Woah... going deep today, but that's how this blog tends to go! So have you heard, researched, or looked into the mind body connection? If not, it's totally fascinating and of course applicable to the animals we work with!
So as I have talked about in previous blog posts it's important to be mindful of our thoughts, and our animal's thoughts- if you are in the training side of things or just interested in reading your pet's body language.
The mind body connection essentially is the idea that our mind can affect our body- which you might say of course it does! Of course, we can always take this idea a whole lot deeper though. If our mind affects our body, then by extension our thoughts affect our body-meaning our emotions can affect our physiological functions and our overall health.
So healthy thoughts can bring about a healthier body, and unhealthy or negative thoughts can cause harm to our body. There is tons of research out there on the negative effects of stress on our health, yet we often don't think of stress as internally caused, we typically think stress comes from our environment. However, looking at this whole mindset body connection we can see how our external environment becomes internalized and processed through our mind and then reflected back through this mind "filter" into our body. So an external stimuli occurs, our mind processes it, and then we get our thoughts-->emotions and physiological reactions in our body;
but our minds are biased!
The filter of our mind is meant to keep us safe based on our unique experience, it creates patterns that keep us in survival mode. It is designed for survival not for thriving.
With me so far?
So if for example, you are in a large crowd of people, this may be an external stress for you. However, if we can control how we think and feel about this phenomenon we can control how it affects our emotions and therefore our physiology. If you typically find this type of situation stressful you can of course avoid it, or re-frame how you think about it if it's something you are going to have to deal with. Maybe rather than focusing on what stresses you out about crowds, focus on the sense of communal experience, happiness, or togetherness of this situation, or whatever brings you peace in this type of situation. Once again, the most important part of mindfulness is becoming aware of the thoughts you have, acknowledging them without judgment, and then deciding which ones you want to believe and keep. Once you can do this you will have better control of your emotions, your physiology, and your health.
There are many beliefs out there, and some research out there, (though this is hard to support due to the nature of it), that suggest our emotions can be stored in our body, (especially when repressed) and wreak havoc on our health. So it is so important to be mindful of our thoughts because our state of mind has a lot to do with our overall health!
Ok, ok so where are the animals in all of this?
In the next part of this discussion I want to relate the mind to our physical body in a way that is more visible and apparent. We covered mind to emotion to body, now I want to look specifically at mind to emotion to muscles. A lot of what we think and feel can be visibly seen in the way we carry ourselves in the world. Do you hunch your shoulders to appear smaller than you are? Do you clench your teeth when you are stressed? Chances are if you are hunching your shoulders to appear small, you might think and feel like someone who is small. Now the why is an entire other rabbit hole to go down, but what if I told you that by physically changing your posture you could change how you feel about yourself?
So in one way we can change our thoughts (mind) to control or change our body,
and in the other way we can change or control our body to change our thoughts!
I find this so fascinating, and there is also tons of research out there on this very phenomenon!
Ok so the animals!!
You can do this very thing with your dog- you can begin by noticing his mind- what causes him to become tense in different areas of his body? Are there wrinkles in his forehead starting to form in response to an approaching dog, is his tail tucking under him as a stranger approaches, is his tail stuck straight in the air as a stranger approaches? He is talking to you and telling you exactly what he's thinking in these situations. So if you ever wanted to talk to animals this is how you start! And of course body language is contextual so consistent observation makes key practice.
Once you know his or her triggers, and become aware of THE FIRST PHYSIOLOGICAL SIGNS of the effects these triggers have (this is the toughest part, but through lots of observation you will get better and better at seeing these physiological responses at their seedling stage) on their body, you can interrupt this pattern by teaching your dog how to relax their body. Now of course as with all training you start easy and work your way up. There is a technique called conditioned relaxation that Kayce Cover coined which works in just this way.
Using the physical body to change the state of mind. It's similar to how, if you have ever felt a lot of tension in your shoulders when you are stressed, and you take a deep breath and relax your muscles, you will feel mental relief as well.
I have also heard Cesar Milan, in addition to other trainers, discuss how a dog that tucks his tail fearfully, is similar to a person who hunches their shoulders to appear smaller. Similar to how you would tell the "huncher" to straighten up and look tall, you can help your dog stand tall by bringing their tail up ( noting here that your dog should first be comfortable with you touching their tail) to make them feel more comfortable and confident about whatever situation is happening.
I have seen this phenomenon in horses as well, horses who are relaxed can stretch down and bring their head down and have a loose flowing gait. While, horses that are tense, or nervous about something feel similar to riding a tightly coiled spring ready to explode (not the best feeling I have to say... haha). They also bring tension into their face, and muzzle, and neck and you can watch this wave of nervous energy come over them. We try our best to interrupt or redirect this energy before it overwhelms them, and us!
I hope you find this subject as fascinating as I do and start to become aware of all the energy we carry around with us. Is it calm, and grounded, or nervous and edgy? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and of course your animals !