I was at a stormy period of my life with my business in trouble and my marriage a minefield. On a stool in my garage I sat rocking back and forth with my jaw in my hand, suffering from an excruciating toothache. Almost absentmindedly, as if to distract myself from the pain, I began to massage under the ear, around the jawline, even under the tongue. The pain was electrifying. Then suddenly it vanished. It completely disappeared, and never returned.
That marked a turning point. I realized my toothache was not a dental problem, but a mental problem. Stress. MY BODY WAS SPEAKING AND I DIDN’T KNOW THE LANGUAGE.
I vowed to learn it.
I began to read up on recent research in alternative health and to take classes in body work. Discoveries I made changed my life.
I learned that my tendency to freeze under stress is a well-documented phenomenon, called a neural hijacking. It happens when the thinking part of the brain shuts down because the ancient, emotional brain, is on hyper-alert. Under sustained stress the emotional brain, on survival mode, effectively short-circuits the slow, thinking part of the brain.
Thus, learning to reduce and manage stress is essential to remaining clear-headed and alert, particularly during times of trouble.
Happily, there is a positive flip-side to this body-brain connection. Research proves you can “rewire” your brain to change the mental, emotional and physical habits of a lifetime. It's called "neuro-plasticity" - and it is very good news.
But positive rewiring of old habits isn't easy. It requires sustained, mindful intention. By “mindful” I simply mean being aware of whatever it is you are doing, while you are doing it. This can include paying attention to your internal thought-loops and emotional states as well as your physical posture, depending on what it is you are trying to improve.
The first lesson I learned from my body, on the day of the toothache, was the intimate connection between body and mind: the brain can cause physical pain.
That led to the second lesson – which I learned later from yoga class – that intentional, mindful physical activity can help manage emotional stress. I was lucky to discover Iyengar yoga, a practice that focuses on slow, precise alignment within each pose. The teacher provides detailed, individualized corrections as students learn to send precise intentions (that is – to rewire) each part of the body.