How to Practice · Psychotherapy

How the mind grasps on to things (and won’t let go)

Body and Mind are part of a whole unit. The Mind uses the Body to develop and store emotional defense and reaction mechanisms. If we wish to make real changes in our “person”, and if we wish to see the world “as it is”, and not as we have become accustomed to seeing it, we must deal with these soldiers of the mind effectively.

This might be a strange topic to write about, but I have found that when one realizes that the body and mind are a single unit, it quickly becomes a thing of importance.

So, what do we know?

First, we know that the brain is the control center.

Second, we know that the neurons which “fire” in response to the brains commands, are not just located physically in the brain, but throughout the body.

Third, we know that the brain is connected to all the nerves in the body.

Fourth, we know that the nerves control the muscles response, i.e. telling it tense and relax.

Things we learn through meditation and yoga:

The process of the body/mind settling into zazen, makes one more aware of what is happening in the body and how it is related to the mind in its “taking orders”.

The process of the body/mind engaged in yoga, also makes one more aware of what it happening to the body and how it is related to the mind in its “taking orders”.

Focusing – the concept

Many moons ago, I bought a book called “Focusing”. In it, the author Eugene T. Gendlin explained that after many years of practicing psychotherapy, he had found that there seemed to be one type of patient who seemed to possess the ability to resolve their problems, and the other who no matter how long they visited him, seemed unable to find a way to resolve their problems. He decided to search for what the patients who could successfully resolve their problems were doing that the others were not.

After much research, he found that there was a common element that the patients “used to heal themselves”. He developed it into a method which took the world of psychotherapy by storm.

In the method he developed, one relates to the body in clarifying a mental or emotional issue; finding that associated feeling somewhere in the body, naming it, paying close attention to the way it feels. When a patient successfully dealt with the issue, the place in the body which the issue (discomfort or stress) “manifested” itself, would relax, creating a “shift” in the way the body felt. After resolving the issue, often patients reported “not being able to find” the knot, or uncomfortable place they used to have, and that the issue, for example an uncomfortable relationship with a relative, simply wasn’t there anymore even when they looked for it, or tried to “bring on” that feeling again.

Also, over time, the method Dr. Gendlin developed became far more than just a method of psychotherapy, but extended itself into the areas of deeper insight.

This is yet another example of how, after finding a method for resolving hindrances in how to deal with our circumstances and relationships, a deeper instinctual insight becomes available to us, to utilize in our lives.

Here is an excerpt from their website, and the link to their main website:

What if…

~ you already have within yourself the answers to life’s dilemmas and frustrations?

~ you had access to deep wisdom at all times, for the rest of your life?

“Focusing” is a process for helping your mind listen to the wisdom of your body.

In any situation, your body is sending you information. Many of us don’t know how to open our minds to this information because it doesn’t follow the same logic as our cognitive mind.

We have deeper wells of knowledge within us than we consciously know.

Focusing helps to give us access to all of it.


While I have used this method in working with life issues, I also began to pay attention and use it while practicing zazen and self inquiry. Over time, a sense has developed, that this way of dealing with the kinks the mind puts into the body, when trying to hold on to things like frustration, stress, anger, hatred, is very effective, and can actually improve ones overall sense of well-being. It can also remove the hindrances of “getting stuck” in emotional responses to issues in my life.

An example of the body/mind reaction process I see in myself, works like this:

The mind is calm, the body is relaxed.

An irritant like someone arguing begins. (an example)

The mind begins paying attention to that irritant…. it gets stuck in the issue, and can’t let go.

The brain refuses to let go of the issue, even after the issue has passed. (holding it “past its expiry date” of one moment)

But the brain has no muscles in its own mass, to tense up in response to the irritant.

So the brain sends a message down a nerve bundle, to a muscle or muscle group, and tells it to tense up. (perhaps like the muscles in your lower abdomen, or your upper back, or your shoulders and neck}

The muscles tense up, and “hold onto” the tension, creating the feeling of an emotional response appropriate to the situation. So the muscle has effectively become the minds soldier in dealing with this issue.

Once the brain stops sending the message, the muscle can gradually let go of the tension.

But when the brain has repeated this process a number of times, it becomes more “instinctual” to the muscle as a response “type”, and also, the muscle may stay tensed for a long period of time after the brain has stopped the message.

This type of tension can begin to stay for longer and longer periods of time, and after a time, may require someone to help relieve this stress…… perhaps massage the “knot” out. So the body “learns” to respond this or that way in a particular circumstance.


How and why should we get rid of this “tension” then?

Yoga is one way to stretch these tensions out. Sometimes, it can also help to “get rid” of the automatic emotional responses we have developed. (and here, body/mind process begins to become evident) Both meditation and yoga can teach us how to hold a mind of equanimity, not being so unable to control these emotional responses.

If you consider the muscle response as the brains soldier, coming out to the castle walls to deal with a certain type of situation, you can see how our emotional responses become tight spots and muscle knots. It is preparing for a fight.

In Zen and yoga practice, the reason why this body/mind relaxation becomes an important part of the practice, is that these emotional responses, and the results of stress and tension, are a hindrance to practice (not just a hindrance in out interpersonal relationships) . These types of responses keep the body/mind from a quiet environment in which true reality can reveal itself. The person is so busy and flustered with the irritants and the resulting emotions, the reality of the situation can remain hidden.

Personally, I have 3 parts to this practice, and I find it works well for me.

1.) Using a simple self inquiry practice, employing this “focusing” method, to root out the deep seated causes of emotional responses.

2.) Paying attention in my simple yoga practice, to these places where I know my mind likes to store tension.

3.) Paying attention in my zazen, and throughout the day, to my posture, watching the places where my mind likes to store tension.

In doing these practices, I have developed what I call the “body locks” alert system, where I check myself often throughout the day, to see if there are any places in my body where my mind is storing tension, and immediately relaxing it.

When it is clear that tension in the body, and emotional responses to situations impacts ones life and reality practice, it is easier to make it a priority, just as jogging or exercising is to those who consider their physical health to be important.

Body and Mind are part of a whole unit. The Mind uses the Body to develop and store emotional defense and reaction mechanisms. If we wish to make real changes in our “person”, and if we wish to see the world “as it is”, and not as we have become accustomed to seeing it, we must deal with these soldiers of the mind effectively.



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