#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.

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6 Responses to “#4 Mind, Body, and Spirit”

  1. Bob,
    Hi. It’s Sue from yogajournal.com. I’ve had some interesting experiences lately with the spirit, mind and body connection. So this interested me. What are your thoughts about karma? The body is believed to be a vessel for us to work out our karma. It seems a little less harmonious, kind of like the body isn;t an “equal” rather just a tool.
    P.S. Yoga philosophy also grabbed me, too. I sometimes wish there was enough time to spread out all my books and absorb everything at once!

  2. Hi Bob, very good essay, I have really enjoyed reading it. Karma is basically the universe’s reaction to your action. Kind of like that physics law “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. The body, mind and spirit should all be given an equal weight because unless you are “enlightened” all three are the tools through which you live out karma or more simply if you are breathing and not aware your creating karma. The goal is to be always aware and thus always living in right action (you take the best possible action in any situation). You are the sky and your life’s situations are clouds. The sky is eternal and the clouds come and go. Referencing an earlier page, I would also add that I don’t really see a separation between the universe and me. I am in the universe and the universe is in me and everything is all connected together. Best Wishes.

  3. I so get the tennis/yoga, mind, body connection. I remember playing on my doubles w/3 other guys and getting really competitive. Believe or not it kept throwing off my game. The more they got competitive, more I got competitive, they more they egged me on, the more I went with it. And well it got to being no fun. So one day I was sitting there wondering what tonight was going to bring, when the thought popped into my head “why wasn’t I approaching this like my yoga practice. Nice and easy. Why was I getting crazy. And I remember playing that night and having the best time, best game, and it didn’t matter who won, it was about being there, being present and having my moment. Sometimes I just have to get out of my way.

  4. “Mind, Body, and Spirit”…

    over the years the conclusion on this one arose that it is to unite through the help of yoga body and spirit to conquer the unruliness of the ever active mind, not to eradicate it, but to harness it’s incredible power, to get the best out of it! – then what is mind?

    Back to the Geeta, Krshna, the Charioteer instructs Arjuna, while the same time he is guiding the horses… and often the senses ( resulting in actions of the mind) are depicted as horses.

    just a thought which might enlighten this discussion a wee bit…

  5. Good thoughts, mksamui. Thanks for writing.

  6. Yoga in its purest state is what I wish I would have embrace twenty years ago. I was a young teacher and Coach and consistently stressed and competitive. Feels si good to practice in peace now.

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