Coming to Terms with the Mind-Body Connection

Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. 

In the second meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy after demonstrating the fallibility of the body’s sensory abilities, Descartes famously concluded that the mind is the only existence he can be certain of since it is with this faculty that he is able to meditate on his enquiries. The connection between the mind and the body is a puzzle that has always been, and continues to be, a preoccupation in Western philosophy. To sum it up in a nutshell, addressing the mind-body problem is to try to make sense of the causal relationship between two disparate substances, i.e. the mind in the mental realm and the body in the physical realm. What makes them both tick and influence each other? Is there a dominant substance with a greater hold on the other? Is there a third substance that the first two are not able to fully grasp but makes it all work? 

Growing up, these were questions that fascinated me as well. I decided early on that I wanted to nourish my mind – I read voraciously, enjoying toying with the use of language, and relished in learning. My body, on the other hand, was something that was neglected, in part because I was never athletic and always had an inclination for physical laziness. When I commenced my yoga practice, it was my attempt to remedy the situation, and it was always a sweaty practice that I thought was meant to only challenge me physically. This dissociation between the mental and the physical was still painfully apparent even two years into my personal practice.
Getting acquainted with Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga revealed I was looking at only two steps of the journey I am meant to embark on with yoga. Asana, the 4th limb, which encourages steady and comfortable posture focused on breath, and Pratyahara, the 5th limb, which encourages an inward reflection on the mind and withdrawing from the senses. Perhaps it is not about fixating on the mind, the body and their differences, but learning to seamlessly and effortlessly meld them through the application of the 8 limbs. As I practice today, I find difficulty in the full expression of certain poses as they incite fear, anxiety and lack of self-confidence, all of which surface deep-seated neuroticisms and a lack of balance in my approach to life. Working to establish this balance presents the next phase in my yoga practice, along with coming to terms with how the mind-body connection is not a problem while simply allowing it to flourish the way it is meant to be. 
With metta,
Ailin (200h YTT April – June 2017)

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