#4 Mind, Body, and Spirit
4) The mind, body, and spirit are inseparable.
Yoga in America is best known as a popular exercise program and health club fitness class. This is what many people think of as Yoga in the U.S.
However, just because Yoga poses and movements are popular doesn’t mean they’re not important to Yoga philosophy. In fact, they are an integral part of Yoga traditions.
Yoga has always taught that whatever we think affects our body, and whatever our body feels affects our mind. The poses of Yoga are nothing more than a unified meditation involving both the mind and the body. And much of Yoga literature describes the body as though it were one big brain, with its “chakras” (energy centers) and energy flows.
Today the “mind-body connection” is pretty well accepted as part of our thinking about psychology. But it was still a fairly radical idea 15-20 years ago, much less 5,000 years ago when first proposed by Yoga gurus. (Actually, maybe it wasn’t a radical idea back then. Maybe it just became a radical idea more recently with all our emphasis on the intellect.)
Before this starts sounding too abstract, let me give you a very down-to-earth example. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little stiff, stressed, or worn out, I get up, spread out my Yoga mat and just run through some basic Yoga poses for ten or fifteen minutes, focusing on the present moment.
This leaves me feeling completely invigorated in mind and spirit. My Yoga routine is like a cup of coffee for me. It works every time, no matter how lifeless I feel before I begin.
Let me give you another simple example, this time how the mind affects the body.
I am a serious tennis player. You might recall that all this Yoga stuff started for me when I took Yoga classes to improve my flexibility for tennis. Yoga was great for this. I did become much more flexible and it did improve my tennis.
What happened next was unexpected. I found that the philosophical practices of Yoga, especially focusing on the present moment, and detaching my ego from the results, had a far more beneficial impact on my tennis than the flexibility. The Yoga of the mind had a bigger effect on my tennis performance than the Yoga of the body.
Many religions (and even some Yoga traditions), treat the body as though it is something to escape from, into the purer world of the spirit. The body is treated almost like the enemy to be overcome in one’s spiritual quest, particularly in the ultra-traditional Catholicism I grew up in and struggled with as a kid.
Yoga is the opposite (at least the branches of Yoga that appeal to me). The mind, body, and spirit are inseparable and the same. We are unified beings, and our physical presence and actions are an integral part of our quest for happiness, not separate and distracting.