Is Your Body a Temple, a Vehicle or a Wonderland?

Who are you? Who are you? It's a question for more than a caterpillar in Wonderland. As humans, we spend a lot of time finding ourselves. We want to know who we really are, both alone and in relation to others. We want to know what it really means to be a "you"--a unique inner self. And how is that "you" contained within your body?

Throughout recorded history, the sense of self has been a central question of philosophy, science and religion. How does the self, or soul, live in the body? Can it live on without the body?

In hatha yoga, one of the six branches of yoga, the body is considered a vehicle for the soul. Practice of physical poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama) and meditation is thought to balance the body and mind/soul connection to bring health and harmony.

Christianity also separates the body and soul, or perhaps even the body, soul and spirit. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the Bible goes as far as to say your body is the "temple of the Holy Spirit" and not your own.

More secular ideas about health and well-being also embrace this idea of separation, somewhat conflating the two philosophies to say that your body is your temple. It is where "you" live and should be kept healthy so "you" can live a long, productive life.

But is this body/soul separation necessary?

Philosophers, neuroscientists and even quantum physicists have weighed in on the potential existence of a soul that is separate from the body. Some scientists even hope to find a way that you could live without your body by transferring your brain into a computer.

Sebastian Seung, an MIT Professor of Computational Neuroscience, takes an interesting look at "self" in his book, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. He explains how our unique identities may be formed in the patterns of connections between our brain's neurons. Which would account for a "soul" that is not separate at all.

These discussions are fascinating, but they are far from definitively settling the matter.

For the moment, forget religion, philosophy and science. Let's look at this from a simple, secular commonsense notion. Does it help us to think of our bodies as a temple or vehicle for our true selves? On the surface, it's a nice idea. If it makes it easier to skip the junk food and exercise regularly, then that's great.

Personally, I think it's more powerful to think of "me" and my body as one. My body is not my home, my body is me. My personality and sense of self is shaped by my life experiences and by the sensations I continuously perceive throughout my body.

My thoughts may be nothing more than activity within my brain, but could I really be "me" without my body? If my consciousness lived in a computer, without my mortality and physical sensations, would I inevitably become a different person?

More importantly, if we let go of the idea of self (mind, soul, etc.) as a separate entity residing within the body, does it become easier to nurture both mind and body as equal priorities?

By not separating my mental, emotional and physical needs, I feel more compelled to take care of my whole self. To eat healthy food, sleep, meditate, exercise, create, learn, socialize and explore. If my body is me, it's easier to see how healthy living supports a stronger, happier "me" and how mental and emotional balance supports my physical health.

For me, the idea that my very identity--my self, my "soul"--is created within the function of my body is amazingly beautiful. If anything, it makes the human body seem even more like a Wonderland.


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