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Interconnected: Using Yoga to Integrate Mind, Body, and Spirit

We often talk about the mind-body-spirit triad as if they are three separate entities, when in reality there are times when it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the three when looking at the person as a whole.

Our thoughts directly affect our body, one stressful thought of a past trauma can cause a cascade release of stress chemicals and hormones that instantly causes physical discomfort. Our spirit and spirituality can shape our thoughts as beliefs and faith have direct action on what we think, say, and do. Our body, conversely, can directly act on our mind. For example, a yoga class eases tensions in our muscles but also activates our parasympathetic nervous system, causing neurochemical changes in our brain which can change our thought process, emotional state, and even spiritual state of being. Faith healing, prayer, and energy medicine display many examples of how unseen energetic spiritual forces have caused dramatic physical and emotional shifts, unexplained by a scientific or physical cause.

Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, says, "The brain is in the body, so thoughts become a part of our body." One of the main tenants of yoga in therapy is that we cannot stop thinking; we need to integrate mind-body-spirit and dissolve limits and boundaries in the present moment.

Too often, modern Western healthcare separates humans into different categories. Someone with depression is sent to a psychiatrist for a medication to alter brain chemistry, then to a counselor to alter thoughts and behaviors, a primary care doctor to manage pains in the body or chronic health issues, then often are left to their own devices to explore spirituality or faith, which is often overlooked or dismissed by the medical realm.

The goal of holistic healing is to find the integration, to view humans as dynamic and vibrant beings whose concerns cannot be categorized into neat check lists or boxes. We cannot say that depression is caused only by an issue in the brain with serotonin...we need to address social issues, family, trauma, energy and life force balance, gut health, chronic pain, ingrained thoughts or stuck beliefs. unhealthy diet, negative behavioral patterns, relational aspects, faith or existential despair, systemic oppression, injustice, and a multitude of other factors. It becomes impossible to narrow it down to just one cause, as our bodies, minds, souls, and communities are interconnected down to the very cellular and energetic levels that we cannot even see or measure.

Integration of self, community, spirit, and our place in the universe are key elements in finding balance and health. Rather than focusing on what is "wrong" and coming from a symptom or deficit-focused approach, we invite ourselves to look at the whole picture. Where do we view ourselves in relation to others in the world? Do we believe there is a higher power, or even a universal life energy? Do we feel our emotions as bodily sensations, or recognize thoughts that come up when we experience a particular physical experience? Invite yourself to ask these questions and to explore the connection to your deeper meaning and place in the world.

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