How A 58-Year-Old Man Learned To Connect To His Heart — And Heal His Body

This old vessel might sway and creak, but it gets me where I need to be.

58 year old white man in ball cap in still water, sunset behind him the author

As I continue to deepen my connection to the soul, I’ve been thinking about the mind-body connection. Getting out of my head and fully into my body is a significant first step toward spiritual development. 

I am reminded how lucky I am to inhabit this 58-year-old body capable of such cool stuff — even as I live life as a recovering addict. I am still focused as much as possible on joy in movement, freedom, self-love, and love of others. I believe I appreciate it even more because I used to be a mess.


My coach, Christopher, teaches me that to run well, with intention and with joy, I need to cultivate love. So I have been praying and meditating. I spend a lot of time these days with other men speaking of love and profound loss, sharing our souls, and looking at my vulnerability as a superpower rather than a weakness.

I do breathwork with my former CrossFit pal and now inspiring leader Iona Holloway. She taught me the power of my breath to change my habitual patterns. Iona talks about the body as the bridge between our mind and soul. I like that so much. Too often, we seem to want to jump straight from sick thinking to spiritual answers. But we are a body first, or as Iona tells it, "Creature first. Human second."


This all sounds very esoteric, I know. But I wasn't always capable of doing these things — or even talking about them. 

As I said, I am an alcoholic and an addict in recovery — and one thing I know for sure is that a sick mind cannot cure a sick mind. The brain only gets in the way of the alcoholic attempting to stop drinking. It just doesn’t work. Ever. 

Us drunks must surrender. We need each other, and we need to discover some relationship to heart, to a higher power of our understanding. My first sponsor, Tony, said my recovery would drip one drop at a time from my head down into my heart until my heart was full of love.

And that's my goal. A healthy body and a healthy mind —​ connected by my heart. You don't have to be an addict to grow from this. 


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Out of our heads and into our bodies

My problem is that the oldest, most reptilian part of my brain so often overrides everything, even when I have no conscious idea what is happening (for more on the reptilian brain, see this piece on the male soul). I live in my “fight or flight” response, thinking a tiger is around the corner when it is just my loving dog, Cooper.


The reason for breath work or extreme cold swimming (a group of crazy awesome friends and I have been swimming in the 40-degree Boston harbor each Thursday at sunrise for a while now), is that it helps regulate the nervous system. It’s a way of telling the reptilian voice shouting in your mind to eff off ... by fighting through the discomfort with resonance breathing to come home to the body even amidst the cold.

We often say in recovery that the point of the process is to clear away everything that stands between God and us. 

We implicitly talk about the trauma that colors the lens through which we look at the world. We must shed that darkness. Luminosity is our natural state. But sometimes the trauma is so deep we cannot consciously access it.

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You don't have to live with trauma

Where does the trauma live? In the body. We cling to it, always certain this is the only safe way to live, never knowing what is wrong — and that there is another way.

Twenty years ago, my true love Elena and I started going west together to ride horses each summer. Idaho, Colorado, and for the last 15 years, Montana. That first summer with Elena, I remembered the sacredness of being with horses.

Animals see the trauma in our bodies that we can’t see ourselves. Zeus, my soulmate dog, stuck to me like glue, following me around the house and lying at my feet because he worried me. Cooper, the dog we have now, comes running down the hall to lie down next to the day bed in my office so I can rub his head and ears because he knows I am down and need a little extra love.

Horses are the most intuitive animals I have ever met. You may think you are calm when you get on a horse, but the horse will tell you if that is true. They are a perfect mirror for what is really going on with you. They sense the trauma in your muscles and react. I might think I am relaxed, but my horse tells me otherwise. He forces me to look inside.


My horse demands that I process the old hurts enough to be with him in true serenity. If my body is tense, even though my mind tells me I am calm, my horse will get pissed. He is going to say to me, “What is going on up there?” And I have to figure out what is happening in my body quickly.

I have received so much love from my dogs and learned much about myself from spending time with horses. They can’t talk. All they can see is my body.

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Always be on the move (literally)

This explains why I love to move so much: run, ride, swim, run stadiums with my two sons and November Project and F3, go to Crossfit, to row. Since I was a young boy, running has been my safe place. It’s a place where my mind gets silent, where I hear my breathing and footfalls, and I can sink deep into simply “being” in the world. My running now is a return to that boy with love in my heart.


I am not afraid to ask for help with my body.

Sometimes interventions by professionals are just the ticket. I have had several great body workers who have changed my life. I have found the human touch helpful in moving the energy, healing what is broken, and bridging to my essence, my soul.

Breathe, get cold, move, hang out with creatures to remember you are a creature, and seek out human touch. We all deserve the joy and love in our hearts that is our birthright. The bridge to the soul is through the body.

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Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children.