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Movement for your Mind

‘Much more of the brain is dedicated to movement than to language. Language is only a little thing sitting on top of this huge ocean of movement’ - Oliver Sacks 

This year, the Mental Health Foundations Mental Health Awareness week is centred around movement and finding moments for movement in our daily life. The campaign recognises the connection between body and mind and how important it is to move for our physical and mental health and the barriers to this. It goes beyond this too… movement is a form of communication - the way we move creates a wealth of information to both our inner and outer world. How we move is felt from the inside of the bone, through the muscle to the skin connecting us to the outside world. 

We can form habits around how we move, often linked to our environment, the people around us and the messages we pick up along the way - sitting still in school, the narrow focus we are taught about movement in school through sport, our more sedentary lifestyle watching screens. It is ingrained in our system to move, yet our modern lifestyle goes against nature. 

So why is this important for our minds…When we think about it, despite all the wonderful things we can create, learn and imagine, our minds can also be tricky and get caught up in loops and spiral into high threat places. This creates a full mind-body response that can lead us to feel stuck or trapped in some way or not knowing what to do. This can be activated by stuff outside of us - situations, other people and it can be maintained by our minds. 

Our survival system’s control centre is the amygdala, our internal alarm bell. This is an incredible part of our limbic system that does not have a sense of time or place. So anything that it identifies as a threat, because of something in the present moment is activating an experience that the amygdala has picked up before, it will ring its alarm bell. Now the thing is, at times when the alarm bell rings it is obvious what is activating it but sometimes it is not. This is when the thinking part of our brain tries to make sense of this, which leaves other markers for the amygdala to pick up in the future. Often trying to think our way out of something when the alarm bell is ringing is just not possible. 

Our mind and body have never been separate despite how our western medical model may have us believe. Information is constantly moving from the brain to the body and from the body to the brain. This is where we get interested in the vagus nerve because this travels and connects to our brain, organs, diaphragm and heart. So by activating the diaphragm and changing the rate of the heart we send new signals from the body to the brain. By changing the tension and length of our muscles we send new signals to the brain and in doing so start to calm the amygdala. We can also take this further and think about how we can move in pleasant ways, how we can find joy in movement. How we can find freedom in movement. This sends messages back up to the brain. So by moving and creating space in the body we can start to create more space and movement in the mind. The body becomes a resource. 

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