Think about mental health as the tip of an iceberg: although some emotions are displayed outwardly, other emotions and health habits run deep beneath the surface to create a picture of one’s total wellbeing. Identifying practices that enhance one's mind-body connection is key to teachers’, counselors’, and students' mental health.
Through holistic care resources, we can prevent compassion burnout from providers and optimize retention of positive health practices from students. Identifying mind-body resources to help teachers, counselors, and students can prevent stress and improve coping abilities which is key to effective mental health care.
The Mind-Body Connection explains the interdependent relationship between our mind and bodies. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes, affect our biological and chemical functioning (University of Minnesota, 2016). In the same vein, what we do with our physical body (how we eat, exercise, rest) impacts our mental functioning positively or negatively. The Mind-Body Connection is a two-way street, suggesting that practices that enhance unity between mindset and actions are vital to wellbeing.
When there is a mind-body disconnection, it may trigger discontent and stress. A mind-body disconnection is easy for students to fall into, as they have extremely busy schedules filled with social, academic, and personal responsibilities. Finding time to prioritize personal care and rest seem almost impossible for most students as school environments have high expectations for academic and extracurricular success and productivity. As counselors and administrators, it is important for us to show students the value of rest and that taking time for themselves will actually contribute to academic and social success. Trying to do it all will only take away from the quality of their experiences and effort into each activity they are doing. Presence and attention to the activity you are doing without thinking about what is next is achieved by tuning into all of your senses that reside within the body, suggesting that a mind-body connection is key to success in all areas of life.
Achieving the mind-body connection can require no physical resources, meaning it is an easy intervention to teach to students and to use yourself. Zen theory offers guidelines for developing a strong mind-body connection with its values of presence and reframing thoughts.
You can practice Zen in any and every activity. For instance, when washing dishes, fully immerse yourself in the moment by feeling the warm soapy water rush down your hands, feeling the shape of the dish, the scent of the soap, the texture of the ridges. In doing this, you are bringing a sense of curiosity and attention to the activity you are doing, making it more enjoyable and connected to total being. If we find ways to connect to the moment we are in, regardless of whether it is something that we enjoy or find boring, we are likely to enjoy each activity we are doing more than if we speed through without paying attention.
Constant negative thoughts can trigger poor motivation to prioritize physical and mental wellness. Breaking these negative thought patterns may help people think that they can do something to heal themselves (Menezes, 2020). Implementing a social-emotional learning (SEL) class centered around teaching Zen theory, mindfulness, and movement might be helpful in promoting mind-body connection. A 2017 study found that SEL programs promote academic success, increase positive behavior, and mitigate misconduct, substance abuse, and emotional distress in students. SEL interventions have been shown to increase student success by over 11 percent compared to those without SEL programs.
Encouraging students to experiment with different methods of meditation to find out which works best for them would help them develop a consistent practice aligned with precision neuroscience theories. By the end of the Zen ‘class,’ you could expect students to become more present in daily life, bringing a sense of positive meditative curiosity to activities that they typically did not enjoy.
Another strategy to break negative thought patterns and enhance mind-body connection is journaling about healthy habits to assess the areas of your life that you might want to change for your total body wellbeing. Some examples of journal prompt questions that you might want to incorporate into SEL classes are:
How are you sleeping? How can you prioritize getting a healthy amount of sleep?
Do you enjoy moving your body? What types of activities do you enjoy doing and how can you find time to do them more?
What do you believe is the best thing about yourself?
What can you do today to rest and ground yourself?
Teaching students about different ways to train their brains and bodies to be more in the moment will improve academic performance, reduce stress, build resilience, and increase positive affect. Yoga is a physical activity that enhances the mind-body connection and is a great supplement to social-emotional learning strategies. The 3,000 year old tradition called “yoga” allows us to slow down and work through the body to strengthen our mind-body connections. Some yoga poses stimulate and calm the mind as well as energize internal organs. Regular yoga practice influences brain chemistry, leading to reduced stress levels and improved health. Yoga can work to improve depression and increase serotonin levels, directly connecting to improved mental health.
Here, we can see that implementing yoga into one's routine consistently can change the brain on a chemical level that works towards mental health. Mind-body interventions for mental health are a great way to promote personal growth and wellbeing. Prioritizing student, teacher, and counselor mental health is important, so including a yoga class within the school curriculum is a great way to enhance mind-body connection.
Combining social-emotional learning and movement practices into school curriculum and culture are just a few examples of how to cultivate a mind-body connection that works towards wellbeing. Luckily, we have already done all the work to come up with a plan for you. Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help students and teachers stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps students and teachers when they’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for their mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike using CASEL-approved SEL content. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the author:
Ginger Freeman (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Santa Clara University studying Psychology, Public Health, and Asian Studies. Once she graduates, she plans to pursue a masters in counseling to become a licensed therapist. She is passionate about making mental health care more accessible and personalized, as well as applying zen theory to traditional psychotherapy. Through starting the conversation around mental health she hopes to reduce stigma and help people feel less alone! Outside of school, she enjoys spending time outside with friends, hot yoga, meditation, and listening to live music.