In our technological society, we are unfortunately still in the infancy of knowledge about the body, seeing it largely as a mechanical instrument. To some degree that is true, if we think of how modern medicine can create artificial hips, and bond plastic to bones, and many other techniques. But what if the body is more than just a mechanical instrument? In the teachings of Kundalini Yoga we speak of the wisdom in every cell of the body, a wisdom to which the conscious mind apparently has no access...

We know that bones, skin and muscles can grow and that they can heal. We also know that we can change our bodies by introducing an outside chemical or medicine. If we hurt a part of our body, we know that the whole body will respond, bringing in its army of white blood cells to repair the damage. How can we increase the body's natural ability to heal itself? If there has been a bruising of the body, we can treat that part lovingly, tenderly, like a mother treats a hurt child. We can talk to the cells and use the tips of our fingers to caress it, gently conveying the message that "your pain is understood." The body's response can be remarkable, depending on how single-pointed we are while doing this.

The body has its own "power of mind." We can become aware of that power through the teachings of yoga. If certain practices such as the Divine Light Invocation1 are done intensively with all of our emotional and mental power, we can recharge our cells. We can also start perceiving with the light of understanding.

We often ask for spiritual healing, yet thoughtlessly violate the laws by which the body functions, without ever stopping to realize that we are responsible. Illnesses may arise simply as the result of neglecting the body. If you think of your body as a spiritual tool, you cannot treat it so negligently. If you have a beautiful musical instrument, you will look after it very carefully. If it is a piece of art, you will probably take care of it according to its cost. Often the body does not receive even half the attention given to that expensive sculpture or beloved instrument. Instead, we overrule our natural rhythms, and only when we are sick again do we remember.

Reflecting on the events of the day will help to bring back the awareness of your natural body rhythms. Reflect also on what has not happened, on what you wanted to happen, on your expectations. Sometimes we need something dramatic, such as an illness or an accident, to jolt us out of our complacency or an old pattern of thinking and feeling. Whatever pain we experience is a small price to pay to get us back on track. It's like driving a car that unexpectedly stalls and when you check, you see that it's a warning that you are close to running out of fuel and need to refill the tank. Or perhaps you have drifted off course into regions that fascinate you, but where it may not be good to stay for too long.

We are like the young gods from mid-heaven who have come down to Earth to satisfy our curiosity, and because we have been here too long, our bodies are no longer subtle, celestial. We have become similar to the animals—bone, flesh, muscles, ligaments, skin, hair. The body of Light has almost been squeezed out of us. How can we re-establish that connection? We need to continuously expand our awareness to the finer perceptions that escape us because of the usual grossness of our senses. Our body has to become an ever more refined instrument of perception.

In his teachings Lord Krishna says, "You forget your spiritual existence on account of the body, but I will come and remind you." How does he remind us? He plays his lilas or games, some of which may be painful in order to jar us out of our mediocrities. Jesus also says, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." So when pain comes, do not cry. Rather welcome it and ask, Where did I slip? What has happened? What is this illness telling me?

Sometimes we have to undergo a test. When we are sick ourselves, do we still have compassion for others? Pain or illness is not always a punishment. That is an over-simplification of the understanding of karma. It can be a learning process, too. Sometimes it is an opportunity. Sometimes it shows us that we are too duty-bound and are giving too little time to the spirit, to our reflection.

If we are created in the image of God, that image is certainly not the human body. The image of God can only be what some people call "higher consciousness" or "the inner Light" or what others might call the "soul" or "Buddha nature" or "Christ consciousness" within us. Equating the Divine with higher consciousness helps us from putting too solid an image on the Divine and then concretizing this preferred image. No matter how beautiful the image is that you create in your imagination, it is still a limitation of the Divine force.

When the body is understood as a spiritual tool to help us contact the Divine within, the Hatha Yoga asanas will not be done as just physical exercises to attain a slim waistline or a supple body, they will be used as a spiritual practice to explore the wisdom of the body.

Spiritual life is a very subtle and complex process, but not more complex than daily living. And there is no point at which you can say you have reached the end. Let us assume that you have attained the highest state of samadhi or liberation and die in a spiral of Divine Light. Is that the end? There may be something more to do on the other side with that same inner Light that was imprisoned in the body. What makes us think that any degree of awareness is now the end?

In some schools of thought it is said that you can awaken the healing forces in yourself only through living a pure life. But "purity" is very difficult to define and is interpreted differently by different races, cultures and religions. However, the method of attaining it—which is to overcome selfishness—seems similar in every path.

Compassion and contact with the inner Light are the major factors in healing. Can we see the energy in our food or in another person? Can the Divine in us greet the Divine in others? Can we see the Divine in each other even in our most intimate moments? Can we bring Light into every aspect of our lives? When we can, we will not be so concerned about what happens to the body. When my body can dissolve into Light, I would not want to live in the body one moment longer.

When you let the Light into your life—into every cell of your body, into every level of your emotions, feelings and thinking—then someday you cannot be anything other than a ray of that Light.
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

  read more of swami radha's past columns

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