By Suma Varughese November 2003 Our bodies are repositories of all we have undergone from the moment of birth. Yet in our intellect-oriented modern lives, we have neglected them, thereby losing out on body’s precious wisdom. Re-establishing this connection, so that we are in communion with our bodies, is essential for achieving our true potential as human beings Try this exercise: Pretend you could move out of your body and someone new could move in. What tips would you give the new occupant about what it’s like to live there? 1. What care does it need in the following areas—rest, feeding, watering, light / outdoors, physical activity, touching, soothing, stimulation, healing? 2. What are its rhythms—daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal? 3. How do other people respond to this body? 4. How does this body learn a new physical skill? Groping for answers? Rest easy, you aren’t alone. Most of us don’t inhabit our bodies. The force and momentum of our thoughts trap us in the mind and alienate us from our bodies. We sit without awareness, move without awareness and fling our body around as heedlessly as if it were a sack of potatoes. This is no mean loss. The body is not just the repository of our organs, flesh and blood. It is the container of our emotions, our memories and our highest wisdom. The body knows everything we feel and have felt; it has memory of every experience we have endured throughout life, and it has the wisdom to put us in touch with our highest potential. For the truth is, the body and mind are one. The body is the material part of the mind and the mind is the invisible part of the body. Lack of awareness and appreciation of the bodies we inhabit creates imbalance and ill-health. For wholeness, radiant good health and the full realisation of the awesome possibilities of being human, we have no option but to be in loving and appreciative communion with our bodies. Heal the body, heal the mind Prameet Kotak is a 25-year-old health and fitness professional who combines weight-training, yoga and meditation. Says he: “Five years ago, my body awareness was very low. I had a paunch and my posture was faulty. Karate and yoga changed all that. My constipation disappeared, as did my infections, and I healed from a skin tear that used to plague my palms. Best of all, though, I have grown within. I’m certain about what I want to do with my life. I know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’. And I have pretty good control over myself.” Kotak illustrates a key holistic principle—heal the body, and the mind heals itself. Control the body and the mind follows suit. Nothing new, except that in our mind-dominated world, this fact is yet to sink in. Ashwini Mehta, a cranio-sacral osteopath, agrees: “I had at one point turned to psychotherapy, but after coming in touch with cranio-sacral osteopathy, I find that it is far more effective in handling trauma. The emotions are registered in the body, but civilised people are too tuned to the intellect.” Ashwini illustrates her point with her own dramatic accident on a beach in Goa. A giant breaker lifted her up and flung her to the ground with such force that her back was severely damaged. When she underwent cranio-sacral therapy (which successfully redressed the problem), she relived all the traumatic emotions connected with the event. “I felt that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that accompanied the fall.” We can keep no secrets from our body. The story of our lives, from the moment we take birth, is etched in three-dimensional form in our bones, muscles, membranes and organs. Our lives shout out their stories in the way we sit and stand, hold our necks, or tilt our heads. There is eloquence in every droop and curve and gesture. Our life’s story Donald Vanhowten, author of Ayurveda and Life Impressions Bodywork, has termed the uncanny ability of the body to sculpt our worldview as ‘life impressions’. Our experiences and the emotions they elicit leave a permanent impression on the body, he asserts, which can only be removed by the conscious act of awareness and the use of touch therapy. He says: “We have such a strong identification with our physical form: the ‘hard copy’ of who we think we are, the printout of our inner beliefs and attitudes. If we can melt away the historic imprints held in the flesh, the ideas that hold them in place can also be updated and we can slowly peel away the layers and return to ourselves.” Vanhowten exemplifies this with a case study of a man called Dave. As a young child, Dave had been devastated when his dog was run over by a car. To protect himself from the trauma, his ribs closed up. As a teenager, he fell in love with a girl who had to leave town with her family. Once again, Dave clamped down on his feelings, which further contracted his ribs. When Dave eventually met the love of his life, his contracted ribs gave him no access to his feelings. Only a willingness to experience that suppressed grief and loss can restore Dave’s emotional health. Thomas Hanna makes the same point in his book, The Body of Life, which is about a somatic therapy called Functional Integration founded by Moshe Feldenkrais. The constant stress of modern life distorts and cripples our bodies in a number of ways, he reveals. In his practice, he has encountered many who have little or no mobility in their torso. Such a fixed stance is indicative of a rigid way of life. He says: “As our search for a vocation settles into a fixed ‘job’, as our search for a mate settles into marriage, as our many expectations settle into a finite number of fulfilments, as our aspirations settle into steady certitudes, and as our broad range of potential movements settles into a narrow band of habitual movements, we will inevitably find ourselves looking in fewer directions and moving in fewer directions.” He gives the example of a first-rate journalist, Beatrice S., who came to him with severe pain on the right side of her neck. Hanna discovered that she favoured the right side of her body overwhelmingly. After setting right the balance, Beatrice found creative writing and poetry streaming into her mind. When she began to use the left side of her body, her right brain, which is the seat of creativity and intuition, flowered. Uday Acharya, a Vedanta teacher, illustrates the mind-body connection from his own experience. “A few weeks ago, I was in a state of despondency. I felt I was going around in circles, that nothing was working out and that I was tied down and lost. The feeling was so strong that the next day I had body aches that almost paralysed me.” Scientific evidence The intimate connection between body and mind is no more a subject of alternative therapy lore and anecdotal evidence. Scientists are increasingly mining convincing evidence on the subject. Hanna points out that scientists have proved that “thinking is movement—actual physical movement of the living body”. For instance, when subjects were asked to think out a problem in multiplication, the muscle of the dominant hand began to move as if the subject were writing. Robert Malmo of McGill University, Canada, proved through 30 years of research that the muscular tension in the body increases and decreases with the level of emotion experienced. As Hanna says: “The kind of thoughts we think determines the quality and effectiveness of our lives… If we turn the same anxious thoughts over in our minds day after day, then it is certain that we are tensing and activating certain contractions in our bodies day after day.” Science is finally catching up with the Buddhist truth articulated 2,500 years ago in the Dhammapada: “Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.” Latest findings in genetic science endorse the mind-body connection. Writes Dr Earnest Lawrence Rossi in his paper Behaviour State-related Gene Expression and Psychotherapy: “Classical genetics have explored biological determinism… The new interdisciplinary approach of behavioural state-related gene expression, by contrast, is beginning to explore how behavioural states modulate certain patterns of genetic expression… Genes and behaviour are related in cybernetic loops of mind-body communication.” Root of our alienation If alignment with the body is crucial to our well-being, how come so few of us are body-aware? Modern civilisation can take the rap for this alienation. With its artificial lifestyle, emphasis on sedentary work and preference for the intellect, it has driven a wedge between body and mind. The origin of this duality must, as all else, be attributed to Messrs Descartes, Newton, and Co., whose dissemination of the separatist, fragmentary, mind-oriented philosophy shattered the unity of life into innumerable shards. Newton’s theory that the universe was composed of tiny atoms that had no essential unity between them, and Descartes’ belief that only sensory evidence was real, gave rise to the scientific industrial revolution, but also created all the abnormalities of this way of life. Says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani: “We are no longer in tune with our natural rhythms of eating when hungry and sleeping when tired, because the invention of the electric light and the many edible temptations that are vigorously advertised keep us in a constant state of stimulation.” Thomas Hanna writes: “Contemporary culture is, for most citizens, an oppressive pall that hovers over them throughout their lives… If, in addition to a person’s job, he has the daily experience of reading the newspaper and the nightly experience of watching the evening newscast, he has enough disappointment and apprehension and forebo
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