As I write this I am in south India at an Ayurvedic retreat. Ayurveda is the oldest system of healing arts known to man. It dates back thousands of years to the writing of the Vedas, or ancient texts.
One of the pillars of this remarkably comprehensive and far-reaching system is to establish and maintain balance of body, mind and spirit. Since this corresponds so directly with the work I do as a stress psychologist I want to take a moment, at year’s end, review this foundational aspect of good health. Let’s start out with
thinking of yourself as a team of three players. They are called your body, your mind and your spirit. Your body is easy to recognize: it’s your blood and guts, flesh and bones. Mind is a big word and harder to define. Let’s limit our understanding of “mind” right now to the part of you that comments on yourself (“I’m OK, I’m terrible, I can do this, I’ll never get anything right”). Spirit is the most elusive of the three, yet it is, on our “team of 3”, a player of equal importance. Let’s view spirit as the force that defines your goals and drives you to achieve them.
For an easy visual, consider your team of three like a 3-legged stool: one leg each for body, mind and spirit. When all three legs are equally strong the stool is a sturdy, dependable platform (elephants stand on it at the circus!). But when one of the legs is weak or shorter there is instability and inequilibrium. Not only does the platform give way, but a “shortness” in one leg will effect the other two. If you are feverish (body), chances are you won’t be able to think straight (mind), and you won’t have much oomph to do anything (spirit). To function as a winning team you need all three players to be in top form: strong, robust and cooperating.
Of the three legs, the one we tend to undervalue and pay least attention to is our spirit. There are two basic reasons for this: we can’t see it, and we negatively associate it with “religion.” Both reasons are based on faulty premises. Briefly, what I mean is this: over several hundred years, western science has done a good job of convincing us that what we can’t see is not real; and a common belief is that religion is nothing more than a set of rules to which one becomes a mindless slave.
While this is neither the time nor place for a complicated discourse (“It’s New Year’s Eve, Dr. B!), I’d recommend we consider making a new year’s resolution to pay more attention to our spirit. That means taking time to reflect, to quiet down, to meditate and to consider where we are really going with our lives and where we want to go. It’s easy to get all tied up, but that always leads to imbalance, discomfort and ultimately disease. Without spirit we would be robots. So if you’re feeling robotic about your life it’s a sure sign that your spirit needs to be rejuvenated.
The word “spirit,” after all, comes from the Latin inspirare, which also means to breathe. When we breathe, the circle is complete: our body relaxes, our mind calms down, and our spirit can fulfill its direction, which ultimately is to be a healthy, balanced, giving member of society.