Mind over body–Does it actually work?

Can the mind control the body? It sure can.

How else is one able to run up 10 floors with the lift out of order when a neighbour sends an SOS saying that he little daughter has locked herself up in the bedroom by accident? Or do 108 Suryanamaskar and 208 asanas at a stretch on World Yoga Day a couple of years ago, as my friend Sandhya had done? Or even go on for days without sleep when a loved one is hospitalized?

These are activities that we don’t do on a regular basis. But when we need to do them, the mind takes over and adrenaline is pumped into the blood, which in turn goads the body to deliver.

But even the mind can’t push the body beyond its limits of endurance on a daily basis, unless we keep ourselves super-fit and lead a disciplined life with regular habits. Even then, only that far and no further. The mind can’t pull the body along by itself–no way!

How else do you think athletes and sportspersons run that incredible race, overtaking the leaders one by one to breast the ribbon, or pull off a cliff-hanger of a tennis match? Or how soldiers, medical and security personnel work insane hours under inhuman conditions to fight the enemy, deal with criminals or handle an emergency?

Be assured that they are not doing it with just mind power. Unless both mind and body work together, it is not possible to be healthy, fit and happy, leave alone do superhuman things. A fit body with some help from the mind can pull through tough situations time and again. The mind needs an ally — a fit body!

But it is not fitness alone that is the sole criterion in helping a person achieve feats of endurance and power – which would mean that everyone is capable of everything. Unfortunately it is not the case. There are physical and age-related constraints that prevent a person from doing things, and the mind can only help so much and no more.

There is also a genetic factor at play, in terms of physical capacity, temperament and even healthfulness of individuals. This explains why some remain physically active and healthy into their 80s and even 90s. And by active, I mean not just being mobile and taking care of oneself. We have marathon runners, swimmers, cyclists, and professionals who are working well into their old age. Many are taking these activities up in their middle age and continue, enjoying their chosen hobbies.

Given, that we need to take good care of the body to remain productive and active, we still blithely neglect our bodies with poor diet, erratic sleep cycles, little or no exercise–yet expecting our bodies to stand by us, despite all the abuse. Take for instance the long hours at work to meet deadlines, subsisting on coffee and chips, weekend party-bingeing with friends, the family celebration over a week, a yakking session with friends and siblings–all during which the body simply forgets to remind us of its need for sleep or rest. It seemingly goes on and on as if on some extended life battery or on auto-pilot mode!

So we hasten to conclude that one has to only ignore the body and make the mind dictate to it – the rest will automatically fall in place. I have done it umpteen number of times over the roller-coaster years of my life and so would many of you.

But much as we would like to think that the body has been subdued – it speaks and sometimes even screams for us to pay heed to it. And when we don’t listen to it, it protests in the form of disorders, illnesses or injuries. Little wonder then, that most of us end up on a loop of ooh-aah-ouch by the time we reach our 50s!

While the body is naturally prone to demand rest, there is a difference between turning into a couch potato in response to its demand and pushing it to go without proper nutrition and adequate sleep day after day. I would say the difference is like one between a whine of lethargy and a scream of pain. While you should ignore the former, you should immediately attend to the latter.

So stop, take a deep breath and listen to your body – whether it is whining or screaming. In case you have forgotten or don’t know how to listen, here are two links to help you out here and here. Just stop and pay attention to what the body is telling you.

Coming to myself, the keep-fit-tonic that helps me remain active through the day is adequate sleep. A power nap is a bonus that refreshes me when my body begins to sag with tiredness during the day. Whenever I am deprived of sleep, it begins telling on my general well being within a day or two.

Studies have proved that lack of sleep can cause serious errors especially in professions like medicine. Driving is another activity that is affected by lack of sleep. And since both these involve the lives others, the importance of adequate sleep cannot be overemphasised. Often the mind goes on auto-pilot mode and does the work flawlessly but even a chance mistake can result in loss or harm to life.

Coming to food, I remember a well-known cardiologist in the Capital – whom I had once interviewed for a feature – saying that ‘social eating’ is the biggest culprit of causing severe illnesses. When we give in to a hostess plying us with that extra burfi even when we are ready to burst, or reach for that samosa when we’d rather not, the palate might be happy for a trice, but the body pays a big price. There are many who down pills to help them cope with dietary excesses, with diabetics leading the list. Going hungry or gorging on sweets, they literally put their lives at risk. Why not just eat limited quantities of food that is suited to the body type and avoid trouble later?

I am glad that I have started listening to my body, which has slowed down considerably now. But instead of fretting and pushing myself, I have tailored my activities, doing things that keep my body and mind active. By social media standards, I have a boring routine, but thanks to it combined with adequate sleep and regular food, I am as active and sometimes even more active than someone younger.

You are needlessly depriving yourself of life’s enjoyments,’ I’m often admonished by friends and relatives.

I would think that it depends on what one would call enjoyment, wouldn’t you? Thanks to an aggressive ad world and social media updates, one is led to believe that we should be running like teenagers all our lives, chasing a career, amassing wealth, travelling the world, shaking a leg – or whatever it takes to prove to the world that we are active and ‘enjoying’ life well into our old age.

I’d rather not ignore the protests of my body and pull a muscle, tear a ligament or fall prey to some disorder in my pursuit of adventure, making my family bear the brunt of the after-effects of my ‘enjoyment’. I don’t find it necessary to keep chasing one activity after another to prove a point – even to myself.

Do find the time to stop, shift to a lower gear and learn to respect the limits and endurance of the body. In other words, Listen to your body! This applies to all age groups but especially to those who are growing older. Believe me, your body will be your best friend if you just listened to it and made suitable adjustments to your lifestyle.

What do they say about coats and cloth? Ah! Cut your coat according to your cloth. So there!

Image: Homepage and this page: Healthy by Nature – The Blog – Susan Hughes Health 


  1. This is one of those things I wish I had no experience with. Because thanks to anxiety and a bad habit of overworking myself to the point of burnout, I know exactly what you’re talking about here.

    Thankfully I’ve learned to listen more often to my body. It’s not a perfect relationship with oneself, but I know when to turn down projects because I don’t have the time or energy, or when I’m exhausted and need to take a break. I’ve even begun to recognize physical and mental signs that it’s time for me to see my Reiki practitioner.

    Also, I’ve programmed my computer to shut down at 8:45 pm every night, which encourages me to go to bed at a reasonable time. Otherwise, I don’t get enough sleep…. and that can be problematic when you need to get up at 5:00 am to get ready for your day job.

    It’s good to have reminders now and then that we need to remember to take care of ourselves. In an increasingly demanding and busy society, this is also becoming even more important. Thanks for writing about this, Zephyr. 🙂


    1. You are so lucky to have caught yourself well in time to begin listening to your body and taking good care of it. Sometimes a few hours so saved for ourselves gives us many more energetic working hours. And still we need reminders to keep doing what our body and mind need. Loved your line about ‘not a perfect relationship.’ 🙂

      It is always a pleasure to see you here, Sara 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What I really value about your posts is that you are so good at giving a thorough, balanced view on the topic! The reader is gradually led to the conclusion you have in mind through a careful analysis of different examples and situations you describe. The harmony between mind and body and spirit is absolutely essential if we want good health and a peaceful life (mind, which includes the emotional part in us as well). As someone who has spent most of her adult life in mental-intellectual professions and works, I have to now make greater effort to remember to take care of the body aspect of the equation for this pursuit of harmony. Often sleep is the biggest casualty when we are trying to do more things, more than we should. I too am slowly recognizing the value of proper sleep and rest, and yes of course regular exercise even if it is just evening walk and some other gentle routine. In our times when there is so much emphasis on productivity, efficiency etc. we may see in future more people ignoring the body side of the equation, which can put so much pressure on health care services and costs. So the sooner we wake up to a greater need of preventive healthcare, the better off we will be in long run.


    1. Such a gratifying comment, Beloo! Thanks a lot. Some posts make me slog and this was one of them 🙂 But I am glad that the result was worth the effort.

      Thanks for reminding me of the emotional part of the mind. I had completely missed it. Yes, the emotional aspect is very important and can cause so much grief in the guise of disorders and illnesses which are often cured when we address the issue. I have experienced it innumerable times.

      You have pinpointed the real casualty here – sleep. Working to meet international deadlines makes it necessary to work with different time zones and this again interferes with sleep, as the person has to work in India and its time after a sleepless night. I read that obesity is one of the results of poor sleep. It scares me to see how so many of us blithely ignore our physical body while doing intellectual work. Fortunately I took control at the right time and I am glad you have too because this is the age when the body begins talking really earnestly and wants us to listen to it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. upasna1987 · · Reply

    A great post. My Mother also believe that she need not prove her fitness. She does not take unnecessary risks. Mind alone cannot pull the body until body is ready to deliver. I have started a new Blog on Minimalism, wish you to check it out.


    1. Wise woman and one after my heart 🙂 We have done what we needed to do and now can take it at our own pace, not running races to complete the chores to fit into the timetables of the family, right?

      Do give me the link and I will visit your new blog, Upasna.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. upasna1987 · · Reply

        I would love to share the link with you-



        1. Visited your site, Upasna. Will come again to read 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. upasna1987 · ·

            Thanks Zephyr..most welcome.


  4. Totally agree, aunt Nag!


    1. Hey, where have you been Madhura?


  5. First let me thank you, Zephyr for quoting me in your esteemed blog! I am honoured!

    Yes, power nap is very important, esp. after some age and esp. for people who wake up early in the morning! I feel energised when I have my power nap at about 11 am. If I don’t, I feel tired soon and feel sleepy very early in the evening!

    Eating good, balanced home food, proper sleep, exercise plus will power … will keep you healthy and active, for a very very long time!


    1. First of all, congrats on your marathon! And you are welcome, Sandhya. I admire your enthusiasm and joy at simple things of life. You are blessed.

      I have the same problem as you about not having that short snooze. Talking of power naps, my father used to have one which I have found very effective, though it might sound unbelievable. He would sit in his armchair with the newspaper or a book and nod off while reading. And before you know it, he would be up. He used to say that the time it takes for the eyes to close and the book to slip from the hands and wake you up – is all the time you need for a nap. Just imagine! That would not even be a minute! And it IS so refreshing!


  6. Agree with both points – one – that the mind can bend the body to its will and two – that it possible only to a certain degree because some things remain physically impossible no matter how much our minds desire it. Stopping, evaluating and changing gears, as you so aptly call it, is something we all need to do – specially those who have been super active all their lives. That’s something I’ve been telling my mom to do, only she won’t listen!!!


    1. Oh, I guess your mother knows the score, which is why she continues being so active. But knowing that she needs to slow down itself is sometimes a big help and knowing too that it is not expected of her to remain super active helps further. But it makes sound sense to stop and evaluate, once we reach our 40s and make the necessary changes to live a contented and active life.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A sound mind in a sound body can achieve wonders! Agree totally


    1. Yes, it is almost always that way, though sometimes there are other factors playing spoilsport 🙂


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