What is psychophysical health?

Many of us, without realizing it, are living in a kind of cloud–a mood state that interferes with general attitude and attention. We become dominated by a general state of preoccupation and worry. Pretty quickly, that state becomes habitual, preventing us from thinking clearly and acting calmly.

Even in a seemingly illness-free individual, can we call this state of being truly healthy? And how do we lift this mental fog?

This fog is a result of a compromised, hyperactive psychophysical system. When the system calms down and we are no longer preoccupied and overwrought, we can see things more clearly and approach problems more logically. We can let go of issues that are bothering us because we can see more clearly what has to be done and how to do it.

In A New Model for Man’s Conscious Development, Ted Dimon identifies three elements that constitute a definition of psychophysical health:

  • the coordinated working of muscles
  • the quality of attention
  • and the functioning of the system as a behavioral whole

Together, these elements form a new and comprehensive standard for understanding how the psychophysical system works in a balanced way. More specifically, psychophysical health includes an assessment of muscle tone, the coordination of parts as a whole, attention level, mental attitude, and specifically what happens to all these elements in movement.

DesignInChildDevelopment

This child exhibits beautiful psychophysical health, both in his quiet, attentive state and in the free, easy use of his body, which is not at all strained.

The term “psychophysical” does not refer to the connection between body and mind but represents a new paradigm–one that makes it possible to conceive of the person as a total system in which mental and physical elements operate as an entire acting/reacting organism. This is not just a more complete conception of mind/body unity, but a new way of seeing and understanding how the organism functions in action.

This positive condition is not to be confused with “relaxation,” which produces a calming effect but which tends also to lower awareness instead of heightening it. By practicing relaxation, it is possible to achieve a kind of quieting down, to notice distracting thoughts, and to reduce stress. But relaxing leads to sapped energy and a collapsed physical state and, as such, represents a false attempt to restore the body to its normal condition. To truly reverse the effects of stress, we must produce this condition of alertness and balanced functioning, which restores not only calmness to the nervous system but clearheaded, rational thinking—two attributes that are essential to psychophysical health.

The same principle applies to the ability to approach tasks calmly and to make bigger picture choices in our lives. A compromised psychophysical state taints our judgments, feelings, and attitudes, preventing us from seeing the larger picture and looking at things rationally. Many adults live perpetually in this state, unable to stop, to reflect, to sort out difficulties so that life again becomes manageable, or to plan rationally when approaching difficult tasks. A renewed and healthy form of awareness or mindfulness is associated not with relaxation but with a balanced state of readiness and energy–a condition we have all observed in the open-eyed, alert state of a young child, which is not simply a sign of youth but of active poise and healthy muscle tone.

It is important to reiterate that this change in mental activity is based not on some vague concept of relaxation but on real motor function. Psychophysical health can be addressed properly only by restoring the body to a state of poise—that is, active and free of excess tension. This state can seem very much the opposite of one achieved with relaxation. Then and only then can unnecessary mental activity associated with a malfunctioning psychophysical system quiet down fully.

When one restores the body to a state of balance and poise one becomes suddenly aware of the mind quieting down as a direct result of a cessation of motor activity. There is a sense of having been subliminally distracted by doing things, subconsciously working on a problem or fretting over the coming work week, and all of a sudden this activity stops. This realization that some underlying activity has ceased—not just mentally but throughout the whole motor system–demonstrates in a startling way the direct link between ideas and muscular activity, and the educational meaning implied in gaining control over this system, and in improving our psychophysical health.

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