At Out of Yer Shell, we appreciate science and other STEM disciplines, but don’t necessarily have the expertise to talk about them in a knowledgeable way.
Consequently, we are very thankful for YouTube videos.
The term “mind-body connection” brings up a lot of different things for a lot of different people. Some people think about the relationship in terms of gut health, while others have complex chemicals and interactions on the brain (is that a pun?). For the purposes of this page, we want to specifically talk about how activities such as exercise, mindfulness and meditation, and yoga can help transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) youth alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, gender dysphoria, and a host of other mental health concerns.
Unlike yoga and mindfulness and meditation, the connection between exercise and the reduction of depression, anxiety, and a gaggle of other unpleasant feelings has been studied at length: exercise increases the flow of dopamine and endorphins (the feel-good chemicals) to the brain, and suddenly the proverbial frown gets turned upside down. Some studies have shown that exercise can even restructure the brain—with the hippocampus and such—forming new neural pathways (which is good).
Like exercise, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation work with neurochemicals and their…friends to make good brain stuff happen in the body (could we possibly have been any more specific?); however, the focus of using yoga, mindfulness, and meditation to treat mental health concerns has more to do with breaking the practitioner out of the prison that is their sympathetic nervous system and gently lulling them into parasympathetic paradise. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the famous “fight, flight, or freeze” conundrum—a state that we, as evolved folx, enter when we stress out. This is where trans and GNC folx go when we’re experiencing gender dysphoria. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is responsible for chillaxing—it’s where we go when we aren’t freaking out.
Obviously, both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are important to survival—you wouldn’t want to bump into a bear on a hiking trail and not have the good sense to run away, just like you wouldn’t want to spend an hour on the massage table worrying about how bad traffic will be on the way home. You need both.
Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga help folx recognize when they don’t need to be in the sympathetic nervous system state, and wind-down into the parasympathetic nervous system.
Scientists (including our friend, Deepak Chopra) use the term, psychoneuroimmunology to talk about the mind-body connection. Kabat-Zinn (1990) stated that “our thoughts, emotions, and life experiences might, under some circumstances, influence our susceptibility or resistance to disease.”
Under NO circumstances should a person’s gender identity ever be referred to or thought of as a disease. The gender dysphoria, anxiety, depression, self-loathing and myriad of other emotional garbage that comes from living in a transphobic, heteronormative, racist, neurotypical (we could go on forever) society are the “disease” in this instance.
The goal of all of our interventions is to help queer kids alleviate symptoms of dysphoria, stress, depression, anxiety, etc. We believe in the power of yoga, exercise, mindfulness, and meditation because of our personal experiences, but also because Science (with a capital ‘s’) has proven the effectiveness and validity of the mind-body connection. We hope trans and GNC youth can utilize these interventions—or “life experiences,” to quote Kabat-Zinn—to find peace of mind and get that much closer to loving themselves.
“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment.”Dan Harris