Results of many research studies have demonstrated that people tend to be and feel significantly more autonomous when their behaviors and actions are consistent with their goals and values (Latham, 2012). In other words, pursuing goals autonomously and for intrinsically motivated reasons increases the likelihood of satisfying the basic psychological needs and experiencing life satisfaction and well-being (Mackenzie, Mackenzie, Karaoylas, Karaoylas, Starzyk, & Starzyk, 2018). Research shows that intrinsic motivation aligned with one’s beliefs and value system is conducive to a more active attitude, curiosity, and self-awareness to seek and create a life purpose and meaning (Siwek, Oleszkowicz, Słowińska, 2017).
According to Ryan and Ryan (2019), when people determine their actions and take responsibility for them, they experience higher levels of subjective well-being and quality of their interpersonal relationships. Research studies show that people can learn to be authentic by cultivating mindfulness and autonomy, even when facing challenges and obstacles. Research also shows that promoting and fostering autonomy, competence, and relatedness in various environments, including family, work, marriage, and academia fosters psychological wellness and overall vitality (Rich, Hanna, & Wright, 2017). In contrast, thwarting these needs by a lack of support in the social environment can result in suffering, dissatisfaction with life, and psychological ill-being (DeHaan, Hirai, & Ryan, 2016). Also, inadequate self-awareness of one’s goals, intrinsic motivations, and values can result in a loss of a sense of purpose and meaning in life (Siwek et al., 2017).
According to LeBlanc, Uzun, & Aydemir (2019), attention and self-awareness are necessary precursors of self-regulatory behaviors that can be supported and enhanced through self-care behaviors, specifically, a practice of mindfulness. Based on recent neuroimaging studies, mindfulness buffers negative affectivity in the brain, thus, supporting autonomous emotional self-regulation (Creswell, 2017). Previous research also shows that mindfulness has been found to be a significant self-regulatory capacity and an indicator of wellness (Olafsen, 2017) and that mindfulness training can result in an increase in self-awareness, which allows people to connect their values with their actions and behaviors (Alsubaie, Abbott, Dunn, Dickens, Keil, Henley, & Kuyken, 2017). Self-aware, mindful people can recognize and deal with daily problems by making choices and decisions aligned with their psychological well-being and promoting a healthy mind (Bajaj, Gupta, Sengupta, 2019). Making an autonomous choice to manage emotions in adaptive ways leads to increased positive affect and life satisfaction (LeBlanc et al., 2019).
Furthermore, research studies examining relationships between psychological well-being, a sense of competence, autonomy, and self-awareness show that the functionality and full integration of emotionally self-aware individuals enables them to recognize and effectively resolve their personal issues that often spill into their professional lives (Merryman, Martin, & Martin, 2015), including reaching their goals across all aspects of their lives.
My favorite mind-body practices I often incorporate in my clinical work or recommend to clients of all ages to help them cultivate their sense of competence, autonomy, and mindfulness are:
- Qigong and Tai Chi – these two moving, breathing meditation practices are being increasingly therapeutically used to prevent and treat a wide range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and PTSD symptoms (Johansson, Hassmén, & Jouper, 2011). Both practices include elements of ancient Chinese medicine, martial arts, and Eastern lifestyle philosophy. They are both characterized by integrating slow, flowing movements, postural training, controlled breathing, somatic self-awareness, and mindful focus (Osypiuk, Thompson, & Wayne, 2018). To learn more about Qigong and Tai Chi, visit the Qigong Institute: https://www.qigonginstitute.org/category/4/gettingstarted
- Taekwondo – Originating in Korea 2,000 years ago as traditional martial art, Taekwondo practitioners strive not only to attain high skill levels but also achieving simsin-ilyeo (unity between mind and body), cheonin-hapil (oneness with heaven and earth) and becoming a hongik-ingan (a humanitarian). Research studies show that Taekwondo significantly contributes to physical self-concept and strength but also higher levels of perseverance, self-expression, confidence, and self-regulation (Kim, Dattilo, & Heo, 2011). To learn more about the benefits of this practice, please visit: https://www.taekwondonation.com/what-are-the-health-benefits-of-tae-kwon-do-or-adults/
- Yoga – The goal of this ancient mind-body practice, originating in India more than 2.000 years ago is to achieve a unification of state of consciousness and bodily self-awareness. However, yoga has been effectively used to improve overall health and well-being. Like Qigong and Tai Chi, yoga involves physical postures, controlled breathing, deep relaxation, mindful focus, and meditation. Research studies show that yoga practitioners have demonstrated improvements in emotional self-regulation, mood, life satisfaction and well-being as well as reduction of symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD (Gaiswinkler & Unterrainer, 2016; Staples, Hamilton, & Uddo, 2013). To learn more about different types of yoga and their benefits, please visit http://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercises/types-of-yoga#2
- Dance – Dance therapy uses psychomotor expression to facilitate a therapeutic change by integrating the emotional, cognitive, and physical aspect of the individual. Dance movement therapy can be done individually or in a group and often rhythmic dance creative movements, and improvisations, symbolic body movements, group dance, and relaxation exercises (Mills & Daniluk, 2002). For more information, please visit the American Dance Therapy Association at http://www.adta.org.
Research shows that mind-body practices can produce beneficial psychological effects due to body relaxation response calming down the central nervous system and activating parasympathetic nervous activity. Somatic awareness and mindfulness are key components of mind-body interactions. Somatic awareness is defined as the ability to perceive, interpret, and act on the basis of one’s own internal bodily sensations that can be a powerful tool in regulating emotions and cultivating a sense of autonomy and competence.
Starting a new practice can be intimidating at first, however, there are many virtual resources to help you get started. Remember, positive changes do not just happen in your comfort zone. Do a little research and pick a practice that resonates with you and give it a try, even if it is in your own living room.