Conditioned Body, Conditioned Mind
Everything in this life is conditional meaning that only when the right conditions are met can something happen. Often these conditions are met haphazardly and something is produced or accomplished by accident, and sometimes these conditions are met consciously and something is produced on purpose. Yoga is the art and science of producing something consciously. This could be a state of body, a condition of mind, a type of energy, an experience of emotion or the communication of an idea, but regardless of of what it is, it is done consciously.
The mystic, poet and spiritual teacher Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has been quoted as saying “only when one gives something 100% attention will it yield to that person, in fact with enough awareness, even existence itself will yield.” There are many accounts of yogis, siddhis and mystics who were able, with enough focused attention to do things that defy established physical norms and imagination.
In our yoga practice, maybe our goal is not to hover above the Himalayas on a cloud of ethereal mind stuff; maybe all we want to do is live a full and rich life relatively free from health problems and conflicts. This is very much possible, but it is conditional. If through our practice and habits of mind we are able to create the conditions for health, peace and joy then it will happen. Otherwise we are left to haphazard situations, superstitions, faith and hope.
1) The Conditioned Body: Our body, the way it functions, its posture, its degrees of tension or relaxation and its response to internal and external stimuli is all a composition of everything we have done from birth to now. If our conditioning throughout our life occurred in a certain way then our capacity to experience life would be large and we would be able to function in an expansive state physically, mentally and energetically. Through the practice of Yoga we cultivate the body or Anamayakosha (body made of food), as it is known in Yogic sciences. By cultivating the body through our Hatha Yoga Asana (postures) in a compassionate and intentional way we can increase the capacity for our body to experience different and more intense physical, mental and energetic states. Here are a few ideas about how our body can be conditioned:
a. What and how we eat. The ingredients and intention behind what we eat and how we eat shape many aspects of our body including metabolism, hormones, brain activity, immunity, tissue generation and regeneration, energy and our connection to each other and our environment. In the blogs to come I will provide some ideas concerning nutrition and intentional eating including recipes and such. As an exercise, I invite you to begin with something simple. Before you eat, make a mental note of how you feel physically and mentally. Continue this inquiry during the eating process, directly after eating and a few hours later. The first step to intentional eating is developing an awareness of how our food habits make us feel directly.
b. How we sleep. Sleep is one of the most important aspects to staying healthy and vibrant. When Yoga is practiced in a certain way and with the right intention we are able to increase the depth and restfulness of our sleep while decreasing the amount of time needed to stay in bed. Our diet is a large factor in this as well.
c. Residual tension in the body: The body is designed to expand and contract. Every cell, organ and tissue in the body follows this principle. Our muscles and connective tissues are also designed to relax and tense as needed. Pain and discomfort occur when the balance is thrown off and we exist with a degree of residual, or left-over tension. This is often caused by some type of trauma to the body, psyche and energy. The tension is stored in an aspect of the nervous system (brain, spinal chord and nerves) called the sympathetic nervous system. For most of us there is tension in the nervous system most of the time but it is not often discernible under normal conditions. Once the tension reaches a threshold then we receive signals in our muscles, joints and emotional centers in our brain which all sing out in a symphony of “OUCH!” One of the goals of Yoga is to help discharge the pent up tension-energy trapped in the nervous system, which is one of the reasons we feel so good after practice. The key to maintaining this feeling of lightness is to include a practice of pranayama (energy / breath cultivation), and a form of meditation along with your Yoga asana (postures) practice.
2) The conditioned mind: The second verse of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states that the goal of Yoga is to guide the mind to a sweet place of choice and maintain it there without distraction (1). Tibetan medicine and psychiatry holds that “…the general and basic cause of mental [and physical] illness is thought to lie in leading a life that runs counter to one’s deepest spiritual inclinations and insights and one’s inherent disposition (2).” If we look deep enough, the source of most of our troubles is internal, and the source of the internal dis-ease is a state of conflict. Through the practice of Yoga, pranayam, and meditation we are able to begin to ease the internal conflict, recognize its source and realize it is in fact just an illusion.
In summary, much of what we are is on account of our conditioning. There are some essential or genetic components that come into play, but the majority of how we are in my opinion is based on our choices past, present and future. The past is a memory and the future is a hallucination of the imagination. Therefore the choices we make presently are the most important. If we practice intentionally, compassionately, and without obsession, trust the process of life, and cultivate a well-operating body and mind then not only will we be enjoying the present moment in our practice but we may also be creating conditions in our body, mind and energy that will allow us to experience states and phenomena that we have never experienced before. And this is totally Rad!
Much love – Joshua Graner
1. Yoga of Heart, Mark Whitwell
2. Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry, Terry Clifford.