Mind-Body-Spirit (M-B-S) has become a popular contemporary buzzword. Certain breath-work disciplines are considered ‘M-B-S, but are they complete? Do they really succeed in making the practitioner ‘whole’, and change the nature of the person, to become a better human being? Or, are they just pseudo-spiritual superficial forms of training?
These centuries-old health and martial art skills are perhaps some of humanity’s oldest remaining methods to develop and integrate M-B-S. In the West today, Mind, Body and Spirit have become totally separate. Thus, the body is trained through exercise, such as running and weight lifting, that, for all intents and purposes, can be regarded as utterly “Mindless’, and the brain is generally exercised only through games and puzzles that fail to integrate the body, and improve the Mind-Body connection. This causes the average person to be mostly uncoordinated and clumsy, with lack of self-knowledge and awareness, throughout life, which leads to premature senility and rapid deterioration. However, those that begin to train, and can face their shortcomings, and work to overcome them, will find arrest and reversal of this process, and regain a newfound vigor and youthfulness, by improving the Mind-Body connection. This is true at any time of life, but the earlier we begin the better.
Nourishing the Spirit tends to be left to the domains of organized religion, which sometimes only succeeds in shackling the spirit and mind, especially when feeding the notion of self and ‘deservingness’, or even promoting hate, intolerance, and separation. All traditional Qigong and Chinese martial art skills included morality/ code of ethics and philosophy taught to produce worthy members of society. The skill lives within the person that holds it, so teachers wanted to ensure that the skill was always entrusted to the right persons, and not those that would exploit it, corrupt it and denigrate it.
To the ancient Chinese, Mind, Body, and Spirit are One, not Three, and exercise, meditation, and philosophy all work together to improve and integrate every aspect. The sages understood Qi/ breath, and the reciprocal impact of this on the mind; they introduced different methods of moving to challenge the body’s limits (twisting and stretching, and stamina), methods to open dormant areas of the brain (with intricate co-ordination and balance training), and methods to develop the mind through meditation and ‘Emptiness’, to gain clarity, insight and heightened sensitivity. They also knew the student had to be educated, in morality, ethics and philosophy, to open the Heart, to be compassionate, humble, true and sincere, courageous and loyal. This is true Spiritual training, and is harder to train and change than Body and Mind. By combining all these facets, a skill becomes complete and we become ‘whole, and closer to reaching our full human potential, in this lifetime.
Many M-B-S practices today, including some forms of Qigong, fail to educate about Heart, as they only emphasize the exercise and discuss the benefits. In truth, we cannot be fully healthy, regardless of exercise and diet, if the Heart is not right! True spiritual training requires facing ourselves, accepting our faults, and working to overcome them, to become patient, caring, loyal, dependable, sincere, humble, gentle, etc.
Another aspect of M-B-S training, generally neglected, is the concept of ‘Tasting Bitter’, which means experiencing hardship, and facing challenges and difficulties, to strengthen character. In ancient times, the master may have been very strict and would force the student to taste bitter. Of course, the student had the choice to leave, which succeeded in ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’. No masters reached their level by taking it easy. Today, the student is largely responsible for his own training, but ‘bitter’ must be ‘tasted’ in order to reach a high level of Spirit Training. Life is both bitter and sweet. If we get used to tasting bitter, work hard and accept hardship, early in life we can savor the ‘sweet’ later, but if we avoid difficulties, challenges, and hard work, and always seek comfort and ease, then later we will find life unavoidably harsh.
Everyone has different reasons for studying these skills. Through steady practice we not only get what we originally wanted, but along the journey, we find we attain much more than we had settled for. We develop our health and human potential, and come to realize how these skills provide fascinating and fulfilling journeys into self-discovery of complete Body, Mind and Spirit.