Care of the Body – Karma Yoga
By Laura Hansen.
The Buddha tells us that we experience suffering as a result of desire and aversion. We want things we cannot have and we do not want what we have. For example, I may want to have new knees and I may not want my knees to ache. Because I have difficulty accepting that I have to do things I don’t want to do, don’t get to do things I want to do, I suffer. These desires and aversions are particularly striking when we consider the proper care of the body.
There are some individuals who naturally prefer to do what is best for them. These individuals enjoy eating vegetables, exercise and sobriety. They may even bake cold green pea pies and expect people to be thrilled. Gandhi may have been one of these people. Gandhi’s recommendations concerning the care of the body are:
- Strict vegetarianism,
- Limited food intake,
- Regular fasting,
- Avoiding all alcohol and drugs,
- Regular exercise,
- Avoiding physicians and pharmacists.
While there may be individuals who enjoy these practices, they are difficult for many of us. These practices involve doing things we don’t always want to do and avoiding some of the things we enjoy. In some cases, Gandhi’s recommendations are contrary to best practices today. Certainly it would not be a good idea to recommend that people cease visiting physicians and taking prescribed medication.
Personally, I experience considerable suffering over some of these health practices. My preference is to drink scotch, smoke incessantly, have chocolate three times a day and sleep twelve hours a day. When bad habits create problems for me, which they do, I prefer to go to the Doctor and ask for a pill to help my acid indigestion, coughing, high sugar, etc. I actively dislike giving up the things I enjoy. My preferences is to behave badly without suffering any consequences. Karma being inexorable, unhealthy behavior leads to health issues. The only way to improve health is to practice healthy behavior. While I still have a long way to go towards practicing healthy behavior, I am proud of the fact that I no longer drink, use mind altering substances or smoke. Giving up these behaviors was very difficult for me. If you are the only one leaving your yoga class for a cigarette, I can relate to you. As One Republic says so eloquently, “everything that kills me makes me feel alive.”
Everyone has different ideas about what constitutes healthy behavior. While avoiding physicians may have been Gandhi’s idea of healthy behavior, your may be very different. For myself, I would define the following as healthy behaviors:
- Eat some vegetables,
- Drink some water instead of always drinking Mountain Dew,
- Practice yoga every day,
- Avoid exercises that cause pain,
- Take medication as prescribed,
- Try to keep semi-regular hours,
- Meditate daily,
- Laugh as often as possible.
Now it is your turn. What do you consider to be essential elements of your self-care? Every person has a different body with different needs. Care of the body at twenty can be very different from care of the body at sixty or eighty. Knowing that there will be consequences for each of our behaviors, consider what consequences you want and what behaviors might lead to those consequences. Meditate on the question of what your body needs and does not need. When you are done, it is important not to use the list to torture yourself. Use your meditation to increase your awareness of your behaviors not to create stress. Keep in mind that stress isn’t good for you either and that laughter is the best medicine.
Gandhi, M. (2012). Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, N.Y., N.Y: Renaissance Classics
- Read more of Laura Hansen.
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