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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Books on the Body-Mind Connection

I am really pleased to say that the next blog entry has been written by Dr Jennifer Leigh, an expertise on yoga and somatic education.  I asked Jennifer to recommend five books on a genuinely fascinating topic - and one that is of great relevance to both sport and education - the body mind connection.

When I was asked to recommend five books on mind-body connection I have to say that my brain froze.  I looked at the (shelves and shelves of) books that I own on aspects of this and was completely flummoxed.  I could recommend lots of them.  Others I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.  My main concern though, was who I would be recommending them for.So I have decided to recommend one book from five sections of my bookshelves (bar the really freaky ones) with a little bit of an introduction as to why it may be relevant to the mind-body discourse. 

The idea of a mind-body connection is not exactly universally accepted.  The ascendancy of the mind over the body and its importance in the development of Western philosophy and later medicine, psychology and sport can be traced back to the days of Plato, the Orphic and Socrates: “the body is an endless source of trouble...only the mind can reach existence”.  For example, Descartes’ dualism was firmly anti-organic, built on earlier notions of the physical world, and described in the words of Alan Watts as, “the domain of corruption and evil”.  The division or schism between mind and body can thus be seen to have affected Western society from its earliest days, with the body being seen as inferior to the mind. 

In contrast, in yoga philosophy and practice a mind-body connection is an assumption.  The purely physical aspect of yoga, asana, has been emphasised in recent years, sometimes to the exclusion of all else, turning yoga practice into an exercise form.  Yoga could be a valuable practice for any sports person.  But which book on yoga to recommend? 

I have chosen Dynamic Yoga by Godfrey Devereux (1998).  Devereux’s approach to yoga is physical, strong and active.  His explanations of the poses are clear, and if you can get over the extremely revealing shorts he wears, the photos are helpful.  The book is comprehensive, covering the poses you would encounter in most Hatha, Ashtanga or Iyengar yoga classes.

Eastern philosophy has a different starting point and language when talking of the mind and body, illustrating “the irrelevance of Western theories to non-Western contexts”.  The traditional Eastern view of the body and mind is that they are inseparable aspects of the same human existence.  A book that explores the martial mind-body connection is Peter and Laura Ralston’s Zen-Body Being (2006).  It is a bit of a how-to manual with exercises designed to help the reader experience a greater sense of their body-being.

The importance of the body-mind (or embodied mind) as opposed to a body/mind split in the philosophy of psychotherapy can be traced back through Freud and his discovery of the power of the unconscious over the conscious and his work on the power-relationship between therapist and client.  Linda Hartley’s Somatic Psychology (2004) traces the history of psychology and its sorry relationship with the body, which has tended to either ignore it (in the context of cognitive or social psychology), or treat it as exclusively functional (in biological and neuro-psychologies). 

In a discussion of Eastern philosophies and their resemblance to Western psychotherapy, Alan Watts states that both are concerned “with bringing about changes of consciousness”.  Western psychotherapy has as a primary concern with the study of the mind or psyche as a clinical entitity, whereas “Eastern cultures have not categorized mind and matter, soul and body, in the same way”.  By increasing awareness of the body-mind and its movements, it is possible to increase awareness of that boundary of and relationship with the world (and all others in it).  Alan Fogel’s The Psychophysiology of Self-Awareness (2009) explores how the physiology of the body and psychology interact within a therapeutic situation.  He illustrates this with the use of psychology, neuro-biology and the Rosen Method, a form of somatic bodywork. 

My final book is a collection of writings on the principles and techniques of somatics in Don Hanlon Johnson’s Body, Breath and Gesture (1995).  The book forms a history of the field, including how it has fragmented into the disparate approaches and techniques that are found today.  Johnson focuses on Western somatic body awareness disciplines, many of which were developed after the turn of the last century.  Some of the practices outlined may fall into that ‘hippy’ section, however I find it to be a book that gives a very clear sense of the broadness of the somatic field and the scope of work and practice that people are engaging in to increase their sense of a mind-body connection.


Jennifer Leigh is an accredited Somatic Movement Therapist, a Qualified School Teacher and an experienced Yoga Instructor.  Her doctoral research was a study on children’s perceptions of embodiment. She is currently working as a Research Associate at the University of Kent on a study looking at Costs and Outcomes of Skilled Support for Individuals with Complex Needs and an evaluation of ‘Imagining Autism’, a drama intervention for primary school children with autism.  She also has a killer pair of legs.


Gemma said...

Great topic, more blogs on this please!

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khel Sahitya Kendra said...

nice article… simple and useful :)

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