When your body, mind and spirit are in harmony, an intrinsic sense of well-being permeates the totality of your existence.
However, this harmony of self is a perpetual balancing act.
Neglect any layer of yourself and the others become compromised as well. Think of yourself as a bicycle. Your physical and mental health are the two tires and your spirit is the handle bars, or steering system. If you neglect one of the tires, your bike will undoubtedly be compromised. If you neglect your steering system, sure you might move quickly, but there’s no control of direction or any purpose to the movement.
The body, of course, gets the most attention, as it’s the most tangible and measurable aspect of self.
When it comes to the body, it’s a balance between accepting your unique physicality and not being complacent. For example, the obese person who claims to be fine the way they are is delusionally complacent. While the fitness model who thinks they’re out of shape is delusionally unaccepting of themself.
Ultimately, achieving mind-body-spirit harmony boils down to this: Whatever makes you genuinely happy and enables you to make the most out of life.
What Happiness Isn’t: The Fitness Fanatic
You’re not genuinely happy if you’re posting pictures of your ass on Instagram every day, fishing for compliments. That’s extreme attachment to the body and essentially pimping it out for external ego-validation.
You’re not genuinely happy if you have anxiety over “hitting your macros” every meal. That kind of obsession is a miserable existence. But to each their own; if someone wants to prioritize neurotic calorie-counting over peace of mind, that’s their choice.
I’m not saying that you can’t be a bodybuilder or a fitness model and be happy. You can. But it’s a balance. Also, especially when you’re doing something as your main source of income, you’re going to push beyond the point where it starts to intuitively feel not right for you.
I feel bad for all the Instagram fitness celebrities whose whole identity is wrapped up in the aesthetics of their body. I believe that everyone should optimize their body and health (because being obese isn’t the greatest version of yourself either), but to obsess over it is neurotic, egotistical and painfully vain.
In this phenomenal interview with former fitness model Madelyn Moon, she discusses that she always had a nagging feeling that her body was never good enough. She also candidly describes her state at the moment of all of the fitness pictures you’ll find of her online:
“In every one of those pictures you’re looking at the most anxious, depressed, bloated, gassy, miserable, angry person I’ve ever been.”
Is that your idea of a happy, fulfilling life?
What Happiness Isn’t: The Other Side of the Spectrum
You’re also not genuinely happy if you’re obese and your body isn’t functioning optimally.
The person who is obviously overweight and unhealthy and says “I like the way I am” is delusional. It’s the other side of the coin of delusion compared to the skinny person with body dysmorphia who sees themselves as fat. You certainly have to accept yourself wherever you are along your journey, but to use self-acceptance as an excuse for complacency is when things go downhill quickly. Essentially, self-love should act as the wind beneath your wings, carrying you along your journey of continuous improvement.
Are you able to perform normal human body functions? (Assuming you didn’t have some kind of accident that severely injured you.) Can you walk for long periods of time? Can you pick something up off of the ground without pain? Can you squat? Can you dance or jump for joy if you feel happy? Can you play with your children or grandchildren? If you can’t do these things without strain or pain, do you really think you’re making the most out of life?
While a society that projects images of sickly skinny, fake photo-shopped women creates a deep sense of inferiority in the average woman, the knee-jerk reaction to that dysfunctional propaganda (an overweight woman glamorizing eating a bag of chips like that’s “what’s really real”) is unhealthy, and a bad example, as well. Again, it’s all a balance.
What is “Overweight” Anyway?
All of these terms – fat, skinny, fit, overweight – are completely subjective! Remember that.
On top of subjectivity biases, classifications can be manipulative and deceptive. And they are heavily manipulated and manufactured because there are billions of dollars being made off of people feeling inferior (with women being subjected to this much more than men).
So don’t let a chart tell you what “normal” is. Don’t let the magazines tell you what an ideal body is. And certainly don’t judge it by weighing yourself either. Your weight is a combination of fat, muscle, bone, water, blood and everything else your body consists of; so it’s a poor measure of health or fitness.
A more accurate indicator is body fat percentage. Here’s a general guideline: for a male, everything (mind-body-spirit) will function optimally from about 8-18% body fat. For women, everything (mind-body-spirit) will function optimally from about 17-27% body fat. Remember, these are estimates (not rigid lines in the sand) of an optimal zone, where your body, mind and spirit are going to be most harmonious.
The ideal body fat percentage FOR YOU may be on the lower or higher end of the spectrum, depending on who you are, your age and what goals you have. Also, two people with the same body fat can look radically different based on how much muscle mass they have. So keep that in mind as well.
Here are two highly informative articles on body fat percentage:
Everything You Need to Know About Body Fat Percentage
Body Fat Pictures and Percentages
I would say that “overweight” is slightly different for everyone. One general indicator of this would be if your body fat is significantly higher than the percentages outlined above (18% for men and 27% for women). Another indicator would be when things start becoming compromised for you: hormonal health, cognitive function, mood, energy levels, sleep quality, ability to move, range of motion…etc. Note: Much of the same symptoms apply to being underweight as well.
The Fine Balance
Being relatively lean isn’t all about aesthetics either. Holding extra body fat comes with an exponential risk of various health conditions and most chronic diseases. Also, toxins are stored in fat cells, while muscle cells are cancer resistant, so keep that in mind as well.
It’s a balance…
Your hormones get out of whack when you’re too lean (extremely low body fat percentage) or you’re too skinny (lacking both fat and muscle). They also get out of whack when you’re overweight.
Your cognitive function gets compromised when you’re too lean or too skinny. It also gets compromised when you’re overweight.
Take an objective look at yourself, naked in the mirror. Can you do that? Do you like what you see?
Deep down, you know which side of the spectrum of delusion you’re on (if at all). Are you a woman who’s never skinny enough or a guy that’s never muscular enough? Stop using food/exercise to feed that compulsion and do some mental, emotional and spiritual work to love and accept yourself. Are you overweight but lying to yourself that you’re “average”? Shake yourself out of that delusion and do something to improve your health. Eat healthier and begin a simple exercise routine (nothing complicated) and you’ll find a sense of empowerment you’ve never felt before.
If you’re obsessed with diet, working out or how your body looks, chances are that you have some form of body dysmorphia and are viewing yourself through a skewed, overly-critical lens. And if you go out of your way to not think about diet or fitness, chances are that you’re more overweight than you’re letting yourself believe.
It is absolutely crucial to be able to view yourself without cognitive biases or egoic attachment.
Read this article for an in depth discussion on how to be more objective with yourself:
What are You Hiding From Yourself? 14 Ways to Discover Your Blind Spots
It’s also important to not be too critical and love yourself no matter what. If you’re obsessive about working out, you’re not loving yourself. If you’re eating fast food every day, you’re not loving yourself. That’s why I write so much about the inner work, because the ideal body is but a hollow shell without inner peace.
Most men will never look like Arnold Schwarzenegger and most women will never look like a Victoria’s Secret model, but everyone has an optimal version of themselves. And that optimal version is where the body, mind and spirit have a harmonious, seamless relationship.
So ask yourself: “Is this the optimal version of myself?”
There is a Goldilocks zone of leanness that harmonizes your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. You have to find your own balance, and that balance will be slightly different for each person.
You’ll never know your ideal balance if you stay in one box your entire life either. If you’ve been obsessed with fitness your whole life, ease up on your diet and workout routine and focus on other things (art, family, learning a new skill…etc.). Or if you’re on the other side of the spectrum and have been overweight and sedentary your whole life, try eating healthier and exercising a few times a week. You might find out that this lifestyle change might give you a level of happiness you never thought was possible beforehand.
Also, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re sacrificing. If you want to enjoy the taste of Twinkies every day, you’re going to sacrifice your physical and mental health (as well as any sliver of self-discipline). If you’re dieting down to 4% body fat for a bodybuilding contest, your mental/emotional health, hormonal state, relationships, and enjoyment of food will all take a backseat for the fulfillment of that goal.
Let’s look at primal attraction too. Relatively lean and curvy women are most attractive to men (not sickly skinny, not obese and not ripped with no curves). Athletic, relatively lean and muscular men are most attractive to women (not sickly skinny, not obese and not some colossal muscle ox). Sexual attraction has a lot to do with deep-rooted genetic components from our primal origins. A curvy woman would be more fertile and healthy. And an athletic man would be more able to provide and protect. Of course, we’re not relegated to rigid gender roles now but these factors still influence us on subsconscious levels. They also serve as hints regarding the physical state that best facilitates mind-body-spirit harmony.
Social Media = A Highlight Reel
At this point, most people know that the models in magazines and tv ads are photo-shopped and in depleted states during the photo shoots. But another important point to keep in mind is that social media is the highlight reel of people’s lives.
People only post the highlights of their life. Everyone’s profile picture is the absolute best looking photo of themself that they can find. Comparing yourself to others on social media is a rigged game, as it’s not a realistic depiction of most people’s day-to-day reality.
And why are you comparing in the first place? That’s your ego dragging you into its fear-based self-deceptions.
We need to learn how to celebrate our uniqueness and our personal journey into becoming the greatest version of ourselves.
Don’t be deceived, my mustache isn’t as cool as it looks here 😉
Being the Greatest Version of Yourself
I feel my best when I’m in a state similar to how I am right now. I’m relatively lean, I workout 4-5 times per week (and enjoy it) and I eat healthy for the most part (but I don’t obsess over what I eat). There’s no compulsion around my behaviors, and though I keep my body fit and healthy, I’m not obsessively attached to it.
If I were to let myself really slip and pack on body fat, my self-discipline and cognitive function would be compromised (along with all of the other downstream effects of holding extra fat). And lugging around the additional weight would be useless baggage that I’d rather not hold onto.
Or, on the other hand, if I went on a strict diet, worked out for hours every day and tried to get really lean, I wouldn’t be happy either (I’ve tried it).
I also accept the uniqueness of my body (it’s been a long time coming though). I’m hairy, and even when I’m lean, I look more like a viking than a fitness model. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve come to truly love this 1988 edition Stephen Parato. I keep it optimized, and in return, it’s the perfect vehicle to bring me on this road trip called life.
At the end of the day, your body is a vessel, a one-of-a-kind, custom-made flesh vehicle driven by your consciousness. Keep your vehicle healthy and make the most out of your road trip.
Love your vessel, but always remember who you really are.
– Stevie P!
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