The question is – body or soul, which path should a practitioner focus initially?

A few months ago, one of my students who is a Tibetan Buddhist, was puzzled about the large number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who are suffering from stomach cancer. This raised some fundamental questions such as – Isn’t the meditation on a daily basis supposed to bring health and free one from diseases? Why particularly the stomach cancer, not other forms of cancer? What are they missing in the spiritual practice?

To answer these questions, let us go back to the beginning of Yoga. You may have read that Hatha Yoga is a system conceived as a traditional holistic path in the Vedic Tradition which includes asanas (postures), mudras (hand gestures), pranayama (controlled breathing) and dhyana (meditation) as instruments to balance the body-mind system.  A good level of health and psychological integration must be attained before delving into deeper aspects of yoga – Raja Yoga which primarily concerns with the mind i.e. the more subtle dimension of our existence.

However, in the course of evolution, a branch called the Vedanta started to grow, they focused on the philosophical tradition which was concerned with the self realisation/non duality. Many of the ancient sages and seers, in emphasizing the importance of the soul, inadvertently began to ignore the value of the human body. Later, it became a fashion to disrespect the body, they perceived body as the villain; while the soul as the hero. For centuries, the human body was the target of attack. Reputed scholars and theologians invented many terms of contempt for body so as to glorify the soul. They ignored the necessity to keep the body fit and healthy, as a result, a typical Vedantist is usually personified as a pot-bellied and dry intellect.

From my understanding and experience as a yogi, I know that tending the body is the first step to spiritual awakening. Let me support my stance from the wisdom by the enlightened source below:

  • From one of the great 18 Siddhas (saints who have achieved mastery over the mind), Thirumoolar who revealed in his sacred mystic words – the irony was the soul could never aspire to reach liberation unless it was able to have the support and cooperation of  the physical body. He was the first to challenge this denigration of the body.

If the physical body perishes, it is a doom to the soul and one could not attain the true knowledge firmly, so by knowing the technique of tending and nourishing the body well, I not only tended and nourished the body, but the soul too.”

“Time was when I despised the body, but then I saw the God within. The body, I realized, is the Lord’s temple, so I began preserving it with care infinite.”

The Siddhas know that the human body is subject to thousands of ills and it is man’s responsibility to protect it from ailments. Before dealing with the soul itself, we have to deal with the soul’s every envelope – the body and the ailments of the physical, vital, mental and intellectual bodies.

  • From Patanjali, the Father of Yoga who compiled the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, stated  “Sthira Sukam Asana” i.e. the position/posture which is comfortable and steady. Asana means a state of being in which one can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable. This state of stillness is necessary so that pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana (concentration)can occur. This prepares the practitioner for experiencing more expanded and  concentrated states of awareness through meditation. Hence, in Hatha Yoga,  asanas are specific body postures which open the energy channels (nadis) and psychic centers (chakras). These are tools to  higher awareness and to provide a stable foundation for exploring the body, breath, mind and beyond. Through my own practice, I was able to experience the truth behind this technique – i.e. it is only by developing control of the body through asanas, the mind is also controlled.
  • In Vedic tradition, it is said that a living enlightened master is the only living scripture. That is why enlightened masters continue to walk on planet earth for future updation. Paramahamsa Nithyananda is one such incarnation in this century, he explained that for spiritual experience, our body needs to evolve to a certain posture where we experience the highest state of consciousness in our body. Our body is like the mirror. The light coming to the mirror is the Cosmic light. We need to align the mirror to a certain posture where the cosmic light completely reflects itself without distortion or deflection. That aligning or tuning is called asana (posture). Only by respecting this body, we can raise our body to the highest possible conscious coherence.
  • Another truth – our consciousness should be able to digest the Cosmos (explosion of energy) when it enters us. For that, a strong nervous system is  required to digest a Guru’s presence and the truths, and hold the ultimate experience. This explains the reason why many of the Tibetan Budhhist teachers who did not work on a  strong nervous system through yoga practice, their digestive system was not able to digest the truth. Our digestive system holds the key, it sends signals to the nervous system. From Swami Nithyananda’s own experience, he found that people with strong body built by Hatha yoga and heavy-built are more easily receptive to truths of Enlightenment. A strong stomach prevents the electric signals of the mental pattern from hitting the nervous system. Hence, a strong yogic body is very important for every true seeker, that is why he constantly insists on Hatha Yoga to build a strong yogic body.
  • Even from my experiences with my students and private clients, when I work with them  on their mental patterns, I notice that by working on the physical body, their capacity to tune in and sustain the practice is more apparent. Self healing happens quicker.  This is the reason why all my sessions always have a Hatha yoga component because I trust the body intelligence more than the cunning mind.

Now, you know the truth behind body vs. soul question. Having a right understanding is like having a correct map and compass to navigate through the great mystery of life or else you could be wasting the entire life without experiencing anything. Blessing! 🙂