The trend toward mind-body health shows up in different industries—including medicine, fitness, and psychotherapy. For example, in the last few decades more and more people have recognized the health benefits of meditation and yoga, rivaling or even surpassing a doctor’s prescription.
But what is a mind-body practice—really? In particular, just what is the “mind” component of mind-body practice? Is it simply the ability to think or does it involve some other inner capacity—such as feeling? I sometimes ask people if they can locate the mind part of their mind-body practice, and more often than not I see them pointing at their heads. In other words, for many people, their “mind” is something that goes on in their brains. While, of course, our brains are closely related to our minds, that is far from the whole story. In true mind-body work, we recognize that the mind is fully embodied, and not shut up inside our skulls. People who think their minds are confined to their brains reveal that they really don’t have a good grasp of their own mind-body nature.
We all come into the world without the ability to speak or understand language. Then as we grow up, we soon start developing the cognitive functions associated with learning language. Later, as language develops, we internalize it, forming beliefs about ourselves and the outside world. In short, we develop a “world view”—a way of understanding the world based on the limits of our beliefs which, in turn, are limited by our language. What we believe is always an extension of what we think, and both reflect what we have learned in the past. In other words, our thoughts and beliefs are always rooted in the past, and disconnect us from reality as it is happening in the present moment. When we talk about “mind” (as in the “mind-body connection”), we refer to awareness of how events unfold right now—not to some abstract thought that blurs our ability to be fully present. The main point I want to emphasize is this: our thinking mind (cognition) is just a small part of our total consciousness. Based in language, it is something that is socially constructed. By contrast, our true mind—our consciousness itself—is innate to our entire body, and transcends the limitations of language and ideas. Mind is something we feel. It is not what we think.
Mind-body practice, then, is all about moving away from this mental cognitive capacity, the constructed or socially conditioned mind. Whenever we get lost in our thoughts or become strongly attached to our beliefs, we lose touch with what’s happening in our body. We suppress our feelings and emotions, and block out our body’s natural instincts. The human body has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and during that time, it has developed its own innate intelligence. We call this the “embodied mind.” Effective mind-body work, therefore, gets us back in touch with the body’s natural deep intelligence—crucial for mind-body health.
When we realize this, we also realize that we need to unlearn most of what we learned through our cognitive development. We need to cultivate our ability to feel and be guided by our natural embodied intelligence. That’s how we learn to expand our capacity to connect with our bodies and with what’s happening at a subconscious level. Mind-body practice begins by letting go of thoughts and, instead, learning the language of the body. The vocabulary of our embodied language is silent, and shows up as feelings, sensations, and pulsations.
To sum up: Your mind is not in your head. It is embodied throughout your whole body. However, it is not “inside” the body (you will not see it!), like your brain is inside your head. Instead, your mind is your entire body’s natural ability to feel and to purposefully direct itself through movement. If you want to explore and cultivate your mind, start by paying attention to your body—because your whole body is, in fact, your embodied mind.