I spent my twenties as an academic, becoming more and more abstracted from the physical.
Having lived my whole life predisposed toward anxiety, by my mid-30s I was paralyzed with fear. When my disorder was at its peak, my entire body hurt. My muscles were tense; my joints were stiff; at times my shoulders and neck were so rigid, touching them made me flinch. I had daily headaches and the muscles in my jaw were tight enough to create an underbite. (I still have to wear an appliance at night to correct it.) On top of that I slept poorly, often with night sweats; I was frequently nauseous; and I felt like I had to pee all the time.
I saw my body as a traitor.
But there was a flaw in my thinking. It was in seeing my body as something separate from my mind.
Our minds don’t end at the base of the brain. We have neurons throughout our bodies, and ganglion, or clusters of neurons, especially at the heart, solar plexus, and gut. These neurons transmit important messages, even though they don’t use words.
My body was trying to tell me that something was very, very wrong.
In the Taittiriya Upanishad, written when people had lifetimes to sit and ponder these things, it says each of us has five koshas or bodies that intertwine:
(1) the physical body
(2) the prana body, made of life energy (chi or ki in Chinese medicine)
(3) the mind body, made of sensation and emotion
(4) the wisdom body, made of perception, understanding, and higher thinking
(5) the bliss body, which is the Soul itself.
So, body, energy, mind, wisdom, and Soul.
These are, until we die, completely enmeshed in one another. Spiritual progression occurs as we accept and nurture every level of our being, from the most solid to the most rarified.
On the mat, step one is to reconnect with our physical bodies. To observe, accept, and nurture. To practice compassion toward ourselves. All the while remembering that you are not your body, any more than you are your passing thoughts. You are a Soul; you are Love.
And for the time being, your body, your energy, your sensations, emotions, ideas, and even ecstasies--they are all a part of the same manifestation of the Sacred through which you get to experience this life. Good things come from embracing this body-mind, with its flesh and bones and brain, for the mind-blowing entity that it is: a fleeting outward expression of the Sacred becoming conscious of itself.