A new understanding of the mind-body connection
All of us are experiencing the struggle that goes with transition and transformation.
In astrological terms we are on the cusp between the Piscean and Aquarian ages.
In our human evolution we have passed through the summer season, it is now late summer when the heat is being burnt out through the leaves, and the autumn winds are blowing the trees bare (the hope is what follows is a peaceful winter rather than a desolate nuclear wasteland!).
The stripping back that autumn brings is very helpful to a culture based in greed and excess.
The process of yoga is largely one of cleansing, and we are starting to realise that adding more (cars, houses, and relationships) to our lives does not help us to feel more prosperous in the long run.
The 5 Obstacles
If you’re reading this you may already sense that everyone has to burn their karma to find liberation.
The ancient Yogis maintained that there are only 5 true diseases:
These are known as the 5 passions or obstacles.
This is a huge claim and, if true, clearly points to the hold our mind and emotions have over our physical health.
We are here to get rid of all our attachments: our wilfulness, our greed, our anger, our pride – all our emotional dramas.
But something in us decides that it is too high a price to pay and we fall back under the sway of the ego-mind, forgetting that our spiritual discipline, our dharma, is our saving grace every time.
When we feel discomfort, we want to silence any cries from our bodies as quickly as possible.
Symptoms of dis-ease are commonly battled into submission by drug therapy, whether the distress is mental or physical.
This doesn’t consider the cause.
To view the body from a so called holistic perspective is to give life to the idea that whatever is manifesting is a result of karma.
That we have come here to learn lessons that we need to help us shed old skins and reach new ground.
In this we are all in a process of healing.
This means that the body is both a temporary container to maintain the soul on its journey to liberation and a sacred temple – as it is a container for the soul!
It is the only place in which alchemy can happen.
3 Levels of Health
Let us consider the 3 levels of health and how the 3 processes of yoga give us the tools to recapture the deep and lasting health that vitality brings.
Fitness: This is the correct use of the body. Each muscle, organ and thought has its own strength but at this level integration between them is limited.
For example, you may have good circulation and muscle tone but stress levels remain high and exercise only brings temporary relief, or it is done solely to look good and without much bodily awareness.
Health: Each instrument is synchronized with one another. There is a link between thoughts and emotions, actions and intentions.
Vitality. Something miraculous happens. Mind and soul work together. A strength is drawn on beyond the finite sense of body and mind.
We open the circuit to link more consciously to the abundant and universal life force.
Synchronicity is recognised as finding ourselves in the right place at the right time,
successfully engaged in the right activity. This is known as being in the zone in athletics.
All the preparation and training pay off in the moment (not ultimately, as is mistakenly assumed, by our own effort alone, but because we are met by grace; we are 40% responsible for the outcome; 60% is grace, sometimes thought of as luck, but it is actually the mark of the infinite).
The Yogic Process
There are 3 processes – Rejuvenate/Harmonise/Eliminate or Gather, Organise and Deliver/Destroy. (Yogi Bhajan takes the first letters of these words to make G.O.D.)
The gathering in process is the rejuvenating, strengthening, tonifying.
To harmonise is also the action of organising or balancing the energies.
To eliminate is to cleanse, to let go of something.
By eliminating, we bring about the change that comes about through the destruction of something else.
To the extent that we invest in one thing, something else is dying.
This process provides 3 benefits:
- Bringing new energy in.
- Building up prana.
- Engaging the pingala (right side of the spine) & the raja guna (active).
Which come through:
- Long Deep Breathing (LDB).
- Inhalation and Retention of Inhale.
- Breath of Fire (BOF) which is both rejuvenating and cleansing.
This is creating a balance between prana; drawing energy from the breath (also from food, sun, water etc) and apana (eliminative power).
This process provides 3 benefits:
- Creates a balance between prana and apana.
- When both prana and apana are strong they mix together at the navel to raise Kundalini through the Sushmana, the central channel which engages the sattvic guna (angelic realms).
- We build a bridge between our material and spiritual lives.
Which come through:
- Practice of suspension at the top of the inhalation.
- Practice of holding the breath out at the bottom of the exhale.
Yoga helps cleansing our body and mind, especially the organs involved in the breakdown of toxins; our liver and our kidneys and those involved in moving wastes from the body; the large intestine and bladder.
This process provides 3 benefits:
- Engaging apana, the force that helps us to eliminate what we don’t need psychically and physically.
- Engages the ida (left side) and the tama guna (passive, inertia).
- By knowing what to say no to (the know-how of the no) we bring about the change that comes through the destruction of something else because to the extent that we invest in one thing something else is dying; Eliminate to Illuminate.
Which comes through:
- Exhalation and holding the breath out.
- BOF (breath of fire).
Regulating Food Intake
Overeating and eating too much protein has now been found to be a major contributor to the disease process.
Regulating our food intake is an important contributor to health and a serious consideration for those living in an affluent Western society, where there is easy access to unlimited amounts.
There are many approaches to detox or cleansing, the details of which are beyond the scope of this article, but we would like to propose 2 efficient fasting methods:
Alternate fasting and 2-day fasting.
Alternate fasting =eating 400 – 600 grams one day with eating normally on the next day or 2 days fasting = eating normally for 5 days and fasting for 2 days (eating 400 – 600 grams).
This helps to reduce IGF-1 which determines the speed at which cells divide.
Research shows that slower cell division means that other cells have time to be repaired and the body doesn’t age so quickly.
Protein intake pushes the cells into more activity and so the body has to work harder.
When fasting IGF 1 reduces and therefore glucose levels reduce as the body burns fat instead of glucose.
My own experience and that of many fellow yogis confirms that the natural tendency to regulate the appetite according to the bodies needs happens as a consequence of a regular yoga and meditation practice.
Certain practices, such as long deep breathing through the left nostril or camel pose are specific for managing our tendency to overeat.
N.B. Under eating and too many extended fasts can also be bad for your health.
Paradox and Turn Around
2 other important factors regarding our bodies; the interesting paradox about the body is that we need to look after it, not for vanity, or for its own sake, but ultimately so that we can transcend it.
The tenth spiritual body is called the Radiant Body and our radiance depends on sacrificing our bodies and minds in the name of something greater than us.
Another way to say this is the only choice we have is: ‘What is Our Master?’
We are all deciding to do one thing over another.
In doing so we give certain activities or actions more prominence than others.
Do we know how to measure the value of one activity or even one thought over another?
Without a reference beyond ourselves we can only resort to the ego as our measuring stick.
The other fascinating and slightly infuriating aspect of the body is whilst many suggestions can be made as to what to do to keep the body healthy it may not work!
For example there is a link between the virtue of faith and the lungs and in normal circumstances our inspiration (inspirare – to breathe into), our faith, our gratitude comes from our lungs.
By someone may have weak lungs and be full of faith.
So the body sacrifices itself to bring out the virtue that it represents and anyway by the time we reach the end of our lives, hopefully this is what has happened.
Intentional and Unintentional Illness
We can say that there are intentional and unintentional illnesses; if you are told that too much sugar is bad for you but you keep on eating lots of sugar and you get type two diabetes then the cause and effect is more obvious (unless you remain in denial!).
If a baby is born with a congenital disease or a mental handicap, the parents are healthy and there are no obvious factors causing it then it’s not so easy to make sense of it.
One way to think about it is that we all have constitutional and inherited tendencies when we consider our whole physical, psychological and emotional make up.
Beyond this if we can accept that we are spiritual beings having a human experience’, then we can start to appreciate karma as the only reasonable explanation.
‘As you think so you are’ is a common refrain but at our deepest level do we really know what we are and therefore what to think about in directing our minds?
How much of our sense of what and who we are is a second hand version handed to us by our family, society and culture and moulded by the forces of politics and marketing.
Yogi Bhajan often talked about mental beaming; giving the mind a regular experience of an infinite horizon to maintain us at the level and calibre of a basic human being.
Then our perception is not clouded, we are not caught in our emotional dramas and we can live beyond certain parameters we are born into and the conditioning we are subject to.
Meditation is a process of cleansing the subconscious where much of our fearful conditioning lays hidden.
Otherwise the subconscious overflows into the conscious mind – this is the beginning of stress.
“Stress is; how much we indiscriminately let the physical, emotional and mental environment influence us, which equates with how much we let the external environment dictate what is important. Through a lack of a sense of what is important, we invest much of our energy on the unimportant. It is useful to develop the capacity to negate the unimportant and to affirm the important. This also means taking time to save time (meaning investment in training the mind and body)…. This requires regulation of lifestyle in things like diet, sleep and sexual activity. ” (SCS)
Mental beaming is only possible when we are not dominated by the ego mind which we usually are.
It’s not that the ego is without purpose but it will keep us attached to the more mundane aspects of our existence and will resist the suggestion that we have a soul and are connected to spirit.
We are reminded of this connection through meditation.
So inclined are we to forget that a daily reminder is needed, hence a daily practice of meditation is recommended.
The Connection Between Thoughts and Behaviour
First we have a thought, then a thought about the thought (a double thought), then a feeling, then an emotion, then a desire, acting on the desire we create (or clear) karma.
This chain reaction starts innocently enough and over time well-worn grooves become established.
So much so that going from a thought to acting on our desire can happen in a split second and frequently does.
We often assume we are making choices consciously, for example how much of the time are you taking into account what you really want to eat.
This is not just about what tastes good but also what your body intrinsically needs at that particular time.
More often we choose from a limited range of options on auto pilot.
When we take a moment to check in before reaching out it almost always ends up being more tasty, satisfying and nourishing.
In the same vein the ritual of saying grace to tune in before eating is not just to give thanks but also to make you calm so that you eat your food slowly and consciously.
The capacity to choose wisely is helped by an enhanced sensory awareness.
One of the many benefits of Kundalini yoga and meditation is sharpened hearing, eye sight and taste buds.
Your sense of smell and touch also heighten. At the same time our ability to shut out distracting influences increases our intuition and focus.
The Imposition of the Mind
If we consider disease as coming from the top down; an imposition of the mind on the body, then healing is a process to take us back through the desire to act, to the emotion behind the desire, to the feeling, to liberate the thought pattern that set the whole sequence in motion.
On the way we set up new cycles of positive reinforcement that make us feel good and establish more creative and life affirming ways of thinking and being.
If You Don’t Go Within, You Go Without
It doesn’t matter what your external life is like, if you don’t have access to the soul you are poor.
The teachings encourage us to; turn our attention inward by closing down the nine holes (sensory orifices) so that our inner light can shine.
Our self-illumination can then shine a light for others.
Meditation is very helpful for this.
Keeping the body as healthy as possible for as long as possible means that it’s aches and pains don’t become a burden that distract us from achieving our destiny.
Yoga is very helpful for this.
It is essential that we direct the mind by tuning into the destiny of our soul. Chanting is very helpful for this.
Kundalini Yoga brings together yoga, meditation and chanting.
Add to this healthy eating, herbal medicine, and interventions such as acupuncture and we have a formidable package for total health and healing.
Dis-ease can be seen as part of our karma rather than a battle to beat symptoms into submission which doesn’t consider the cause.
Karma takes into account constitutional strengths and weaknesses (7 generations before and after us), lifestyle and behaviour.
The opportunity is to see how our lifestyle is creating health or undermining it.
Yoga postures, meditations/holistic treatments can be given to work on inherent weaknesses within each element, organ and system.
We have understood that the body is a vehicle for the soul and that this is the reason it needs to be cared for.
Then it is not a drag on us and we can focus on what we are here to do.
There is intentional and unintentional illness; if we continue to repeat patterns that are unhealthy over time we will cause mental and physical dis-ease and the purpose of our life as a spiritual being will be obscured.
The Buddha gave us the four noble truths:
- Life means suffering
- The origin of suffering is attachment
- Cessation of suffering is attainable
- The path to the cessation of suffering is dharma
Dharma is the door (dhar) beyond death; the Mother (ma); we are born through the Mother and we die through the Mother – Kali is the Hindu goddess of death, the black hole that everything dies into.
To become deathless we need to live for the soul’s journey which, paradoxically means we need to go beyond the physical body to the radiant body, but to do that we need to keep the physical body as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Kundalini Yoga gives us an awareness of our habits and the chance to see the consequences of our actions before we start the sequence, so that we don’t create more karma.
It gives us grit, endurance and an invincible spirit.