One of the greatest myths of Western society is that the mind and body are separate. This comes from a long and unfortunate philosophical tradition, starting with Plato and epitomized by what’s known as Cartesian dualism.
Plato imagined the mind and body to be completely separate – the rational, thinking mind ‘owned’ the body in the same way that an individual owns a house or a plot of land. Plato recommended that people care for their bodies, but only because they should care for all their physical possessions. As much value as there is in Plato… he got this one dead wrong.
It’s been said that all of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, and thanks to this we’ve been stuck in the mind-body separation paradigm for thousands of years.
Gradually as a society we are getting over this, but most people still spend their whole day sitting on a computer, lost in thought and performing intellectual or analytical tasks. Kids are made to sit still in small desks and only allowed to express themselves verbally – right from a young age the body begins to be cut off from the head.
When I was younger I thought being intellectually ‘smart’ was the most important thing there was. Now I realize that while thinking is a fantastic and important tool, it’s just one of many. And at various points in my life I keep coming back to the same lesson: the body is the mind.
When you think your way in, don’t try to think your way out
It can be very easy to go down negative paths of thinking or have way too many thoughts, especially if you are introverted and prone to over-thinking.
You get incredibly wrapped up in your head and all the problems that the mind comes up with, and then you get very set on solving those problems. But usually the best way to solve ‘thinking’ problems is not with more thinking.
The best way to solve problems of the mind is to get out of your head and into your body.
If you think your way into a hole, more thinking will just dig you deeper into that hole. To get out you have to use your body.
I am the farthest thing from anti-intellectual but ultimately the thinking mind is a tool that has its place – just like the body. It’s pointless to use the tool of the mind in situations that are not suited to it.
Next time you get trapped in an endless and increasingly complicated set of thought-problems, do some physical exercise or any form of ‘movement practice’ – then don’t be surprised when those problems solve themselves.
“Breathe into your balls”
I used to be a big fan of Elliott Hulse on Youtube. From late 2012 to mid-2014 I watched every single one of his videos, and I’ve probably seen close to a thousand of them. I would watch them in my apartment in the evening while stretching or working on mobility and I always felt fantastic after.
His emphasis on listening to your body, ‘following your heart’, and becoming the best version of yourself was a big influence on me. He was also my first introduction to certain spiritual ideas and people like Alan Watts and Osho.
It became sort of an inside running joke with Elliott Hulse that his answer to every question was “Breathe into your balls” (or ‘thoracic extension’). It was repetitive at times but the message was clear: the way to solve most of life’s problems is to fix, feel, and energize your body.
PSA for guys who lift weights a lot
For years I lifted weights and never stretched – gradually my posture got worse as my muscles became tighter and more restricted. This actually manifested in my life as well, and I became more closed off emotionally, anti-social, and my sleep schedule became completely warped.
Don’t get me wrong, I love lifting weights. But if you ONLY lift, with no stretching, no mobility work, no yoga – then it’s all Yang and no Yin. You’re going to fuck your body up and sooner or later you will feel the consequences.
If you’ve been lifting weights for years and never stretched – most likely your muscles are incredibly tight and rigid and your posture is a mess. I know because this is exactly what happened to me.
You start lifting weights with the sole goal of getting muscular and you ignore everything else – then slowly your muscles tighten and your posture becomes warped as your joints get pulled out of position.
Now days I spend almost as much time working on stretching and mobility as I do in the gym. Every morning I do a quick 10-minute routine that includes deep breathing, shaking the body, and a few basic stretches.
I roll on a basic lacrosse ball and it’s awesome – the best mobility tool in the world costs less than $10. This all helps with postural alignment and mind-body connection.
What is good feels good
Things that are good for you – foods, movements, interactions, relationships, activities, work projects, everything really – feel good in your body. Likewise, things that are bad for you – pretty much all of them, as far as I can tell – feel bad in your body.
Eat fast food and try to focus on your work after – you can’t, because you feel like shit. Drink a green juice and try to focus on your work – it’s going to be great. Keep your blood sugar levels stable and you’ll feel miles better than if they’re all over the place.
Exercise is the best nootropic and it’s the best anti-depressant. At a very basic level, you can trust your bodily feeling to guide you to what is right and away from what is wrong.
Psychedelics, Spirituality & the Physical Body
If you’ve ever experimented with psychedelics, you know they can get you more in touch with reality and what one might call the ‘true nature’ of things.
Psilocybin mushrooms in particular have a very ‘grounding’ effect – after a mushroom trip and especially towards the end you feel very rooted to nature and more vital and ‘alive’.
LSD often makes everything seem like it’s ‘breathing’ or alive. The nature of the universe – like the nature of human beings – is to be alive and moving, not sitting in a chair staring at a computer.
Why are psychedelics so effective at destroying addictions to alcohol, heroin, nicotine and real harmful drugs? (See here, here, here, here)
Because they force people to realize what is natural, integral and healthy – and what really, really isn’t. They pull away the bullshit rationalizations and force you to see things the way they really are.
People can eliminate lifelong addictions to harmful drugs with a single psychedelic trip because it becomes clear during the psychedelic experience – not just in the mind but also in the body – what is good for us and what is bad.
Wim Hof (“The Iceman”) – Superpowers through mind-body connection
I’m currently part way through the Wim Hof Method course and his focus is 100% on deep breathing, stretching and mobility, and cold exposure. He – like Elliott Hulse – is a firm believer in the knowledge and wisdom of the body.
Wim Hof can do extraordinary things like regulate his core temperature and consciously control his immune system – things previously thought to be impossible by modern science.
By treating his mind and body as one, Wim Hof has essentially become a superhuman – climbing Mount Everest in shorts with no oxygen, running a marathon in the Arctic circle with no shirt and no shoes, and raising his core temperature while submerged in ice water. His list of achievements is beyond incredible.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Wim Hof is that he doesn’t seem to have any special inborn traits or genetic advantages – he claims his methods can be taught to anyone, and that’s exactly what he’s doing with in-person workshops and his online video course.
If you want to learn more about Wim Hof and his methods, check out my Wim Hof Method review
Re-Connect to Your Real Self
There’s a lot going on in the body, and it’s telling you things all the time. If you’re not aware of it, you’ll miss it – maybe you’ve been missing it your whole life.
Many people’s lives consist of going from bed to car to desk to car to bed. They sit all day, shorten and tighten postural muscles and compress the diaphragm. Not only does this cause poor posture and limit breathing, but it manifests in life and stifles energy, love, creativity and self-expression.
Emotion (and what some people call “trauma”) is also trapped in the musculature of the body. Get it out!
Adopt a movement practice. Be barefoot as often as possible. When you get depressed, do exercise, especially cardio. Try a standing desk – do a walking meditation. Squat down and stay there for a few minutes.. then start opening up your hips.
And finally, if you struggle to find your “calling”, “passion” or “purpose” – get more in touch with your body. Maybe what you’ve been looking for your whole life has been with you all along.