Lately I’ve been talking a bit about how the mind influences the body and how the body influences the mind
I think it’s nice to have a deeper look at this, because there are more aspects to this than there may seem.
The mind influences the body. This is very obvious and we all experience it. For example, when you think about something you are afraid of, your body will react and you feel all sorts of things: a heartbeat that is all over the place, heat, sweating etc.. If you think about a particularly nice food, you get a physical reaction too, like water in your mouth for example. When you are nervous about something, you most likely feel butterflies in your stomach.
Our body reacts so much at times that we almost wish it would react a little less. How great would it be if we could think about a presentation we had to give and the body just stayed perfectly calm!
So looking at it from that perspective, we can use yoga and any kind of other therapy to lessen the influence of the mind on the body. We can learn to turn the senses inward, this is known as Pratyahara. In meditation we learn to quietly watch the mind, which results in the mind becoming quieter, this is called Dhyana in yoga.
We give less attention to the mind, and the thoughts the mind produces. When we really learn just to observe and not to believe all the stories the mind creates, then we will notice the body will stay calmer as a result. The effects of the mind on the body will be less and less.
Even when the body still reacts (I like to call it body chemistry) you can also learn to observe that and let it pass, so it is there, but the influence it has on your system will not be as big a deal.
“Just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs, so when a man withdraws his senses from the sense objects, his wisdom becomes steady.” – Bhagavad Gita
Using the mind-body connection in a positive way
There is also a way we can use the mind body connection positively! For example when we really want to achieve something, we can use the mind to influence the body too.
Taking the same example of a presentation, you can, in a relaxed place at home, close your eyes and imagine. Visualise yourself going through the presentation as if it were happening right now in the present tense, and you are doing a brilliant job. Really see yourself just before the presentation, starting it, how you feel, what you see, smell, hear, using all the senses, giving the presentation the way you want to do it, feeling calm and confident etc.
Do this a few times, usually three times works very well. It works like the body has already done it. Chances are then that when you are actually giving the presentation it will go really well, with less nerves and more or less as you visualised it. So now you are using the mind/body connection consciously and with a positive effect.
In our yoga practice we can also use imagery to get familiar with certain poses. Take for example handstand, if you have never done it before and you are afraid to try, it can be really helpful to imagine it first.
Imagine what it feels like to be upside down, the alignment principles, imagine the steps leading up to it, jumping up, being in it, coming down etc. I used this technique in this class – Handstand 4 Putting it all together.
Basically the body doesn’t know the difference between imagery and reality. It reacts the same way. There is the famous quote of the Buddha that says “It’s the mind that creates the world”
Enough research has been done in this area. One example is that of a famous piano player who injured his hand and couldn’t practise physically, and who visualised his practice as if he were doing it in real life for the whole time he was injured.
They noticed that after that period of practising in his mind, when he could perform again, he was better then ever.
With mental rehearsal, minds and bodies become trained to actually perform the skill imagined.
Body influences the mind
We all know examples of the body influencing the mind too. Doing yoga is a very good example. Don’t we almost always feel better after doing yoga? Or at least different? That is because we change the body’s chemistry when we do yoga. We open the body there where we hold tension, and we get the energy to flow again. We also increase the amount of prana/life energy in the body. This all helps to feel good and when we feel good, the mind relaxes more and will be happier to enjoy the moment.
Different categories of yoga poses have different effects on the mind. If you practise yoga for a while, you might have noticed that forward bends tend to calm the body and thus the mind; backward bending seems to stimulate the body and thus the mind; how hip openers can bring up lots of emotions etc.
Think also of how taking a warm bath can help your mind to relax, or a massage – all examples of how we influence the mind through working with the body.
Body and mind really are two manifestations of the same thing
Think about it this way – there would be no body without a mind, and there is no mind without the body.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ in “ I AM THAT “ says:
“As body, you are in space. As mind, you are in time. But are you a mere body with a mind in it? Have you ever investigated?’ (252)
“Why not investigate the very idea of body? Does the mind appear in the body or the body in the mind? Surely there must be a mind to conceive the “I-am-the-body” idea. A body without a mind cannot be ‘my body’. ‘My body’ is invariably absent when the mind is in abeyance. It is also absent when the mind is deeply engaged in thoughts and feelings.” (434)
In the end there is no such thing as separation. Yoga is about unity and oneness. So if you want to move away from separation and towards oneness, contemplating what Nisargardatta says above is a great start.