Ritam "The House: Our Body"
To work on one’s health is to walk The Path. It is essential for all, but for those aspiring to the Inner Life, health takes on a deeper meaning. In the context of the Integral Yoga, we know what is concerned is the manifestation of the Divine in matter and therefore in the body. For the body to manifest the Divine, health involves all the levels of the being and it becomes a foundation for a future humanity. Attaining this health implies a work on the body: a practice or discipline.
But it is also very much a work of allowing the body to be: liberating the body of all that has been put into it unnecessarily. Health means a physical functioning of the body, but to us it implies bringing a refinement, beauty, graceful movement, coordination, balance, a liberated breathing and a greater harmony into our lives, … a fine-tuning of the instrument for the Divine to play … to improve the quality of living and well being … to be joyous and shining with this ‘higher’ health.
I would like to write something about this, but wish to stay with the more practical aspects of the subject. Health includes the physical and the subtle physical development, the functioning of the brain and nervous system, and the ‘awareness’ faculty. The ‘higher health’, our cultural refinement and quality of living, has very much to do with the pranic reality and the awareness function. We can say there is a work to be done, a conscious effort to be made to liberate the body of complications and unnecessary tensions in order to free it and to let it discover itself, learn by itself, instead of it being (mal)treated as an object.
The body is the House, the temple of the Divine, but the forces wanting to inhabit it are many, and they are knocking on its doors constantly. They are all too keen to enter through the windows or cracks left open too carelessly for too long, and they do enter regularly. When the house is clean, then there is health. One needs to perceive the dust before being able to clean it, know where the tensions are, or where the bolts are too tight or too loose, where there is a forgotten corner to be polished.
It implies a daily cleaning routine, a discipline and a conscious approach to the body. One realizes that the house does not belong to ‘me’, but to the Soul, and should be treated as such, kept clean for the Divine to enter. The very stuff the house is made of, its cement, the space in between as it were (as well as everything), its ‘well being’, is the ‘Chi’ (a Chinese term indicating the life-force, meaning for them the source as well as the manifestation of all life forms), the Prana, the Universal Life-Force. It has a role in whatever we do. Often its flow is blocked, its harmonizing influence reduced because of the ‘shrinking’ influences on the Being. Our health is not optimal as we do not consciously explore this field much; its working and its influence on the daily life and health.
When one learns to relax truly (and this is an art) one learns to widen and there is a release of tension, bringing about a flow of well being in abundance and one learns to connect to the ‘higher Prana’ to revitalize oneself and heal ailments. The quality of this flow can also be much improved, refined, cleaned, purified, allowing it to be a support to ones inner life, creativity and aspirations. One can work towards this ‘higher health’ through the pranic reality; learning to perceive and then circulate it. Yet one should take care to feel strongly that the Divine Issue is there and not let one’s ego take over.
I feel a lot can be learnt about this great influence in our lives, because it is there…one can become aware of this influence, this Universal Harmony and then allow it to enter fully. It is then a help in opening up to the Divine life. One can often feel ‘something’, but what is it? How often do we hear someone say: “I am so sensitive to this, to that”…Is it a truer perception of the reality or is it because of a lack of balance somewhere, a ‘crack’ in one’s subtle physical? Or is it something else? Perhaps it helps to discern deeper, mystical, spiritual experiences one has from the very ‘normal’ phenomenon of Chi. One can say, it is this, it is that, but until one has explored this field a little in practice, it is very difficult to speak about it. A lack of good health influences one’s perception. By allowing this flow and freeing the breathing, one liberates the body and learns more about what one truly feels: one opens and sharpens one’s perception by becoming more healthy.
Movements made by animals can be considered as more beautiful, graceful, elegant and certainly having less distortions than that of the human being. The tiger moves very efficiently, using its muscles when needed, relaxing them when not needed. Not one is used superfluously, and there is a force flowing in abundance, there is a greater harmony at work….. The human body seems all too often awkward (and there are really few exceptions...), lacking in freedom, its gestures distorted, lacking this grace. Why? This means there is a lot of tension and complication entering the body which it has no need of whatsoever. This takes energy. It is used as an object….. Reflexes will not work properly. It influences for example the way we react, or rather, are reactive. Or our aging patterns... are those pains, back-aches, ‘sore bones’, hunched backs truly unavoidable?
- “In the matter of positions, postures and movements, bad habits are formed too quickly that may have disastrous consequences for the whole life.” - The Mother
The habits, the habitual patterns formed during our lives and stored in the body can cause trouble for our health, the shaping of our character, the psychological development. A small, seemingly insignificant example: One falls off the cycle at the age of ten and there is a sprain in the ankle and the lower back hurts. The brain, avoiding any unpleasant feelings, or fears of feeling pain, organizes the muscles/posture in such a way so as not to feel this. These contractions are kept, lets say, for a few days. Then, a situation occurs where the brain forgets to release these muscles. The pain has gone away, and one enthusiastically jumps on the cycle again. A memory of this accident, or trauma, remains. You feel normal, ‘just as before’, but the posture is not the same as before. The perception one has of oneself is that the body feels normal, but it is not. The brain has forgotten to relax those muscles involved in avoiding pain during the recovery period: it sees the chronic contractions as being the normal situation.
And so begins a pattern of tension in the body and one is not aware of it at all. This causes a strain on the spine in particular and after twenty years can become something like migraine, back-ache, neck pain, trouble with knees, allergy, organs not working optimally etc, or...can cause those ‘edgy’ parts of the character (which for example chronic contractions in the lower back certainly have their influence on). The spine contains nerves, glands, the ‘energetic’ centers, and if there is a constant pull of the muscles on it, however little, it has a profound influence on our health and well-being. Instead of a small accident, it could be anything else, and these ‘elses’ are knocking on the doors of our house constantly, and they do enter and cause cracks.
Reflexes in the body, i.e. the brain sending contract-commands to the body, occur very often. They have ensured survival for all living organisms. In this modern age these reflexes are triggered very often, mostly unnecessarily. You are driving in the dark and there is a head-light coming towards you and naturally you think it to be a motor bike but then suddenly it turns out to be a truck, with one head-light not working which is on your side of the road. Just before the headlight blinds you, of course, you react. Reflexes are there, at incredible speed the whole body is on red alert, without your conscious intervention, and it is better that way otherwise reactions will be too slow. (Reflexes are also often triggered out of fear only and are not really needed at all). There is no room for hesitation. But sometimes we have become slow, our reflexes are not finely tuned, they are distorted.
A strong smell, a loud noise, fear, a thought, a memory, a dream, a loud bomb exploding in a movie (the body makes no distinction between metaphor and reality), an emotion, an intense aspiration... Often whilst having an intense concentration of will there is a mixture of tension in the body. All trigger off these reflexes (a ‘shrinking’ occurs). One can see that especially today this happens so often that the brain finds it hard to keep up! Not necessarily only with the ‘contract’ commands but especially the ‘release’ commands. To relax becomes more and more difficult. The brain forgets what it was like to have normal functioning muscles. It loses control and tensions accumulate, and these influence our lives daily: the way we walk, sleep, perceive, grow ‘old’, experience, react.
A simple experiment: stand in front of a mirror, close your eyes and stand straight, then open the eyes again and notice that you are not straight at all. This means, the perception you have of yourself is incorrect. Reality is different. Now, what to do about it? Do not shape yourself according to the mirror image, this will not be enough. Football? Cycling? Dance, stretching, yoga, badminton, walks? En fin, no guarantee, it is not enough...more is often needed to solve this problem. If you attempt to voluntarily force a muscle that is chronically contracted, you will cause an equal and opposite resistance of that muscle. And this again pulls at the spine.
These then are tensions inside the body, which the brain (or your perception) is unaware of, that pull the body in a particular shape or form, and bring to it weaknesses. Often someone will say, with shoulders completely tight: “I feel great”, until one day the pain is unbearable, or it comes out in the form of severe headache…or a slow reaction to an incoming truck….then it is off to the doctor for the quick fix, and up and away on the bike again.
One might undo certain patterns within oneself psychologically, but the body will not necessarily follow or change. A re-education of the brain, of one’s awareness is needed and it has to involve the physical body. The window needs cleaning before one can look out. A gradual dissolution and a melting of all the body’s distortions, all its habitual patterns, is needed through a more conscious approach to the body, the brain and the use of the subtle physical. Then, a large part of the Path is cleared out, a lot is purified. A relaxing of one layer of tension will automatically lead to the next, leading to a continuous opening and a deeper awareness. A greater health is to be attained, and a simple gesture to be rediscovered. Perhaps it mainly concerns an attitude to be cultivated; a releasing, to learn to have a repose that is an ascent. To learn to relax and to ‘feel’ again , these things are beautiful, and will bring this higher health to our culture that is in Auroville. To re-discover a harmony in the gesture, to slowly grow toward a conscious movement. The daily renewal, the clean up of the house taken care of, the walls of the house to be strong and the foundations solid.
A problem is the art of working attentively, daily, meditatively, with the body. It is so used to doing, going ‘….go, go, go...’, being pushed at, pulled, tugged, slumped in chairs (Oh God, it cries, let someone design a good chair), forced, stuffed etc, that it is difficult to stop, and relax, and do the work on the body with attentiveness, consciously. It is generally easier to run up a hill or cycle miles or do 50 push ups. To learn to breathe freely, to stand straight without effort, all this implies a demechanising of oneself, an unlearning of what has been wrongly learnt, a reprogramming of the software, a demystifying, or rather a more conscious experience of the phenomena of the Pranic reality.
To work on one’s health is to also work on Auroville. The body of Auroville too needs to undo habitual patterns... renewing it daily… to find its flow, to attain health for it to make simple gestures: letting the Divine Influence create the true, harmonious movement.