According to some Daoist philosophies, we are made up of three distinct yet interrelated bodies. The physical body, the energetic body and the consciousness or mental body. If these three bodies are all in balance, the individual is in balance. If any one of these bodies is out of balance or if one body is held as more important than the other two, then the individual is out of balance.
Of these three the one we in the West pay the most attention to, some may say we are obsessed with, is the physical body. This is of course the bones, muscles, organs, and all the complex systems of the body that can be seen and examined. To say we pay attention to this body is not to say we have a healthy attitude toward it. On the contrary our approach to the physical body could easily be described as neurotic. We tend to be either overweight or underweight, super fit or completely unfit. We as a society are obsessed with the way we look and yet seem to have very little concern for our health. When we focus exclusively on the physical body by engaging in standard resistance and cardio training, ignoring the energetic and consciousness bodies, we can become inflexible in our physical body as well as fundamentalist in our thinking. Energy is unable to flow through tight restricted muscles so pain in the muscles and joints is common and injuries occur.
If I am thirsty I think, “Pick up that glass of water.” This causes neurons to fire in my brain which sends a signal through my Central Nervous System and out to my arm causing the muscles to move, and I pick up the glass of water. The ancient Daoists called this energy that animates our muscles qi. Today scientists call it bioelectricity. There is a system of meridians or lines of energy or qi that traverse our physical bodies. These along with three energy centers called dan tiens and various cavities or points make up the Chinese version of the energetic body. In India there is a very similar system. The lines of energy are called nadis, qi is prana, and the chakras are the rough equivalent of the dan tiens and cavities. In both traditions our bodies are surrounded by energy called Wei Qi or Guardian Qi in China and the Subtle Body or the Aura in the Indian system. These meridians distribute qi throughout the body as well as feed qi to the organs.
Blockages can develop within the energetic body when we ignore it. When qi is blocked it pools and becomes stagnant much like water does when it can’t move. This can cause some organs to be flooded with qi which will “burn them out” while other organs are starved of qi. Blockages in the meridian system will also cause pain in the physical body. When we are in pain or poor health our thinking can become very narrow and inward directed.
Finally the consciousness body consists of our mind. The mind is a tool meant to transfer information from the physical body (the senses) to our true self. The soul, Buddhanature, or whatever your tradition calls that part of us. The trouble is the mind begins to form opinions about what it sees. It likes this but hates that. That man looks dangerous, that woman seems nice. All these thoughts, whether they are what we would call negative or positive, begin to cloud our vision. We are unable to see clearly when our minds are constantly thinking and jumping from one thing to the next. If our thinking isn’t clear, we can’t direct our qi to the area we need it to be.
Another unfortunate habit the mind develops is to live in the past or the future. Regretting what happened yesterday or worrying about what will happen in the future causes a great deal of stress which will adversely affect the physical body.
So it’s easy to see how these three bodies are interrelated. Trouble with one will have an adverse affect on the other two, while working to bring one into balance will help bring the others into balance as well. Of course by bringing all three into balance,we bring our whole being into balance, which is our purpose in this life.
Some strength training for the physical body, qigong, flexibility and mobility exercises for the energetic body, and meditation for the consciousness body, when practiced in a balanced and well thought out program will bring us to that place.