Our body and mind are one

Professor Helen Payne - Professor of Psychotherapy, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire

A neuron firing

'The mind had to be first about the body, or it could not have been' (Damasio 2006).

Neuroscience demonstrates that perception and relationship to others are through an embodied sense of self (Damasio 1994). Damasio's view is that the mind, brain and body are unbroken rather than separate aspects:

It is the entire organism rather than the body alone or the brain alone that interacts with the environment...When we see, or hear, or touch or taste or smell, body proper and brain participate in the interaction with the environment

(Damasio 1994:224)

Our bodies and minds are profoundly inter-related. Our emotions are anchored in the body and integral to the autonomic nervous system which is the nerve complex that controls the involuntary actions of our internal organs, blood vessels and glands. Emotional balance is mediated by the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The way we move or hold our bodies can inform us of our emotional states and are evoked in tandem with sensations.

Neuropsychology tells us that our thoughts are governed by our emotions which are, in turn, grounded in our bodies, emotions being part of self-regulation (homeostasis).

Descartes famously wrote: 'I think, therefore I am'. However, following research into embodied cognition it is time to replace that claim with 'I move, therefore I think'.

In the teaching of reading we might apply this notion by helping children to envision what they are reading to increase comprehension.

In adulthood it is often easier to lose the connection with these essential networks of communication which can enable us to cope with psychological physical injury/symptoms, stress and trauma (Fogal 2009). For example, if we can learn to explore the emotional content of our physical symptoms, even understand their purpose perhaps, we are more likely to be able to self-manage them.

Feelings, such as fear, anxiety or profound sadness often disconnect us from others. We are told that these feelings mean we are unwell in our mental health, in our minds. This distress is seen as separate and distinct from physical symptoms in our bodies, our physical health. We have a mental and physical healthcare system, without a connection between the two.

Physical symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ME, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, asthma or eczema, although unexplained medically, are understood generally to mean that we are unwell in our bodies. However, ground-breaking research into chronic unexplainable physical symptoms demonstrates that there is a complex and dense inter-connectedness between the brain and the body resulting in the conclusion that the idea of a split between body and mind is unhelpful (Payne 2009a; 2009b; Payne and Stott 2010; Payne 2011).

The outcomes show that a newly developed course in bodily wisdom can reduce symptom distress, anxiety and/or depression and support people to self-manage their bodily symptoms. These outcomes make us realise that we need to work with the whole person including their bodily symptoms.

The brain and the body entwined

The brain is entwined with the whole body through the nervous system, via the spinal cord for example, including all the systems, organs, musculature, liquids and chemicals constantly influencing the brain. There is no separation between body and mind.

Your whole being is ever-changing, new pathways are forming in your brain as you read this. We are dynamically pre-disposed to all influences. We can become anxious (termed hyper- {over} aroused) and sad (termed hypo- {under} aroused) at any one time. We can freeze - becoming rigid in body and mind, as in fear - or be shut down and numb, as in deep depression. When balanced in body and mind we can feel at peace, connected with ourselves and others. Furthermore, our muscles have a memory whereby triggers via our own or another's postures and/or gestures can remind us of autobiographical experiences close to our heart and traumatic events (Konopatsch and Payne 2011).

Did you know that when you are not in alignment with your body's wisdom, you are sent all sorts of 'signals' - both big and small?

Here are some of the many signals termed 'symptoms' you may have experienced:

  • Stress, anxiety/fear
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Over-eating and weight gain / under-eating
  • Isolation, loneliness
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lack of creativity/motivation
  • Chronic unexplainable physical conditions (e.g. IBS; fibromyalgia; breathing problems; chronic fatigue; headache; chronic pain; backache; numbness; skin conditions; dizziness; palpitations)

Engaging with your bodily wisdom can re-connect you with your body and your mind in powerful ways.

You may discover insights and practical skills to experience your body as a source of effective knowledge and healing potential. This can help you to transcend many of these common, yet challenging, symptoms.

By transforming your relationship with your body in a holistic way you may experience more life force energy, creativity and resilience on a sustained basis over time. Whether you're young or old, in good health or poor, whatever your level of body intelligence, you can go further.

Learning to listen to our bodies, to the 'signals' which can be termed symptoms, such as when we feel pain or other physical symptoms, this 'listening' can help us to regulate ourselves (Payne and Warnecke 2014). We can use our bodily symptoms as a gateway to the self-healing/management of conditions by accepting that both body and mind are connected in that they are one of the same.

Using the BodyMind Approach™

Awareness practices to support feelings of wellbeing and resilience to cope with unexplained symptoms such as pain, and life events including trauma, can help us to learn about the body and mind connections.

This feeling of connection can enable us to feel more in control of our unexplained symptoms, our feelings of depression and anxiety and can promote feelings of wellbeing. You can learn to become empowered by your body's natural wisdom.

Did you know that your innate body intelligence can help you to create better health, prosperity and richer, more authentic relationships? In our everyday lives of sitting in an office, presenting learning materials, screening, studying etc., it is easy to forget our body and mind are one of the same.

Action re-connects us to our bodies as lived experience. Your body is a gift with a source of precious knowledge if you know how to access it. Moving with awareness is one way to access this wisdom. However, in a culture that emphasises cognitive achievement, targets and output, it is easy to experience a major disconnection with your body's natural, deep intelligence - you are missing out on the full, exciting variety of human experience.

Using The BodyMind Approach™ in a pathways2wellbeing (P2W) course will help you to learn how being fully present in your body is a creative and healthy response to, for example, unexplained physical symptoms, everyday stresses and accelerated pace of our daily lives.

The more you honour living in your body, the more all the aspects of your life will become easier, and more collaborative. As you master body intelligence, you will feel more empowered to create the kind of life you want.

The courses enable you to learn to be more fully present in your body, be aware of and listen to your body empowering you to live well with any persistent bodily signals (symptoms) which do not have any medical explanation.

Courses draw from the latest neuroscience research: group work practice; biology; human development; movement psychology; breath-work and the most progressive transformational modalities.

You will get inside access to one of the leading experts in this exciting, emergent field - and other professionals including doctors, psychologists, researchers, and group facilitators in health care and wellbeing. They will share the secrets for transforming your relationship with your body in a holistic way, so you experience more life force energy, creativity and resilience on a sustained basis over time.

With increased body wisdom, you will experience:

  • A deeper connection between body and mind.
  • More energy and stamina.
  • Increased resilience.
  • Feelings of wellbeing.
  • Increased relaxation.
  • Increased activity.
  • An embodied sense of self.
  • More control, connection, motivation, creativity.
  • More focus and clarity.
  • Physical, emotional, spiritual balance

Further information and details of courses with pathways2wellbeing (P2W) are available on the website: www.pathways2wellbeing.com / info@pathways2wellbeing.com


⇠ Read 'Early Years Teachers'


  • Damasio, A. (1994) Emotion, reason and the human brain. New York: Avon Books.
  • Damasio, A. (2006). Descarte's error. London: Vintage Books.
  • Fogel, A. (2009) The Psycho-physiology of self-awareness, rediscovering the lost art of body sense: The science and practice of embodied self-awareness. New York: WW Norton and Co. Konopatsch, I. and Payne H. (2011) 'Bodies becoming conscious: BodyMind Experience in authentic movement'. In: Koch, S., Fuchs T., Müller, C. (eds.) Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Payne, H. (2009a) 'The BodyMind approach to psychotherapeutic groupwork with patients with medically unexplained symptoms: a review of the literature, description of approach and methodology selected for a pilot study'. European Journal for Counselling and Psychotherapy. 11, 3 pp. 287-310.
  • Payne, H. (2009b) 'Pilot study to evaluate dance movement psychotherapy (the BodyMind Approach) with patients with medically unexplained symptoms: participant and facilitator perceptions and a summary discussion'. International Journal for Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy. 5, 2 pp. 95-106.
  • Payne, H. (2011) 'The space between psyche and soma: The results and findings of a pilot study evaluating The BodyMind Approach with patients suffering medically unexplained symptoms in primary care'. In: Scoble, S. (ed.) The Space Between: The potential for change Selected Proceedings10th European Arts Therapies Conference. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press.
  • Payne, H. and Stott, D. (2010) 'Change in the moving bodymind: Quantitative results from a pilot study on the BodyMind Approach (BMA) as groupwork for patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS)'. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 10,4 pp. 295-307.
  • Payne, H. and Warnecke, T. (2014) (eds) Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, an International Journal for Theory, Research and Practice. 9:1 pp. 1-3. DOI: 10.1080/17432979.2014.867120. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17432979.2014.867120

LINK 2014, vol. 1, issue 1 / Copyright 2014 University of Hertfordshire