Intelligence and the Body-Mind

Does listening to your body facilitate addictive behaviors? Blogging last week in Part 1, we disputed yoga instructor Maya Georg’s contention to this effect. Some research actually suggests the body, left to its own devices, demonstrates a keen aptitude for self-regulation. Relatedly, yoga philosophy posits that addictive behavior emerges, not from listening to one’s body, but rather through samskara, ingrained habits or conditioned patterns that underlie thoughts, behaviors, and experience. These interweave the body-mind continuum and cannot be attributed mind or body in isolation.

In truth, the body is not driving us towards addiction or chaos unless mind and environment are considered equally at fault. Samskara are imprinted physiologically as much as they are psychologically, neural pathways reflecting and reinforcing thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and the environment. If we’re on auto-pilot, we can thank their contextual interplay, rather than blaming the body.

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The physicalist—or materialist—worldview contends body and mind are comprised of one continuous substance (physicality). While this contradicts yogic epistemology, paralleling only the physical, or anaamaya kosha, one relevant implication is that the body possesses intelligence untapped by the brain. Consider the enteric nervous system, increasingly shown to play an integral—yet non-conscious—role in emotion.  Psychological distress is often somaticized (experienced in the body), indicating that the body experiences and embodies mental distress. And the burgeoning field of embodied cognition aims to explain how embodiment (for example, clenching one’s teeth or walking quickly) shapes subjective experience. Thus, the body is increasingly suggested to wield intelligence, however unconscious, in its own right.

Mind may get us into trouble more often than not. Consider the limited utility scientists have accorded to willpower, an easily exhausted resource that leaves us unwittingly scrounging for glucose in its wake. Or the study by psychologist Alia Crum, who found that overweight persons consuming a full-fat milkshake labeled “low fat” produced more hunger hormones than those who consumed the same milkshake with no label. Had the “low fat” group eaten the milkshake without believing it was a diet product, their bodies would have attenuated hunger hormones to prevent later overeating. In this case, mind tricked body.

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In fact, although we stringently cling to the illusion of free will, research is clear in indicating that our preferences and choices are often influenced by non-conscious cues. How then, can mind control and discipline body, if mind cannot fully see, much less control, itself?

Scientist John Bargh’s “new unconscious” suggests untapped reservoirs of adaptive insight lurk beyond conscious awareness, absent Freud’s conflicted psychodrama. Might facets thereof relate to embodiment? Might connecting with, listening to, and honoring the body facilitate greater access to insight, wisdom, and health?

How do you conceptualize “intelligence” in relation to your body or your mind?

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. In Part 3, we discuss the tantric celebration of embodiment, and potential benefits of enlisting the body’s wisdom in every day life.

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