A criticism leveled at the paleo diet also applies to one spiritual practice in particular:
Paleo dieters aim to eat only the foods that man would have eaten some thousands of years ago, before, most especially, industrial farming. However, the beef we eat today may not be much like the beef of a thousand years ago. Fed on soy and corn (with the exception of those on some organic farms), the cow of today doesn’t necessarily resemble the roaming bovines of antiquity. The same can be said for most fruits and vegetables.
The paleo dieter might rebut such criticism by pointing out that his aim is to stay away from foods that, until relatively recently, were not part of our diet: refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, non-organically grown vegetables, etc. We have to begin where we are.
Likewise, many spiritual practitioners like to believe that their practice is ancient and authentic. I have heard Qabalists, for example, claim that Qabalah is older than religion, and it is typical to hear that this what Jesus studied — with the obvious implication that they are cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source. I’ve also heard one runic practitioner claim that runes are primordial.
The practice that I want to think about here is the cultivation of subtle energy: Kundalini/chakra meditation, Taoist inner alchemy, Chi Gong, or perhaps even Israel Regardie’s Middle Pillar exercise.
Such practices were designed for those with bodies quite different to our own, it turns out. We’ve already remarked that the food we eat is very different to that of, say, a thousand years ago. Today, “Nearly two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese,” claims the American Diabetes Association. (To be clear, I’m not making a moral point. If someone is obese but knows the health risks and is happy with the way they look (and feels that their body shape really expresses who they are) then I have nothing to offer them. It’s not my call. (Our obsession with low-fat diets tends to suggest that this is generally not the case, however.))
Another change over the last few decades concerns men — and it’s this that I’m going to focus on. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, and reported on by Healio (a website for health practitioners),”during the past two decades, testosterone levels in American men have rapidly declined.” On average, a 60-year-old man today has less testosterone than a 60-year-old man of a decade ago. The same goes for men of other ages, as well.
Testosterone affects more than sexual drive. Hair, skin, bone, and fat burning are all affected by the level of testosterone in a man’s body. “Loss of confidence,” “lack of motivation,” “feelings of sadness,” and less “ability to concentrate” can all occur when testosterone is low, says Healthline.
From my own experience, it is easy to manifest subtle energy, and to have the most extraordinary experiences with it, in young manhood. Relative health, strength, and vitality are factors, as is, no doubt, the hormonal explosion in the body of late teens (which is when I first started practicing Kundalini/chakra meditations).
I’ve also found that when I’m training my body, subtle energy is much stronger too. Muscle and Chi work together. The body is an alchemical laboratory, transforming food, air, and water into muscle, bone, brain, hormones, etc. As noted, testosterone is an important part of that.
In our anti-body age — in which we regard the physical as a “social construct” or want to “upload” our consciousness to achieve “digital immortality” — some self-professed practitioners will deny any relationship between the body and inner energy. But Kundalini is associated with Tantra (and “Tantric sex”) just as Chi Gong is frequently associated with Chinese martial arts. And it is clear that there is a relationship between the positions of the chakras and various glands in the body (e.g., pineal and thyroid). Hormones and Chi may also work together — at a minimum, Chi being able to inhabit and flow through the body with much greater ease if the body is healthy (with optimal hormonal levels).
Train The Body For Meditation:
Just as we need to select our food for nutrition, and to avoid consuming pesticides so, before we start more subtle practices, we have to train our bodies to bring them up to the baseline of healthy men (or women, for female practitioners) of the past. To let the physical body decline in health and then to meditate on stimulating inner energy is not a recipe for success. You wouldn’t cook rotten meat or vegetables and think it nutritionally valuable. The decline in testosterone in men over the decades means that the body is not prepared properly for Kundalini or other such internal energy practices.
It’s good to cultivate subtle energy. But it’s essential to have physical energy first. If you’re wheezing climbing a flight of stairs, you need to fix your physical health first. Spiritual practice shouldn’t be mental trick for you to pretend your above that sort of thing — that you’re a mind, not a body.
The decline in testosterone in men means that any man with an internal energy practice, or a spiritual practice or any sort, should work to increase their testosterone first, and, in conjunction with their spiritual practice, should work to keep it at an optimal level.
Testosterone can be increased with a combination of proper nutrition, physical training, and adequate rest. (And rest is a major factor. We like to feel that by cutting our sleep short we’re showing dedication, but, actually, we’re just stressing our body and causing the opposite effect to what we want.)
I suggest you get a physical trainer or join a martial arts class. But even with ten minutes of strength training a day, you can achieve a lot — especially in comparison to not doing anything for years.
Check with your trainer and doctor and do not go crazy. You don’t want to push yourself so far that you injure yourself.
Getting into a routine is what counts. Do some planks, some squats some push-ups and other basic exercises. Then rest. If you can only manage one good push-up, after a few weeks you’ll be able to manage ten. Maybe ten push-ups won’t change the world. But we have to begin where we are, not stop where we were.
In the West, spiritual practitioners have come to think of the body as dirty and not essential. Their routine is may include meditation, but it nearly always includes chugging down beer or other alcohol, eating bad food, and not looking after the body.
If you’re serious about the spiritual, I suggest you get serious about the physical. An hour of training in a martial arts class or with a personal trainer will affect your mind and spirit more than an hour of meditation (though you should meditate too).
If you have any kind of subtle energy practice, you need to develop a gross energy practice: find a trainer or a martial arts school and get into a physical routine.
If you’re a man who claims to be “alchemically transforming” your body, cut out the alcohol, the junk food, and the pre-packaged food, and work on raising your testosterone to an optimal level.
Samsara is Nirvana, say the Buddhists. If you feel spiritual, you should feel physical.