Holistic traditions address all the aspects of ourselves as a complete being: body, mind, heart, soul, spirit. Each of these aspects of our self plays a vital role in making up who we are. Working to bring them all into alignment provides us with a framework to awaken to our full human potential. Holistic arts, by definition, are practices that assist with bringing these together and awakening the potential that lies deep within us all. Each of these aspects makes up part of the whole.
However, it is necessary to understand that the body and mind are the foundation of our human potential. Like anything we build, the foundation must be firm and strong in order to support what it holds up. The body and mind must be balanced and aligned in order for us to fully access and entrain with the other aspects of our being, or we will find ourselves wobbling back and forth, unsure of who we are and what we are doing.
The body is our physical form. It is our connection to the world around us and allows us to interact with the myriad of things through our senses. We can think of our body as the temple in which the rest of our being resides, at the moment. The better care we take of the body, the longer it survives and the deeper we are able to explore the other aspects of our self. If we eat poorly, don’t exercise and maintain shallow breathing habits, the body will grow weak and fragile, unable to meet our needs. On the other hand, If we eat healthy food, move our body regularly so that the joints and muscles get activated, and breathe long and deep so that we fill our lungs with oxygen and energy, then the body will grow strong and resilient. It will provide us with the energy to do all that we ask of it.
Continuing regular practice allows us to remain strong as we grow older. I remember living in Japan, training karate for four hours every day, and frequently meeting older Japanese men who, upon hearing of my training, would immediately launch into a discourse of their prowess in one or another marital art. Invariably these men were out of shape and unhealthy, having stopped training once they finished their university studies and entered the work force. They seemed to think that the fitness level they achieved in their younger days remained with them, even though they did no physical exercise at all in the present.
This is a common mindset in our confused world these days. The changes that take place in the body due to poor diet and lack of exercise are gradual so that they often go unnoticed for a long time. Like being exposed to radiation leaking from Fukushima or wherever else, We don’t pay attention until it’s too late. The body has a way of going numb so that we don’t recognize we have gotten out of shape. The longer we go without caring for the body, the harder it is to get back to a state of good health. The truth is that it really doesn’t take that much effort to reverse this process. Daily gentle breathing and movement practice will get the energy flowing through the body. A regular routine can soon make the body your ally, in whatever you seek to do.
The same goes for the mind. The mind is our thought process. It is that part of us that carries on the continuous inner dialogue throughout our waking lives. It is also that part of us that analyzes problems and creates the solutions to solve them. If our thoughts are scattered or we are stressed out about events in our life, then the mind becomes preoccupied and is unable to deal with the problems that arise.
When the mind is calm and centered, we are able to think clearly and adapt to whatever situation arises. Calming the mind is a challenge because the only method for actually doing it is to get into the habit of sitting with it and learning to be mindful. Mindfulness sitting is simple practice of returning to your center, quietly aware of the present moment. It allows all other thoughts to settle. Then we are able think clearly and reason objectively. Sadly, the modern world is full of stresses and distractions that have been designed to hinder our ability to think clearly. By cultivating a calm mind we will be better prepared to navigate the challenges that appear before us. At the least, practicing daily mindfulness sitting is a simple way to gain a measure of control over your hectic thoughts.
Once the body is healthy and the mind is clear, we are more fully able to embrace our heart, soul and spirit. Perhaps it helps to imagine the body and mind as a garden bed. If we care for the body and calm the mind, we create the fertile soil for the seeds of our heart, soul and spirit to grow and develop. By cultivating this rich soil, our heart will open, our soul will be revealed, and our spirit will expand. But that shall be left for another time.
This article is offered under Creative Commons license.
Aaron Hoopes is a student of nature and energy. He teaches tai chi, yoga, and other arts in the mountains of Vermont. He is the founder of Zen Yoga and the author of seven books. Please visit his blog, http://wanderingsagewisdom.blogspot.com, as well as his other websites, www.mountainqi.com, and www.artofzenyoga.com.