I had the good fortune of leading two yoga classes at the Canadian Positive Psychology Association‘s Conference last Thursday and Friday. The pic above? That was the view from the practice room at 6:30am. So gorgeous!
It was amazing to meet so many lovely people who are invested in helping people really thrive.
That’s what positive psychology is all about, after all: thriving. At first glance, it might sound like it’s all about looking on the bright side and slapping a smile on your face. Oh no, it’s much more real than that. It leverages cutting-edge research on psychology and neuroscience to help us grow, moving from just getting by to really flourishing.
Some definitions of positive psychology, as offered by Wikipedia, are as follows: “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”, or “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” Pretty inspiring stuff!
I was lucky enough to hear industry leaders and academics present their findings and share their perspectives on personal growth and wellbeing. I was delighted to see so many of them emphasizing the mind-body connection. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to mental and emotional resilience, we simply cannot leave the body out of the equation. As you already know, that’s a big element of the way I work with my clients, and I loved seeing that perspective reflected back to me from industry leaders.
It was a little nod from the Universe that I’m on the right track!
Dr. Kate Hefferon (PhD) is a Chartered Research Psychologist, Reader and Head of the Post-Traumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London. Kate has spent her career focusing on the Somatopsychic side to Flourishing, across a variety of populations and interventions.
She shared that, in her research, she has discovered that people who have a higher level of body awareness enjoy a higher subjective sense of wellbeing, and that they tend to instinctively treat their bodies with more kindness. She says that this is a result of being more attuned to their inner state.
If you have any kind of mind-body practice yourself, like yoga or meditation, you have likely noticed this attunement.
I’ve known this in my bones for years, but I always like to see my felt experience being supported by research. It makes me geek out a little, I must confess!
Dr. Hefferon says that psychological strength can be built and supported by physical strength, meaning that when you’re exercising your body, you’re also improving your mental and emotional resilience. In particular, developing physical strength supports our psychological wellbeing by allowing us to experience the following aspects of human development and a meaningful life:
Aside from the physical benefits, it’s great to be reminded of the multi-dimensional gifts that exercise provides.
Can you recognize these themes popping up in relation to your wellness journey?
It was interesting too, because the participants in her research had all experienced some type of physical trauma, whether it be a cancer diagnosis and treatment or an accident of some kind.
You might think that people would simply be discouraged at the loss of what they could once do. That kind of thing turns your world upside down and invites you to re-examine your sense of self.
It was amazing to hear their testimonials about celebrating small victories and having a deep appreciation for what their bodies were able to do, even if it looked nothing like their previous abilities.
Of course, each of them would have also gone through a grieving process before coming into acceptance and appreciation. It’s not about negating the realness of our struggles. That’s absolutely a part of the process to be honoured and respected.
The more we can give ourselves permission to be exactly as we are, to let expectation and judgment fall away, and to focus on what we can do and how it feels rather than how it looks, the more we’ll thrive.
I invite you to try a little exercise with me to integrate this concept right now. You can do this wherever you are, even if you’re on a crowded subway car.
Take a moment to drop into your body now.
Notice that you’re here.
Notice that you’re breathing.
Can you start to feel your breath from the inside out?
Can you sense the possibility of noticing body sensation as you breathe?
Not trying to breathe in a particular way…just letting it happen.
And noticing your own experience of breathing.
If you feel inspired, try bring that sense of presence into the next activity you do. Whether it’s leading a team meeting, washing the dishes, or exercising. Can you drop into your body for a moment?
It all counts, and it adds up.
It’s a simple way to become more embodied, which Dr. Hefferon tells us supports our wellbeing on a very deep level.