There’s nothing like a little physical pain to keep your mind off your emotional problems,” says Snoopy. It’s true. You may have experienced it like I did… news arrives that a cousin you grew up with is in hospital with Covid. An hour later, your lower back hurts, your voice turns raspy. Emotions shy off distress, but the body doesn’t. What do you do? Dr John E Sarno, professor of rehabilitation medicine in New York, says, “Consciously and forcefully shift your attention to what is worrying you” — in this case, your cousin’s well-being. It’s not pleasant thinking of him being on oxygen. It hurts and the body reflects it.
Intense worry itself causes mild oxygen deprivation which then causes the pain in a vulnerable part of the body. But when you face up to it, and say, ‘this is worrying me,’ it sends a message to the brain — ‘this is not a physical affliction, but an emotional one.’ Gradually, the pain eases and then ceases.
The sheath of understanding. We can’t armour our emotions but we can sheath them with understanding. As health consultant Steve Ozanich says, “Truth changes as perception changes.” This is so very important in today’s context. We all know that more people are undergoing anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, are beset by a constant fear of contracting Covid, or losing their loved ones. Sales of anti-depressants, tranquillisers, anti-psychotics and anti-migraine medications have all dramatically risen.
It’s not a great picture, but it’s our picture, and we’ve got to navigate through this entire maze of information with this clear, firm belief: ‘I’m fit, I’m fine, I’m flourishing.’ Living from a good place in our mind helps — a place where there’s no fear, a place that emphasises good health, good thoughts, love for oneself and everybody else. As Yogananda puts it so aptly, “The darkest mind, if you bring light to it, transforms.” And the transformation is a delightful process; calmness replaces turmoil, healing insights overtake information and love eases out fear.
Let love be the driver. When you experience any resistance, any niggle of negativity that holds you back, tell yourself softly, ‘Let love drive me.’ The Wise say, “Love is the waking consciousness in the body. And the waking consciousness is you.” Such a truth with its enormity gives you immense energy, and the effect is electric.
The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.
When love is the driver, you can empathise and sympathise with your cousin in hospital without being drawn into your own vortex of worry and fear. You accept the situation and it frees you from unwholesome thoughts. “The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open,” promises Rumi. You get to see the bigger picture. The pictures we are being shown are real, yet they are only part of reality. Look again from love, not fear, and you see all those who are helping to heal all those who are sick and you know your loved ones are in good hands. A wider perspective draws us out of our self-referential brooding to a more balanced and serene state.
Banish any aching tiredness in body, worry in mind, lowness in spirit that you may be undergoing. Be born again. Be the one who reduces stress in your life and that of others. Build a bonfire every night by visualisation and cast all your fears into it. It’s a great way to prepare for a new day, a new way of being.
Loosen the body. The body needs to relax before it rests. Ferry it to bed, tenderly make it lie down. Stretch it by extending your arms above and your legs below — like an exclamation mark being pulled at both ends. Feel the relief from top to toe. Then relax. Lying on your back, move your hand gently in circles over your stomach until you feel the body loosen. Some ancient traditions believe a circle symbolises creator and creation. The circle itself is still and the energy of creating moves inside its circumference. Everything moves in it — energy, health, order — the harbinger of balance. Now silently command each part of your body to relax — from toes to head. Or listen to a Yoga Nidra meditation recording on Youtube, relax your body and drift off to sleep.
Still the mind. Interestingly, when the mind feels fatigued, it requires not rest but something more — it needs stillness. It needs to stop thinking. The mind is not a race course, thoughts are not racehorses. But when they begin to behave what they are not, fog and fatigue set in. Racing thoughts are normally about lots of things to be taken care of within a short space of time. There’s anxiety about not doing what one needs to do, not getting what one wants, not meeting a commitment and 101 things more. That there is a virus the world over does not help. So much energy is taken up by anxiety that we cannot sit or focus on our work, instead, we keep moving around restlessly, growing even more tired.
Take charge and relax the mind. Sit comfortably, head and neck supported. Breathe slowly, deeply. Inhale through your nostrils to eight counts, exhale through your mouth to another eight counts. As you inhale, draw in your stomach; as you exhale, swell it out. Do this until you feel an easing. Now, visualise yourself as encased in a block of ice sitting in the sun. Let the warmth of the sun melt away your anxiety, aggression, tiredness and fear. Feel yourself melting inside and the cool stream running inside you. If any thoughts arise, let them come and go without clinging to them. It’s all about being easy, no clinging, just sitting, body relaxed, thinking silent, mind still.
Gradually, you’ll feel a lightening, an opening, a spaciousness in you. You’ll feel an urge… Follow its directive. You’ll find yourself willingly tackling tasks. It’s amazing how those 101 things now shrink to 10. And when you complete doing one task, the 10 things magically become two. And everything seems doable, life seems livable. You’re fine, life is fine.
Tone up the spirit. Often, the spirit wearies from feeling nothing is going our way and the world is against us. This gives rise to a feeling that there is never enough. There aren’t enough biscuits in the packet. There isn’t enough money in the bank. There isn’t enough goodness and efficiency in people. Please understand, this comes from a disorganised mind that wears down the spirit. Such a mind needs to be kept busy organising things — daily accounts, paying bills, regular meals, exercise session, bedtime, waking up. As it sees order in everyday life, the spirit tones up.
The spirit also needs a wonderful elixir — gratitude. Gratitude is a great recognition of the good life we are experiencing. It shifts our perception from burdens to blessings, form dissatisfaction to appreciation. Can you see how it tones and builds up the spirit? During the lockdown, being indoors all the times, many grumblers learnt the value of freedom; the day they run outdoors into the sunshine, into the rain without any fear, is the day they will know gratitude. It’s a point to be noted that Archbishop and the Dalai Lama constantly thank everybody they encounter. The Archbishop also greets every new experience with a heartfelt ‘Wonderful!’ Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk has got it right, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”
And here’s another spirit-toner that was recently forwarded to me. It’s about a wonderful toning exercise. It goes: ‘Stand on a comfortable surface where you have plenty of room on each side. With a five-pound potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax. Each day, you’ll find that you can hold this position for just a little longer.
“After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-pound potato bags. Then try 50-pound potato bags and eventually try to get where you can lift a 100-pound potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute.” (“I’m at this level,” says the forwarder.)
“After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.”
Are you laughing? That’s the spirit-toner we all need!
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.