bit and just move your body and feel it moving around. This is something we do with dancing or with mindlessly getting some snacks.

Exercise 3 (Body control)
Sit or stand somewhere private and try to make decisions with your body. Leave your mind out of it as much as possible! Your mind might respond to your body and that’s okay, but try to accept what is going on. If your body does not “want” to move, then just impulsively move your arms around and keep it moving, wherever they feel like going.

Mind control
With active learning, you can focus strongly with your mind on your body. You can directly influence your body in starting to do things, which will strengthen the coupling. In these situations, there is almost direct synchrony between the mind and the body, while the mind controls the body.

Exercise 4 (Mindcontrol)
Look at your body (hand or legs) and consciously move them slowly and accurately. Let your body function as a slave to your mind. This might feel a bit like a “Poppin and Locking” type of dance, which could be ultimately quite cool!

Body-Mind loops
Sometimes your body influences your mind, and sometimes your mind influences your body. They are in fact continuously interacting and following and directing each other. But there is probably a difference in the strength- and direction of this relationship between people. You might try to find out which stream is guiding and which stream is following and how they interact.

Exercise 5 (Body-Mind loops)
Go somewhere where you feel free and do some things with your body, while incorporating the mind. Try to feel whether it’s your mind or body which is guiding and how the other one is following. Try to change this subtly while playing with it, but just try to experience it.

Mind-body-environment
Until now, We just focused on the body and the mind. However, during daily life, the environment has a very strong influence on your actual behavior. In fact, your behavior is always environment-directed. However, the environment also strongly influences your behavior and mind. There is also a mutual feedback loop between your mind and your environment, where your behavior is a mean to connect them. Read more about that in this blog I wrote.

Exercise 6 (Mind-body-environment)
Try, during a normal day, to understand and play with, how much of your behavior is an outcome of your personal desires (intrinsic motivation through your mind) or extrinsically motivated by your environment. For example, when you clean up your room because your mom says so, this is extrinsically motivated. But when you brush your teeth because you want your teeth to be clean, this is intrinsically motivated. Often there is, of course, some mutual ground or conflict, but it’s good to note it and dive into that.

Your personal challenges
These exercises were just general exercises without any specific context. You experience your own challenges in your own context. While some people have trouble going to bed, others have problems with eating vegetables, while others with going out of their house. For once, I had problems with starting to write blogs for my website (but look at my website now). The trick I did to achieve that was just to sit down at my laptop and starting to write (relative) jibberish. I just forced my body to do stuff, and I knew that my mind will follow once my body already started the process. Through these experiments, I got immersed in the topic and just started to write and improved/changed the crap I wrote at the start. But you need to find your own challenges and focus and play with them. Only then you start to get what you want. Only by doing and experimenting you can actually get things done. You can do it!

More blogs I wrote about playing with behavior and the mind:

Behavior: on the border between the self and the environment

How to change habits, a systems view

Playing with the associative mind

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