Yoga - The Body Mind Link
by Shameem Akthar
what we think, feel and decide creates illness or wellness for the body. yoga had
discerned this profound link between the body and mind long before any other system
Have you fought with someone you love and felt upset that that person was deliberately being obtuse? And suddenly, when feeling blue and sorry for yourself, developed a sore throat? Perhaps you have never truly appreciated that there may be a connection between the two events – your anger at not being understood and your sore throat?
Yoga has long appreciated this
subtle link between the body and mind. In fact, its practice is an attempt to
harmonise the five different types of our bodies in each of us. The first is the gross one, the physical aspect of it called annamaya kosha. Then is the pranamaya kosha (where breath rules), then the mental sheath, or manomaya kosha, ruled by our mind or mental thought waves. The fourth is vijnanamaya kosha or astral sheath ruled by the intellect. And finally, the bliss sheath or anandamaya kosha. All this may seem rather confusing, but it simply means that what we think (mind), what we decide (intellect), what we feel (expressed through our breath rate), all finally imprint on the physical body as either an effulgence of health or the
devastation of an illness.
Sickness is, according to yoga, a deeper malaise of these other sheaths. To treat illness superficially, at just the physical level, may not reach the root of the problem. If the problem is not uprooted, it is likely to sprout again and again. Psychoneuro-immunology, the nascent science which studies this
subtle and hitherto neglected link, says much the same thing.
Below is yoga’s original take on the body-mind connection. This wisdom was part of its therapy long, much long before, other civilisations appreciated this link. Rishi Vasistha explains to his curious and eager ward Lord Ram this subtle link in Laghu Yoga Vasistha (from a translation by K. Narayanaswami Aiyer, published by Adyar library and research center): “When the manas (mind) is agitated, then this body also follows in its wake. And when the body is agitated, then there is no proper perception of the things that are in one’s way and prana flies from its even path onto a bad road, staggering like an animal wounded by an arrow. Through such agitation, prana, instead of pervading the whole body steadily and equally, vibrates everywhere at an unequal rate. Therefore, the nadis (loosely interpreted to be nerves, or neuro-chemical messages within the body) do not maintain a steady position but quiver. Then, to the body which is the receptacle of food digested
partially or completely, the nadis are simply death, because of the fluctuation of the pranas. The food which settles down in this body amidst such commotion is transformed into incurable diseases. Thus through the primary cause (of the mind) the disease of the body is generated. If this primary cause be annihilated at its root then all diseases will be destroyed.” How definitively and completely the mind-body was understood by ancient India and yoga!
Debbie Shappiro’s amazing book, The Body Mind Workbook, is the modern-day take on this link. For instance, she says sciatica indicates a dissatisfaction with the direction of our personal goals and choices. A sore throat is actually an irritation at being unable to express ourselves. While conservative medicine continues to sniff at such fresh exploration into untested waters, a lot of us who suffer from physical ailments are willing to examine it so we can be proactive about our problems.
The iconoclastic Osho, who wrote several books on yoga, underscores the link further in his book Body Mind Balancing: A guide to making friends with your body. “Whatsoever you do physiologically affects the mind. Whatsoever you do psychologically affects the body. They are not two, they are one. You can say that the body is a solid state of the same energy and the mind is a liquid state of the same energy!”
It is also called the mountain pose. Sit on your heels. Kneel forward so palms are flat on ground. You must rest on knees, with legs out at the back. Inhale, exhale and raise buttocks. The hands and feet must now be flat on ground. Only the hips must rise. Exert pressure from the shoulder bones, as if trying to reach head to floor. Head must be straight down. The heels must also press down, though initially this may be tough. Do not bend the knees. Hold the pose, breathing normally. Initially, hold it for a few seconds. Return to start position. Do three times. As you advance with practice you can hold the pose longer, for half a minute or so.
There are some poses that power the body completely, from head to toe, working out every muscle. Such poses also challenge the mind, spiking the demand for mental stamina. Parvatasana is one such marvellous and complete pose. As the head hangs downward, the gush of blood to the head also fuels the brain and
memory, very similar to the headstand. It is therapeutic in cervical spondylosis, all spinal problems, blood pressure, and improves blood circulation, and
respiration. It offers a powerful stretch which works out all the muscles and
tendons of the body.