Friday, April 22, 2011

Mind Matters Most

Today one of our homework assignments is to write an essay on the statement "Mind Matters Most", so I'm knocking out two things by posting it as my blog today as well :)

The expected route is to tie this statement into yoga and talk about how your mind is what allows/limits your body's movement and when your mind is unfocused your breath/movement suffers and so on and so forth. But since I have written lots of previous blogs on these topics, I think I am going to go a different direction. Instead, let's compare and contrast two extremes unrelated to yoga....or are they?

My grandma was an amazing lady. She came over from Slovakia as a child and doted on being a wife, mother and grandmother. Her family meant everything to her. She never held a job that I knew of, but slaved for weeks before any holiday to celebrate in true Slavic style - meaning miles of food (and butter!) and rooms crowded full of relatives. She would teach us children some Slovak (jeden, dve, tri, styri, pat...) and tell us stories from her childhood. She lived for family.

Then it all changed. I am not sure how fast it happened - being so young I am sure my parents tried to hide it from us for quite a while. But I will never forget the time we visited her and she no longer knew who I was. I learned a big word that day - Alzheimer's. Something had come in and stolen the very essence of my grandmother - her mind. At first, it was her memories. Than one Christmas she couldn't remember how to unwrap a gift. Her body was still healthy, but her mind floated in and out of recognition of the life she once lived. I remember witnessing random moments of clarity, when she suddenly remembered something. It was almost worse because of the intense sadness she felt in those moments, knowing what was happening to her.

On the extreme opposite, is a man I am sure everyone has heard of - Stephen Hawking. Having lived a fairly normal childhood, he was diagnosed at 21 with Motor Neurone Disease (a form of ALS). This meant as the years went by, his mind stayed clear while his body deteriorated. Slowly his entire body worked itself into full paralysis and pneumonia even stole his ability to speak. Yet he used technology to overcome this physical handicap. His mind not only remained cognizant, but continued to sharpen as his body went the other direction. He is an esteemed author, professor, and researcher. His efforts have greatly advanced his field of physics. He is a certified Mensa genius as well as a husband and father. All of this accomplished without a working body.

Putting these two extremes side by side, I believe that Mind does indeed matter most. Your mind holds your memories. It gives you your opinions and connects you to other people. Without it, you become a shell.  Yet, so many people put priority on their physical body over their mind because it is something tangible they can touch. People take time to exercise and diet so they look good on the outside, yet can't imagine stopping to meditate for 20 minutes ("I don't have time for that!"). They let their mind get stressed - saying "no" to  something isn't an option. In a previous blog, To Scratch or Not To Scratch, I even found a study showing that just going through life with your brain on autopilot instead of actively engaging it can be a leading factor in Alzheimer's later in life. But to most people, their mind is just their mind - they either don't care or don't know they can proactively do things to make it healthier.  If they did, meditation, yoga and the like would be in every school and blasted from every billboard.

Take a moment to think about the above examples, and decide for yourself: does mind truly matter most? If you believe it does, what are you going to do to keep it nurtured and healthy in the coming years?

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