Updated: Aug 17, 2020
A common recurring motif amongst the spiritual and new age worlds is that of: ‘mind over matter’: the idea that we utilise our minds and thoughts in such a way that we overcome physical problems. Though I concur with the sentiment to a degree, I believe we may at times take it so absolutely as to neglect or remain ignorant not only of the body, but of its evident and very real influence on the mind.
So much emphasis is put on thinking the ‘right’ thoughts to overcome every ailment that we mask or remain unaware of any suggestion that perhaps the body has a strong influence on the state of our mind and mental health. The system is after all, a two way communication route.
This post will look at the importance in taking proper care of the body, and how, when understood, it may take us closer to reality, God – or whatever form of awakening and development we are after.
Our newfound emphasis on thought leaves us ignorant to the body's influence on mind.
Different Lens. This sentiment is not exactly a new train of thought either. Pantajali, author of the Yoga Sutras (which some date back to 500 BC), spoke of the creation of stillness in the mind as being dependent on calmness and well being in the body – a sort of ‘bottom up’ approach to yoga (union). We notice this in moments of clarity and calm as opposed to anxiousness and restlessness: both body and mind are significantly and discernibly different in these opposing emotions. How we hold and move our body alters how we think, how we feel, and how we are presented to and picked up by others in the world around us. Striving to put our body in an ideal position of health lends to the cultivation of a strong character, and the discipline and persistence involved in such a feat is easily applied to other areas of our life, including spirituality and self development. The gracefulness with which certain people move is inherently attractive, and solely due to the beauty that meets our eyes, but for the beauty that lies beneath; the beauty that radiates of comfort, content and strength beneath the surface – the beauty of a beautiful mind. It is my belief that humans have an innate attraction to those folks we find grounded and level headed – and this is often displayed through physical traits, be it gait, posture or even gestures.
It is understood that our minds can help remedy an ailing body, but is solemn understood how our bodies can help heal an ailing mind. This connection was well known and established to many leading psychologists such as Jung who wrote “…we can draw far-reaching inferences as to the constitution of the psyche from the constitution of the body” Physician and psychotherapist Alexander Lowen detailed how “..psyche and soma were much like the heads and tails faces of a coin. Whatever one does with the coin affects both sides simultaneously.” It is why we see one of the first chapters (rules) of best selling author and psychologist Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life is titled “Stand up with your shoulders back and back straight”. This is for very good reason. The symbiotic relationship we share with those in the world around us is such that thoughts and views held by our fellow man are often reflected in our own mode(s) of thinking. Our poor posture and gait may indicate to others our lack of self worth and esteem, with it’s correction affecting our minds to the opposite direction – toward health and positivity. Science indicates that favourable weight, body composition and various measurable elements of metabolic health (blood pressure, cardiovascular output etc) are strongly correlated with desirable hormonal and neurotransmitter profiles - leaving us, in many senses, 'happier'. This does not indicate that we must be perfect sculpted athletes, but invites us to take care of our bodies so they may reward us in return.
Closer than close.
My zen teacher would constantly instruct me to come back to body, it is much (though not ultimately) closer to reality than thought will ever be – it is the closest thing you have. When utilising this approach, it is the body that takes us out of fear, anxiety and worry, and into the eternal now.
Psyche & Soma: Two sides to the same coin
I will leave this post with a powerful quote from prominent German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche; a man who understood how important the body is in the creation of a flourishing life:
“You say 'I' and are proud of this word. But greater than this - and which you do not want to believe in - is your body and it's great intelligence: this does not say 'I', but performs 'I'."