I watched a TED talk on Mental Illness By Dr Denny Morrison. It was about misconceptions that people have around mental illness. I found it actually relevant to the Alexander Technique and the implementation of body mind coordination that is essential to the Alexander Method and why body mind coordination is a really important part of staying healthy.
In this talk he asked people in the audience to raise their hand if they had suffered a heart attack, cancer, stroke etc. Several People raised their hands, he then asked who had had a mental illness and a few people raised their hands and then he followed up by asking of the two groups that that had raised their hands, which group was the most likely to lie about it. Of course it would be the mental illness group.
The gist of the talk was that we have a very different perception of a devastating illness that is “physical’ rather than “mental” the perception is that the body and the mind are separate, two different things and biased is created. Someone says they have a heart problem or cancer and we are bound to go out and join a walkathon or half marathon. When someone has a mental illness people tend to say things like “I’ve had bad days too” they don’t see a mental illness as an “illness” It’s something you should be able to just kind of get over.
Does it really work that way though? comparing a bad day to depression is a bit like comparing a paper cut to having your arm severed, but still, for the most part, there is still that misconception that mind and body are somehow different and separate. We see a homeless veteran with PTSD talking to himself on the street corner and we don’t look at him, but we see a single mom who has survived breast cancer and call her a hero. I’m not saying the single mom isn’t a hero, I’m asking what the difference is.
My point is that there isn’t isn’t a difference, the body is the body, except that mental illness manifests itself behaviorally, and for some reason there is a conception that the sufferer should be able to do something to stop it. That the mind should be able to conquer itself whereas there is nothing we can do for the body without medical intervention. Can you imagine walking up to someone with cancer and telling them “Just tell those cancer cells to knock it off”. Even if the truth is the Mom with breast cancer smoked and drank and sat around all day every day, and the veteran jumped in front of a grenade to save his platoon we are still more likely to look at the single mom as the hero as far as fighting the disease is concerned.
Our perceptions are weird when it comes to the mind and body. It’s almost as if we choose to experience them in totally different rooms in different houses rather than thinking of them as one coordinated whole. Our perceived separation of mind and body can lead to problems and not just in our treatment of people with mental illness, but it’s a good demonstration of the split between our perceptions of brain body and how we separate them.
Body mind discord is pandemic in our society. We tend to divide our days into physical and mental buckets. For instance you are probably sitting reading this right now, a decidedly mental activity, what is happening to your body? Do you ever think about it? Is your spine curved, your neck shortened? are you demonstrating good posture? How long have you been sitting that way? Does one really have to have ones shoulders up to ones ears to read an article? Or how about talking on the phone, do you ever feel exhausted after sitting on the phone talking all day? The truth is, we give little thought to our bodies through the every day walking around, sitting at a computer, talking, putting on clothes, brushing our teeth, and looking in the mirror every once in a wile to see if a hair is out of place. Those activities go into the mental bucket, until something starts to hurt, and then the course of action many times is to take a pill to numb the pain.
We think to ourselves “not to worry, we will get into our bodies later when we go to the gym or the yoga class after having sat all day right?” There was a study done to say that vigorous activity such as running and intense workouts do nothing to circumvent the effects of sitting all day which according to another study can significantly shorten your life span. Going from one sedentary state to a state of pushing your physical limits can lead to all sorts of injuries. A woman who sits on a plane all day goes to a yoga class and pulls pulls a groin muscle, an engineer who has been at his desk all day and living on caffeine and Subway sandwiches goes out for a run and blows out his knee. This is not uncommon, the truth is, when we are in our bodies and we aren’t thinking it’s kind of hard to not end up getting injured, and when we are thinking and totally not in our bodies it’s hard to not get injured. many of these injuries are because of a repetitive motion that you’ve been doing all day and when the body and mind are disconnected the body doesn’t really know it’s still doing it. Just because “I”m running now” doesn’t mean the body is going to stop what it’s been doing all day/week/year/your life. The problem is the imbalance feels normal, it becomes undetectable and most of the time we keep doing the same harmful action without knowing it even though we are at the gym lifting weights now instead of slumped over a desk.
The good news is that body mind connection is something we are born with, and we can get it back. Small children have it in abundance, but they slowly learn that if they sit and watch the teacher all day they will get good grades and thus fit into society. our bodies sit in chairs and try to get comfortable witch usually leads to slumping, slumping leads to a compromised respiratory capacity witch leads us to use a lot of muscles for breathing and talking that were never intended to be used for those purposes, we end up with collapsed shoulders and shortened necks, this becomes normal, dis coordination becomes normal and we do it all day everyday all through school and years of working day in and day our. The body lets you know you are leaving it behind and not thinking about it by getting really soar and stiff and sometimes by stop working altogether.
If you look at primitive tribes they have mind body coordination, they can squat all the way to the ground, their hips, legs and spine work in accordance with their mind because the mind was never taught that in order to fit in you have to sit all day slumped at a computer, cell phone or Ipad.
When we live with our mind and our bodies in different buckets we live in a distortion of sorts, just like thinking that the man with the PTSD can do something about his condition any more than the single mom with breast cancer do something about hers. A lack of Body Mind Coordination leads to discord, fatigue, reduced breathing capacity and many kinds of stress related injuries.
There is hope though, sometimes just thinking about what your body is doing, pausing for a moment, breathing, thinking about widening the shoulders and lifting your head can make a difference. It doesn’t take a lot to make a huge difference, but it’s hard because habits are difficult to break. Studying the Alexander Technique is one way to re learn this co ordination, learning it can help you have a much better experience in your daily life so when you go that yoga class or lift those weights or dance and sing. you can do so with your body and mind prepared and prepared to get yourself in better shape for better health.
Mans Supreme Inhertiance