EMBODIED COGNITION

For far too long, society has viewed intelligence and thinking as occurring from the ‘neck up’ and the encompassing mind-body system has been overlooked.

Your brain is neurologically woven throughout your entire body. If I say to you, “wiggle your toes” (or Simon says, “Touch your shoulders”) and you follow those requests, you will see this is true. But for some reason, we do not fully view in our language this obvious inner connection.

Do you ever hear anyone referring to their…

  • Body-Spleen connection?
  • Body-Kidney connection?
  • Body-Heart connection?

Not likely.

So why are the terms body-mind and body-brain so widely used?

This seems to be a ‘Western World’ issue, because Eastern practises and philosophies tend to approach the human system as a unified whole.

In fact, until approximately 300 years ago, virtually every system of medicine throughout the world treated the mind and body as a whole. However, during the 17th century, the Western world started to see the mind and body as two separate entities. In turn, the body became viewed as a machine, with replaceable, independent parts, with no connection to the mind.

This practise of ‘fractionating and compartmentalizing’ may have temporary benefits when it comes to specific understanding of the parts that compose the whole.  However, in order to effectively heal and optimize our system and abilities, we need a holistic and integrative approach.

Embodied Cognition:

Thankfully, a new field of science called Embodied Cognition has been emerging over the past several decades. It is based on the concept that your mind is not only connected to your body.  Your body influences your mind, and aspects of your body play a significant role in cognitive processing.

This makes sense.  Quite frankly, to overlook the body in our understanding of intelligence is outright absurd.

From birth, your body is essential to your learning, growth, relationships, and neurological development. Often your body and movements communicate much more clearly than your words.

Have you ever been in a situation where you could ‘read someone’s mind’ simply by the look in their eyes or their body language? You would probably say, “Yes”!

Here is a fun experiment:

  • Think of something you are super passionate about and then describe it out loud to a friend — but do it while you are sitting on your hands.

How uncomfortable or limiting does it feel not being able to gesture with your hands while you speak?

It is normal to move your body, and use hand gestures when you are talking, especially when you are describing something that is important to you and carries emotion.

Gesticulation assists Communication:

Gestures help you take what is in your mind and make it more comprehensible to others. Gesturing while you talk can energize and clarify your thinking, while helping you speak in a more concise manner and with more declarative language.

Broca’s area, which is considered a major component of the brain involved in speech and language production, is located next to the part of your brain that controls hand movements. This indicates from a brain development standpoint that spoken language segued from an earlier system of communication based on gestures.

According to one theory, our early ancestors first developed a manual sign language, which in turn gradually evolved, adding in characteristic vocalisations. As the vocal tract became more sophisticated and the muscular control of tongue, mouth cavity, throat and breathing became more refined, speech began to surpass gesture and eventually became the dominant aspect.

Human Intelligence:

Your brain is part of a much greater dynamic system that is not confined to your skull! Sensory inputs (incoming info) and motor outputs (responses and actions) are integral to cognitive processes, such as comprehension and choice making.

Human understanding is deeply rooted in how our bodies and brains interact with, process, and understand our environments.

Bodily meaning, neural simulation, and feeling are all involved in carrying out both concrete and abstract conceptualization and reasoning.

What does it mean to “be embodied” in an optimal way?

  • Feeling at home in your body
  • Feeling connected to your body in a safe manner
  • An increased ability to be in your body, in the present moment
  • To feel your emotional and physical sensations

Embodied experiences contribute to a dynamic grounding of cognition and neurological tapestry over the lifespan that allows children and adults to learn language and to represent concepts based on previous sensorimotor interactions.

Practices such as deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, biofeedback, yoga, and Brain Fitness activities are a few fantastic ways to build and strengthen your body-mind awareness and connection.

With all this said, it seems like it’s about time that we no longer dismiss the obvious: your brain and body are inherently and intimately connected, and you can’t appreciate, value, or understand one without the other.

Not to mention, while ideas may seem like solely a cognitive function, manifesting them in the real world requires physical action and involvement.

To your Fit Brain & Fit Life,

Jill