How Yoga Can Help You Understand the Non-Duality of Your Mind and Body
Dualism refers to two entities (e.g. mind and body) which are in opposition and are separate to each other in some essential, irrevocable way. “‘Non-duality’ is a translation of the Sanskrit word ‘Advaita’, which simply means ‘not two’ and points to the opposite of duality: an essential oneness, wholeness, completeness and unity). This essay will explore the benefits of Patanjali/Ashtanga yoga with regard to understanding the non-duality of your mind and body.
Experiencing a degree of disconnect between your body and mind is a common phenomena in modern societies, particularly those which put an emphasis on using the mind to its greatest capacity (an unhealthy and unsustainable ideal) without placing any attention on how we should look after our body. The valorisation of the ‘busy mind’ has led to neglect of the body. An example of this is working all day without eating proper meals or leaving your desk to get some exercise. We forget that a healthy body is needed for a healthy mind.
Patanjali’s sutras demonstrate the importance of unions, one of which is the mind-body union. While yogic philosophy does note that the mind and body (as well as the soul) are distinct entities, it also seeks to demonstrate how connected they are. Of Patanjali’s ‘8 limbs’, here I will mainly refer to pranayama, asanas and dharana. However, For ultimate mind-body union, you should also practice a full yogic lifestyle, including a balanced diet that suits your dosha; helping create balance in the self, body and mind.
Pranayama (breathing, using the body) is a way you can calm the mind. You can combine many pranayama exercises (particularly yogic breathing) with visualisation to do this. Try to watch your breath and focus on it consciously. Inhale through your nose and expand your rib cage. Exhale afterwards and empty your lungs. Inhale and exhale through your nose. Ground yourself while imagining roots connecting you with the earth-
A further way you can use yoga to understand the non-duality of your mind and body is meditation, which can be used to ground your mind within the body. Mindfulness and conscious or active meditations, for instance, make your busy mind stop and ground you within your body. You could practice anything as a meditation: walking, eating or even dancing. These practices slow down your mind and make you realise the connection between what your body is doing and how your mind is feeling.
Mantras such as ‘Aum mani padre hum’ can also be used to detoxify and calm the mind. Chanting ‘Aum’ in particular signifies the essence of the ultimate reality and consciousness. You can envisage the energy of the ‘Aum’ in your body and then between ‘Aums’ transferring to your crown or third eye chakras (associated with your mind). ‘Shanti’ can be used to signify not only peace in the world, but also peace within yourself.
Asanas are one of the most obvious ways through which yoga can help you understand the non-duality of the mind and body. Through inverted asanas such as headstand (sirshasana) or shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasana) make blood flow to your head which in affects the mind through improving concentration and focus. Less exerting asanas and more relaxing asanas, such as corpse pose (shavasana) and makarasana can be used towards the end of a practice, as you have time to lie and meditate over how your mind and body feel more connected and in union. You have spent time looking after your body which in turn repays you by giving you a clearer mind.
Ultimately, all of the 8 limbs of yoga (particularly asanas, pranayama and meditation) make you experience firsthand the non-duality of your mind and body, because you feel yourself how taking care of your body also affects your mind. This shows that the mind and body are not two separate entities, but mutually constitutive parts of the self.
Melissa completed her 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga India Foundation in September 2018. She is very passionate about yoga, health and meditation. Melissa likes to share her new knowledge gained in India as it changed her life forever.