One of the particular strengths of yoga and tai chi is the way that each helps us to become more consciously connected to the feeling mind, the part of us that tells us how we are feeling and often prompts us to do something about it. At its most basic, it tells us things like “drink some water, you’re thirsty” or “move that leg or it cramps up.” It is the sensing and motivating part, the purpose behind action or non-action.
If the feeling mind is about our needs and desires, the thinking mind is about our decisions, abstract ideas, creativity, and reasoning. It is the mind that makes plans, imagines, tells stories about the past and future, problem solves, and anticipates threats. It makes the plan to drink water or stretch the leg. It is the doing and creating part, taking action (or resisting action) in response to a purpose.
While the thinking mind and feeling mind are two sides of the same coin, we tend to privilege the thinking mind because we DO a lot in the modern world. Our schedules give us little time to pause and notice how we are feeling, what we need, and why we are doing what we are doing. As a result of this neglect of the feeling mind, we sometimes reach a point of pain or injury, like getting a headache because we didn’t have enough water, or a leg cramp from sitting at a desk too long. You can even imagine how the habitual neglect of the feeling mind could lead to chronic problems in the body, especially when coupled with stress from worrying about problems with the thinking mind. Neglecting our deeper emotions can create even more serious issues.
Practicing yoga, tai chi, and other mindfulness exercises can potentially help address this imbalance. Not only do they promote health, they also require an attention to the feeling mind in each posture or movement. Through this attention, we, as practitioners, can become more conscious of our bodies in daily life, learning to better address imbalances before they become problems–or to mitigate problems if they arise. We also learn to move the body in healthier ways and develop good enough posture to be still without creating undue stress on the body. Thus, the feeling mind can become wise and instructive, ideally leading to better self-care.
Additionally, when we take good care of the body, it becomes a more stable, comfortable platform for developing the feeling mind in meditation. Through meditation, we can settle the thinking mind for a time and allow the feeling mind to potentially recognize deeper needs and desires for what they are and develop insight into their origins. Ultimately, that insight can help us to recognize how the thinking mind should respond (or not respond) to our deeper feelings, which are less accessible than thirst or stiffness. At that level, we can potentially see what actions are worth taking and when simply feeling without reacting can lead to better outcomes.