Yoga: Bringing Mind into Body

Sometimes I live completely in my mind. It is as if my mind said sayonara to my body and hopped on a high-speed train to zip around my fidgety world of problems and ideas (which all seem monumental, of course). Suddenly I realize that I have no idea what’s happening around me. I am not at all present in my physical body. This is why yoga can be so difficult, but at the same time so needed.

Corpse Pose

Practicing yoga encourages us to come home to our bodies. Yesterday, as I was lying in “corpse” pose, my instructor guided me to “bring my mind down into my body.” Become aware of the places where your body meets the ground, she said, where parts of your body touch each other.  Feel the earth supporting your body. Attune yourself to the here and how. Listen to your breath, feel your breath flowing in and out. Take note of the temperature.

As I did what she suggested, my bodily senses came into clear focus and all the monkeys jumping around in my head started to quiet down. I started to move my awareness away from the world of problems and plans in my mind and down into my arms, my blood, my legs, my breath. It’s hard to describe, but it’s as if the zippy problem train came to a slow crawl and then released my consciousness into the gentle river of my breath and pulse.

This practice of bringing mind into body reminds me of something my mom used to tell me to do when I couldn’t fall asleep as a kid. “Think about your stomach,” she urged at my bedside. Okay…so what? But now I see her point. Thinking about my stomach (or any body part, for that matter) forces me to disconnect from the other thoughts that are pulling me away from the here and now. And often those other thoughts are what keep me from giving in to my weariness in order to drift asleep. You’ve probably had moments too when you can’t turn your mind off even though your body is dead tired. Trying taking my mom’s advice :-). It’s a good excuse for navel-gazing, anyway.

Yoga is only one avenue for bringing the mind into the body.  Some forms of meditative prayer also serve the same calming, centering purpose. The Jesus Prayer, for example, focuses on repeating one simple phrase on each inhale and exhale, over and over again: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me. Another form of contemplative prayer involves bringing the mind “down into the heart.”  While prayer can often seem disembodied, having nothing to do with our physical existence, there are ways to bring our bodies into prayer, or, better said, to allow our bodies to bring us into prayer.

Whatever works for you to bring your mind into your body and become fully present, take a while to do this today.

My Flesh Faints for God

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” – Psalm 63:1

What does it mean to want God so much that we feel it in our bodies, to the point where we would cry out, “My flesh faints for you!”?

What comes to mind first are the ecstatic experiences of the Christian mystics. Consider St. Teresa of Avila’s account of a seraph piercing her heart with a blade of love, causing sublime body-spirit pain:

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…[1]

God’s love was so real for Teresa that she felt as if her entrails were afire. Wow. Can’t say I’ve ever experienced that in my life.

I have experienced my flesh fainting for God in the form of a deep yearning in my bones to pray through movement and dance. Sometimes, especially when I am going through painful or complicated emotions, words just don’t cut it. Sinking into a deep silence and allowing my soul to be still is sometimes what I need, but at other times I need to tell God with my body how I feel.

In these times, I let my mind take backstage and give my body permission to move freely. Sometimes I wrap my arms around my core and crouch in fetal position. Sometimes I reach brokenly with my arms, clench my fists, or throw up my hands. Sometimes I twirl around and feel my body opening up to some movement of life and spirit just beyond my mental grasp. Often, my body prays in a way that my mind could never express, and leads me closer to my heart.

I can think of one other way that our flesh might “faint for God.” It is when we become painfully aware of the gap between what our bodies are, and what our bodies ought to be. Paul writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:4):

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

We feel in our flesh and in our spirits that there is more to this life than we know. Even our bodies are destined for greater glory than we can imagine, when one day what is now decaying and dying will be “swallowed up by life.” In the meantime, we wait with joy, hope, and longing, and our flesh, too, faints for God.