Balance: The Benefits of Physical Practice

We are all familiar with the benefits of exercise: maintaining fitness, cardiovascular health, weight loss, a good body, etc. I use the term physical practice do denote a discipline that, in addition to including the regular benefits of exercise, results in the union of mind, body, and spirit. In a culture that has divorced itself from the earth and the body, physical practices (such as yoga, martial arts, pilates, dance, etc.) fulfill an essential role in the maintenance of health, balance and grace.

As explored in the entry above, many of us have developed postural habits that deviate from the natural balance of our skeletal systems. Over time these unbalanced postures lead to physical tension, disrupt the function of our physiological systems, and without correction may end up as permanent structural changes. Poor postural habits may be caused by a number of reasons, including: physical injury, hereditary conditions and emotional trauma. Yet the vast majority of unbalanced postures stem from a disconnection to our bodies during our every-day experiences.

To reiterate, the key is to devote a portion of our awareness toward our bodies at all times. The arrow of attention is double pointed – not only does our attention flow out to the world, it simultaneously flows back along the same line to our bodies. It is a helpful to unite the experience of physical awareness with our breathing. Whenever we notice that the connection to our bodies has been lost – just breathe, feel the body and continue with the task at hand. As the great teacher G. I. Gurdjieff says: “Remember yourself”.

For many, reconnecting to the body takes a little dedication and work. The physical practices (yoga, tai chi, qi gong, martial arts, pilates, dance) provide a framework through which to re-establish and enhance the mind-body-spirit connection. I’m well aware that ‘mind-body-spirit’ is an often clichéd phrase in our pop-yoga world. But I use it nonetheless to describe the fusion of intention, physicality, and feeling that results from physical practice. In Kung Fu we have a saying that the qi (energy / feeling) follows the mind and the mind follows the body. Through the study and practice of a physical discipline we learn to unite our focused intention with the movement (or stillness) of our body. When the union of mind and movement becomes familiar, the emotion (energy / spirit) begins to flow.

One of the great benefits of physical practice is that this union of mind-body-spirit begins to trickle into our every-day activities. The way we stand, the way we hold a spoon and eat, the way we walk, the way sit at the computer and work – everything becomes infused with a new grace – a clarity of thought, a dignity of posture, and a purity of heart. In a temple high in the mountains the student says to the master: “Master, everyday we have to chop wood and carry water – what is the purpose, what happens when we reach enlightenment?” The master says: “chop wood carry water”

Recommended Yoga: www.virayoga.com

Recommended Kung Fu / Tai Chi: www.yingjowpai.com

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