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