This is not another post about the importance of self-care (although it is critical, so just do it!), but instead it is about our limited awareness and surface relationships to our health and to our bodies.
This past fall I fell ill with walking pneumonia. It took me over a month to bother with diagnosis and treatment and almost 3 months later I am still in recovery. Then, last weekend, I finally made it back to my beloved yoga studio, only to injure myself by taking on my practice with the same vigor that I possessed before this extended sick-leave.
In response to having to take yet another week off exercise, I have sat down to share a view of health that I value greatly, as its profundity is relevant to any of us inhabiting a human body.
HEALTH IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF SYMPTOMS!
Ayurveda tells us that health is happiness, and that we can experience true health in the midst of decay and even right into the passage of death. This is done in clinical application by balancing the dosha (a consideration of the 5 elements) and through a psycho-spiritual lens by honoring the body exactly as it is.
What a relief it is to accept the true nature of our physical beings: biological matter that is decomposing from the moment our consciousness inhabits it. As it is said, “the only cause of death is birth”.
Many of us treat our bodies as an inconvenience, something that needs to be tended to so that we may accomplish whatever we choose in the world (career, family, fun, etc.) We get frustrated when it doesn’t work in the ways that we want it to and obsess with trying to stunt its deterioration, particularly with the illusion of youth. On top of this, we do little to form any actual loving relationship with our bodies and even punish it for its so-called “imperfections”.
Our health has become another symbol of entitlement in 21st century consumerism.
In Tantra, the body is not seen as a vehicle for the soul’s bidding, but instead as the path to enlightenment itself. Tantrikas practice to transcend the duality of health and disease, and deeply delight in, and say “yes” to all experience of being. This doesn’t mean that we just let ourselves go, but with essential dignity we walk the razor’s edge between health cultivation and surrender, using our bodies to guide the way. (Both the illness and the injury have reminded me of the sanity in prioritizing this worldview and how I must spend more time in the quiet of my Self. )
One of the most important practices we can utilize for true health is maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of our energy state, and then responding to our actual needs - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual (this requires another conversation as we’ve largely buried our natural wisdom to know what those are). In this way, we send a deep message to our bodies of its importance, and our desire to maintain the symbiosis between ourselves and nature. This ultimate act of self-love also encourages a cohesion of our cells, tissues and organs so that they may work optimally to support the strength of our bodies. In reverse, we could say that the more disconnected we are from our bodies (in both health and disease, pleasure and pain) the more susceptible we become to illness and accident.
There are a myriad of practices in Tantra, Ayurveda and Yoga that can help us to train our awareness and reconnect to true health, but for now, I invite you to sit in meditation and contemplate the cohesion of your body and its interconnectedness to nature and the rest of the universe; then, as you feel yourself as part of the whole, infuse it with your signature energy, wisdom and love.
This approach to understanding health is largely unknown in the West, and the perspective is subtle and not easily demonstrated. Please reach out with any clarifying questions or requests to go deeper into this material; I will happily guide you towards every resource I have. Cultivating this view and practice will not only bring you ultimate health and happiness, but it will deepen your quality of life (and death) on every level imaginable.
May all beings be happy and free!