This picture tells a story of love, loss, nature, aging, moving, anxiety and life. It tells of the power of the mind-body connection. This is a picture of me teaching yoga to my mom and dad last week in Snow Canyon. I moved to Southern Utah from California over a year ago to live across the street from my aging parents. It was difficult to leave the people I loved in California, but having my boys move with me made the transition easier. They had just finished their first year at Dixie State University and I was now officially an empty nester.

My dad just recently turned 85 and has Alzheimers. He no longer remembers my name. My mom, nearly 83, has been having severe anxiety and some panic attacks caring for him. This week they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary and although my dad, who was a physician by profession, no longer remembers body parts while we practice yoga, he remembers how much he loves my mom. They are like silly lovebird teenagers, giggly and ogle-eyed while I guide them through moving their bodies. My mom gets frustrated trying to get her body to do what she wants, and my dad is at a loss of words.

So… back track a little. When COVID first hit, I noticed myself feeling tremendous anxiety (to the point of heart palpitations several days a week). I am the primary caretaker for my parents and now found myself glued to the television, trying to gather as much information as possible to keep us all safe, and I had essentially stopped moving. Mom has several underlying conditions that put her at higher risk. The stress took its toll on my mind and body.

Michael Lee, founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy says, “Unlike your mental conditioning, your body always tells the truth – the plain truth. So why not learn how to listen to it?” What I have learned in my training and from my life experience is that my body is always talking and I am not always listening. Bessel van der Kolk says:

Victims cannot recover until they become familiar and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means you’re living in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step and releasing the tyranny of the past.

I realized I needed to start talking about my stresses and get back to moving in order to feel better. I started taking to my own therapist and reaching out to friends and family via Zoom. Reconnecting felt good. I felt a little better. We started doing yoga on top of this reservoir in Snow Canyon three or four times a week. Moving and stretching our bodies has helped us all to feel better physically and emotionally.

It’s easy to forget how much the body affects the mind and vice versa. Bessel says, “Brain, body, and mind are inextricably linked… alterations in any one of these three will intimately affect the other two.” Marilyn Van Derber says, “Every thought we think has a biological equivalent. Every feeling we feel has a biological equivalent.” So whether you’re dealing with trauma, recovery, pain, depression/anxiety, stress, grief/loss or any other mental illness, there is a connection in your body. Tight muscles signal your body to produce more stress hormones which overtime can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.

I had been forgetting to do what I love. Learning more about the mind-body connection has been my life passion. My journey over the last 14 years started with being a yoga teacher full time, leading mindfulness and relationship retreats, then on to becoming a certified yoga therapist (using the body, mindfulness techniques along with psychotherapy to heal people), and finally led to getting my masters degree in the mental health field. Gaining a greater understanding of the mind-body connection from the lens of the mind has helped me to use a more whole body approach to my therapeutic work. My work as a Marriage and Family Therapist brings my passion for healing body and mind full circle.

The body is just one powerful tool to access the mind. The more we become aware of our internal feelings, thoughts, and sensations, the more power we have to learn from our inner wisdom and to heal what ails us, whether in mind or body. ”We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint of the experience left on the mind, brain, and body,” taught Bessel van der Kolk. He goes on to explain:

Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe in their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside.

He also notes:

Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to be friends with what is going on inside ourselves. Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our inner landscape with compassion and curiosity, but can also actively steer us in the ‘right’ direction for self-care.

What is your body telling you right now? Is it telling you you’re tired, that you need a break from your present task, that you’re unsafe in your present environment, that you’re in pain or need to move around? I haven’t met a soul yet who hasn’t suffered some kind of trauma, loss, grief, or other mental health concern. Let us help you learn to listen to and heal what your body has been telling you all along.

Christine Gibb, LAMFT