Thinking with our Whole Bodies

  Thinkig creatively

The the aphorism mens sana in corpore sano (Lat.from Greek philosopher Thales) has come to mean that physical exercise is an important or essential part of mental and psychological well-being. Another way of translating from its ancient Greek origins is a healthy mind in a healthy body. The poet Juvenal used it in a Satire to say that the wise person understands these are the most precious gifts to attend to vs. fame and riches.

We spend a lot of time exercising the body, or talking about it, and comparatively little in exercising the mind. The reverse case is also interesting — in Western business culture we spend considerable effort mining the brain and little or none using the body to comprehend, literally grasp. Our bodies have become a transport system for the head.

Yet, as any runner would attest, the high endorphin from moving at any pace gets our mind going and heightens our creativity. We can do better to involve the other half of us and increase our capacity to solve thinking puzzles and creative challenges. These are the kinds of situations we are facing today.

Psychologist Peter Lovatt believes dancing can change the way we think. He founded the Dance Psychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire where he and his team have had people in their lab dancing and then doing in problem-solving. They found that different kinds of dances help with different types of problem-solving.

For example, improvised kinds of dance helps with divergent thinking — where there's multiple answers to a problem. Very structured dance supports convergent thinking — trying to find the single answer to a problem. 

On the relationship between dance and self-esteem, Lovett says:

Anything where there's a high degree of tolerance for not getting it right [is good for self-esteem]. Things such as ceilidh dancing people smile, laugh and giggle, and they are adults and it's absolutely fine. It's wonderful. There have also been studies that have found that dancing in baggy "jazz" clothing is better than tight-fitting clothing for the dancer's self-esteem.

Children enter early education filled with energy and a desire to move around. It's not because they want to cause issues, it's in their nature, our nature, to want to explore things with our whole selves. There's a place for moving in lockstep, go in the same direction, and one for moving freely to experiment.

Business on the move

Movement is why some of the most joyous and open conversations we experience at client meetings and conferences are in the hallways or in between sessions and there's music playing. Music puts people in a good mood and the act of walking around increases oxygenation.

Another good way to break the ice in business is to use a theme song to get people moving together, especially before a long working session where participants will do things in groups. Dancing or singing and playing together before an activity that requires high concentration gets everyone into active mode.

Our level of physical energy influences our view of situations through emotion. In his talks, Lovett gives a demonstration of how teaching a group of people some simple steps raises the level of energy in the room. He says:

Research has shown that moving our bodies in different ways can help us to think differently and get out of a rut. For example, standing in a powerful pose changes our hormonal state for the better and moving in an improvised, unplanned way can make us think more creatively. It’s amazing, but the scientific literature suggests that the way we hold and move our body changes our chemistry and our thoughts.

Studies have shown that dancing can help people feel more alive. For the reticent among us, Lovett keeps an eye on our self-esteem:

Everyone has rhythm. Everyone. Our bodies function in rhythms. You might not be able to feel your rhythm, but it’s there waiting for you. Dance, and your rhythm will come.