Body Tending

by Dennis E. Bradford, Ph.D.

in physical well-being

Silhouette of a beautiful Yoga woman

The goal of body tending should be, insofar as possible, to be able to ignore the body [See the previous post here ].

By ‘tending’ I’m referring to caring in the sense that a good shepherd tends a flock or a good parent tends an ill child. A good shepherd is skilled in doing whatever is best for the flock; a good parent is skilled in doing whatever is best for the child.

To tend the body well is to take good care of it. The reason to take good care of it is, insofar as possible, to be able to ignore it.

Should you ignore the body? I don’t know. I am able to tell you that that’s what sages (saints, the wise) do. If you want to emulate them, insofar as possible, ignore the body.

How?

At least for those of us what are not (yet!) sages, tend the body well. Tending it well means caring for it both effectively and efficiently. Caring for it effectively means selecting practices that get you closer to your goal. Caring for it efficiently means engaging in those practices as economically as possible.

Unfortunately, when they do make recommendations about tending the body well, sages often offer conflicting advice. Furthermore, except for contemporary sages, they themselves did not have the understanding provided by contemporary scientific researchers.

Therefore, if you are serious about tending the body well, I suggest doing your own research. Be skeptical of anyone else’s recommendations until you have satisfied yourself that there is sufficient evidence justifying them.

There is no certain knowledge of what any individual should do. As I have argued multiple times elsewhere, that’s because all the consequences of what we do or fail to do are relevant to its moral evaluation as being either right or wrong and there is no knowledge of future consequences. Not only cannot I tell you what to do, nobody else can either.

It’s a good practice, though, to pay attention to what sages suggest.

According to Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, his guru [sage, master, saint, spiritual teacher] Sri Yukteswar emphasized in his public talks not only the value of his spiritual discipline [Kriya Yoga] but also “a life of self-respect, calmness, determination, simple diet, and regular exercise.” What might this mean in the 21st century?

The first and third have to do with mindset or attitude. They may be considered prerequisites to tending the body well. The other three can be understood as referring to physical practices that are both effective and efficient.

SELF RESPECT

Having high self-esteem is the necessary and sufficient condition for having self respect.  To have high self-esteem is to value yourself highly, in other words, to like or love yourself very much.

Sadly, not having high self-esteem is much more common in the West than having high self-esteem.  If you don’t have high self-esteem, what can you do to raise it?  Here’s a good place to begin thinking clearly about building it:  self-esteem.

Since you are Being, which is infinitely valuable, you are infinitely valuable.  Therefore, having anything less than the highest self-esteem is misguided.  “The body is outside you” (from A Course in Miracles).  Although, in isolation, this may be misleading strong, it serves to make the point.  You are Being and have a body.

If you don’t yet realize this, it’s because “There is one thing that you have never done; you have not utterly forgotten the body” (from A Course in Miracles).  It actually takes no time at all to realize what you are and to forget what you have.  How is such release possible?

Liberation can occur spontaneously, but it almost always comes by mastering any classic spiritual discipline (training, practice, yoga) such as zazen.  Such mastery will not only fix any difficulty you have regarding self respect, but it will also greatly reduce stress and anxiety while promoting calmness.

There’s more good news:  not only are there a number of alternative disciplines so that you may choose one well suited to you, but also mastering one — although not easy — is simple.

CALMNESS

What sense does it make to think that mastering a classic spiritual discipline will promote calmness?

The easiest way to answer is to ask:  “What is causing me not to be calm?”  The answer is certain thoughts that you believe.

Here’s the critical fact:  although 80 or 90% of your thoughts are obstructive, stale, and repetitious. you are addicted to them.  You are a compulsive thinker.  Mastering a classic spiritual discipline breaks that addiction.

10 or 20% of your thoughts are useful, creative, and original.  It is certainly neither necessary nor desirable to drop them.  Sages are liberated, free to think or not to think.  Naturally, unless thought is required, they let it go in favor of “no-thought.”

This immediately cures the perspectivism that infects the rest of us.  As I’ve explained multiple times, to think is to conceptualize (separate, discriminate, categorize, divide, sort).  Hence, all apprehension based on thoughts is perspectival, which means that, at best, thoughts are only partially true.

Sages are free from living in conceptual prisons like the rest of us usually do.

DETERMINATION

You already understand that mastering any important skill requires determination.  Most of us master walking and riding a bike and learning a natural language and reading and many other skills.

Think of using the mind correctly as a skill.  The mind is very powerful, which is why we all initially misuse it until we learn how to use it correctly.

Because it is far from easy to tame the mind, mastering a classic spiritual discipline is difficult.  However, every normal human being can do it with the required determination and proper practice.

SIMPLE DIET

If your ideas about eating well come from chefs like Julia Child or Anthony Bourdain, you are clueless about eating well.  Eating well is not the same as eating delicious foods, which are mere flatteries.

The purpose of eating is to nourish and fuel the body, not to flatter one’s taste buds.

Sadly, it has been my experience that very few physicians or even certified nutritionists understand good nutrition.

I have much to say about good nutrition elsewhere, such as at lasting-weight-loss.com or in books such as How to Eat Less — Easily!.

Eating well is simple.  I generally recommend four feedings during waking hours (with the last one at least three hours before bedtime).  A meal should consist of a vegetable or green salad and some natural source of fats and proteins such as sockeye salmon, organic chicken, or steak from grass-fed beef.  A fast, nutritious alternative would be a protein smoothie made with some berries, flax seed, and whey protein isolates from grass-fed cows.  Drink plenty of clean water throughout the day.

Another really helpful book I recommend is Diane Sanfilippo’s Practical PaleoA simple diet can be varied and delicious as well as nutritious.

The biggest mistake with respect to eating well we make is eating too many carbohydrates.  I recommend keeping carbohydrate consumption below 30 grams daily at least six days every week and getting most of those carbohydrates from organic berries and vegetables.  Unlike fats and proteins, it is not necessary to consume any carbohydrates for excellent bodily health.  Yes, they are delicious, but they are addictive and fattening.  Fuel your body with fats rather than carbohydrates.

REGULAR EXERICSE

Sadly, it has been my experience that very few physicians or even certified personal trainers understand exercising well.

Ideally, an exercise program should consist of what are commonly called stretching exercise, fitness exercise, and strength training.

Think of physical exercise as like medicine:  too little is ineffective and too much is harmful.  Dosage is critical.

What’s the minimum amount of physical exercise required for tending the body well?  It takes a surprisingly small amount of time –certainly not over 75 minutes weekly.

Here’s my answer:

Do a P.A.C.E. workout three (or even, if you prefer, just two) times weekly.  What’s a P.A.C.E. workout?  Click here for  P.A.C.E. by Al Sears, M.D. to understand why this is the best way to exercise.  (The short answer is that your reserve lung capacity is the best indicator of your degree of fitness.)  Each P.A.C.E. workout can take less than 15 minutes including warming up and cooling down.

The biggest mistakes we make with respect to fitness exercise are not doing it at all or doing steady state cardio such as walking or jogging.

Do a strength workout once a week that includes either some kind of squats or deadlifts.  I explain in my book Weight Lifting exactly how to do such a workout in under 10 minutes excluding warming up and cooling down. 

The biggest mistakes we make with respect to strength exercise are not doing it at all or doing it but avoiding squats and deadlifts.

Do some flexibility exercises at least twice weekly.  These are easy as well as relaxing.  Each session need not take more than 10 minutes.  The best time to do them is after either a fitness or strength workout when your muscles and tendons are already warm.  Most people understand how to stretch, but, if you don’t, there are plenty of good books about it.

The biggest mistakes we make with respect to stretching exercise are not doing it at all or doing it but bouncing while doing it.

That’s my take on Sri Yukteswar’s recommendations for flourishing physically.

If you make these recommendations habitual, you’ll be very glad that you did.  Why?  Not only will you live better physically, but you’ll also find that other aspects of your life will automatically improve.  For example, because any classic spiritual discipline will reduce egocentricity and it’s egocentricity that spoils relationships, your relationships will get better and better as you master your spiritual discipline.

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