Things are a bit crazy right now. I find solace in the fact that scripture tells us nothing is new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). Everything we're experiencing today — all the strife, disease, turmoil, strained relationships, fear, future unknowns, economic uncertainties, stress, joblessness, political drama, unrest, overall effects of sin — nothing is new. For thousands of years, these same issues have plagued humanity.
I'm not making light of the reality we're all affected by daily circumstances. But I want to draw attention as to why this matters for our embodied reality.
As a quick refresher, embodiment is the natural form of humanity. We are body and soul beings, where both aspects are integral parts of our existence.
I want to throw out a new word that communicates another aspect of our embodied reality: psychosomatic. Psycho refers to the mind. Somatic refers to the body. In other words, the mind impacts the body, and the body affects the mind. God created men and women as psychosomatic beings. For instance...
Have you ever gotten nervous and felt butterflies in your stomach? Maybe you've gotten mad and felt your heart rate increase? What about tension headaches from stress? Perhaps you've worried yourself sick? These are examples of the mind and body relationship.
In the medical field, there is a growing push towards a greater understanding of mind and body interrelatedness. In mind-body medicine, the mind and body are not seen as separately functioning entities, but as one functioning unit. The mind and emotions are viewed as influencing the body, as the body, in turn, influences the mind and emotions.
The importance of the mind-body connection may be a growing psychological phenomenon. But scripture reveals this is not a novel concept. God purposely designed the mind and body to share an intimate connection. Listen to some of the ways the Bible articulates this interaction.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. — Psalm 31:9
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. — Psalm 38:3
Banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body. — Ecclesiastes 11:10
From these verses, it is clear that emotions find expression through the body. Stress and grief cause the body to waste away. The body internalizes shame and sadness over personal sin. Anxiety isn't limited to the mind, but is felt by the body as well. Scripture shows what we think bears on how we feel.
Mind your body — pay attention to the way emotions impact your physical well-being. Years ago, I was in a job that I loved, but it also created a lot of stress. Over time, my body responded. I had constant headaches, neck pain, high blood pressure and occasionally I broke out in hives.
While getting treatment for tension headaches, I was told to pay attention to what my body did throughout the day. I noticed two major coping mechanisms. The first came whenever I felt stressed. I would press my tongue onto the roof of my mouth as a release for the emotions I experienced. The second manifested itself when I wasn't directly feeling stressed. In those times, I would contract and elevate my left shoulder. These two little stress expressions caused body aches for years.
Assess yourself with the following questions. Perhaps, you'll realize some ways in which your emotions are causing problems for your body.
Is your body tense?
• Are your teeth clenched?
&Bull; Are your shoulders relaxed or up at your ears?
• Is your brow furrowed?
How is your breathing?
• Is it short and shallow?
• Is it focused, in through the nose and out through the mouth?
What is your body alignment?
• If standing, is your head over your shoulders, shoulders over your hips, and hips situated evenly over your feet?
• If sitting, is your spine slouched and neck forward, or properly aligned as I described above?
Is your body telling you to eat or drink?
• Are you ignoring hunger pains?
• Are you light-headed and dizzy?
• Is your mouth dry?
Alternatively, the mind and body can positively impact one another. Scripture speaks to this truth in Prov. 3:7-8 and 3 John 1:2.
Trusting the Lord and obeying Him can lessen the bodily burdens experienced in sin and shame. Physical health reflects spiritual health. When we're thriving emotionally, spiritually and mentally, our bodies generally reap the benefits.
God lovingly created the interconnection between mind and body. Meant to enhance our human experience, it is an interaction fundamental to who we are as embodied image-bearers. Inevitably, we will feel our feelings. I encourage you to glorify Him in your body (1 Cor. 6:20) by cultivating an awareness of the interplay between mind and body.
Lainey Greer is a Ph.D. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her blog is https://greerlainey.wixsite.com/embodiment.