Overall, Americans are not in a great state of health. One of the contributing factors is that most people link health exclusively to the physical body. While the physical body is important, when we only associate health with our physical body, we fail to recognize other factors that contribute to our overall well-being.
Most ancient cultures pointed to a connection between body, mind, and spirit and recognized that each composed a part of the whole. Now, integrative medicine and health psychology are beginning to recognize that health is influenced not only by the physical body but the spiritual, mental, and emotional bodies, too. Your health is dependent on all four facets, as opposed to just one of the four. Building onto this concept, your overall health is also influenced by a trickle-down effect: The physical body is affected by our emotions, our thoughts direct how we feel, and our energy level sways our mind and our thoughts. Let’s get more specific on the details of each body and the practices you can follow to maintain their health.
The Spiritual Body
The spiritual body is your connection to energy. For some, this may be more closely tied to religion than spirituality. For others, it could have more to do with the atoms in the body or the quantum energy that science refers to. Whichever way you choose to view the source of your energy is perfect.
Energy trickles down from the spiritual body, from source, or the universe and first enters into the mental body. To fully access the spiritual aspect of your being, maintain a daily practice (see below) that keeps this connection open. If a blockage occurs, energy and information are unable to flow freely from the spiritual body down through the mental, emotional, and physical bodies. This is why a daily spiritual or religious practice is so important to maintain this open connection. To be in a state of harmony between each of the layers of our being, we need to develop our intuition and spirituality as much as we do our mind and emotions to create a solid physical foundation.
Practices for the Spiritual Body:
- Practice meditation daily
- Learn to work with energy (through practices such as Huna, Reiki, chi gong, and acupuncture) as a way to keep the energy channels open
- Study consciousness, religion, or philosophy
- Attend a silent retreat to deepen your connection to Self
The Mental Body
On a surface level, the mental body is your thoughts. On a deeper level, it is the domain of your beliefs, desires, values, and goals. Beliefs are opinions and convictions that we hold as being true without having immediate proof. Values represent what we hold internally as most important in an area of life. Values and beliefs can come from thoughts that were formed very early in childhood.
We all have desires to achieve or acquire something in our lives, which is why we set goals and intentions to help us get where we want to go. Some surface-level thoughts, which may create goals or desires, direct our mental focus from moment to moment. This is how our logical, linear minds learn and operate, and it is one of the aspects of ourselves that is most familiar to us.
As energy comes down from the spiritual into the mental body, if you are operating primarily from the mind, there will be a disconnection in the flow. This exists a lot in our society today—the mind being the predominant force—and this imbalance can keep us stuck in a perpetual state of thinking, strategizing, plotting, and doing, doing, doing. An open spiritual connection enables us to access higher levels of energy, which the mental body can effectively utilize to make balanced, wise choices that unfold more potential for us and everyone else involved.
Practices for the Mental Body:
- Set goals
- Get a coach or mentor to keep you focused on your goals
- Daily Recapitulation
- Continue your education (e.g., read books or take classes)
- Eliminate stressors from your life
The Emotional Body
Your emotional body is comprised of all your past, present, and future emotional experiences. It is the aspect of us that houses emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt, resentment, jealousy, and shame. Whenever we have an experience, it generates feelings that are associated with past similar experiences, and we develop a label to identify the emotion. Emotions and memories are categorized and stored, and they influence how we respond to experiences in the moment.
As energy flows down from the mental body into the emotional body, it can bump into stored baggage from the past and create some turbulence. Stored baggage can come from past fears, which can project into the future and cause anxiety. Or, it can come from experiencing a lot of anger or resentment toward someone, which can cause anger or resentment later in life when the same thing happens with a different person. You may even develop a belief that all people are this way.
When there is excess baggage, thoughts from the mental body will generate emotional stress that trickle down and affect the physical body. A person with overwhelming stress will, at some point, experience physical symptoms because of the mind-body connection. According to an article published by Harvard, research shows that negative emotions can harm the body and happiness is linked to overall physical well-being.
This is why it is imperative to develop emotional intelligence and to adopt practices to have a more positive outlook on life, both mentally and emotionally. When our thoughts are more optimistic, our emotional states will be more positive, and when our emotional states are balanced, our physical bodies will be healthier.
Practices for the Emotional Body:
- Self-reflect (journal about your experiences and how they made you feel)
- Practice forgiveness (toward yourself and other people)
- Deepen your connection with others
- Spend time cultivating gratitude for the gifts and opportunities you’ve been given
- Practice Mental and Emotional Release® Techniques
The Physical Body
Your physical body is the reflection and total sum of all aspects of who you are. It is a barometer that indicates how things are going in all areas, and it also provides the musculoskeletal structure and vital tissues and organs that carry you through this life.
Exercise and healthy eating are typically what come to mind when most people think about physical health. However, your exercise of choice isn’t the only thing to consider when striving for good physical health. We all know people who have clean eating habits and are physically fit, but who carry excessive mental and emotional stress, which can wear on their health. While it may not be immediately recognizable, chronic stress takes a tremendous toll on the physical body. Stress occurs when our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical needs are not being met. Stress triggers the fight-flight response, which is a survival mechanism that is hard-wired into our DNA. It is how our physiology prepares to respond to potentially life-threatening events. When this response is triggered repeatedly it creates wear and tear on the physical body.
Health is much more than just the absence of disease. True health comes when we are able to create harmony between each of the four bodies. Our physical body is our foundation in this life. It is what everything else is built upon. But, it is equally important to exercise each of the other three bodies on a regular basis to maintain harmony. We need to establish our own individual health, fitness, and wellness regimens. Fortunately, integrative medicine and integrative psychology are both on board with this and many healthcare systems are beginning to incorporate options that support this.
Practices for the Physical Body:
- Move your body (practice strengthening, lengthening, and balancing)
- Prepare fresh, organic meals and pre-plan for healthy away-from-home snacks
- Get plenty of restful sleep
- Receive regular massages
- Spend time in nature
Taking time to carefully tend to ourselves as a whole can open energy channels. These open, clear connections equate to active energy flow through all the layers of our being, which creates a spiritually connected, mentally stimulated, emotionally centered, vibrant life. At the end of the day, we are all seeking more happiness, connection, joy, health, and fulfillment. Finding ways to exercise each of your four bodies regularly will help you to cultivate more of what you seek.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.