It’s pretty clear that keeping the body flexible is important but it seems we don’t place as much importance on keeping the mind flexible. I believe this is because for most of us the application is not clear.
The mind appears to be less tangible than the body. You can’t physically touch it or move it. However, we can manipulate and mold it.
As does the body so does the mind. When your body is so tight you can’t move your mind begins to take on those same patterns. This begins to limit your thinking and your ability to respond. As you age this becomes more apparent and staying flexible becomes even more important.
Your ability to respond physically and mentally can prevent injury. When your body is flexible you’re able to respond with greater fluidity to physical stressors, diverting or challenging the tension or resistance to the appropriate places. This is due, in part, to greater freedom in the joints.
The same holds true for your mind. When your mind is fluid and flexible it can respond to situations and interactions with others with the potential for more and greater possibilities. This tends to free up the physical, mental and emotional response.
Before I got deep into yoga and tai chi most of my physical training was bodybuilding. I enjoyed it and still do on occasion. During this time though I wasn’t balancing it with any relaxation and flexibility training. This left me with some really tight and eventually injured shoulders, low back, hips and knees.
What’s also interesting is that during this time I would get stuck in “thinking ruts.” What I mean by this is I would draw conclusions and generate assumptions. I would see limited possibilities and usually these possibilities didn’t have the best outcome. This would send me into a stressful downward spiral that would often lead to sleepless nights and nose bleeds.
What came first? Did the stiff and stagnant thinking lead my body to only enjoy the tension-generating practice of bodybuilding or did the tension that bodybuilding cultivated lead to the stiff and stagnant thinking? I’m not sure. My guess is they were drinking from the same well.
Yoga and tai chi were two of the practices that helped and continue to help shift my way of thinking. The effectiveness of these two systems is due to the focus on creating flexibility in the body as well as the mind.
In addition to the physical practice, yoga and tai chi have a philosophical backbone. This can often be overlooked and undervalued but in order to really appreciate and benefit from one aspect you need the other. They work synergistically; you work on the body, you on work the mind, and vice versa.
If you’ve practiced yoga, especially on a somewhat regular basis, you’ve more than likely experienced the state of relaxation that occurs in the body and the peace this brings to the mind. This state creates an imprint that, if cultivated, we can recall in moments when we’re stressed.
The philosophy works in a similar way. We’re exposed to ideas. If these ideas resonate with you they can begin to shift the way you experience your situation by shifting the way you view yourself, others and the world. This starts as a glimpse into a possibility or an experience of another state of being.
With continued imprinting this state is cultivated and the possibility begins to be experienced as a reality.
Here are a few of my favorite book that might help in this process.
Tao Te Ching: Text Only Edition
by Lao Tsu et al.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Inner Engineering: A Yogi's Guide to Joy
The Alchemist 1st Edition
by Coelho, Paulo 
The challenge is to then bridge the gap between the mind, body and subconscious. This takes effort. The effort is subtle. It is placing a pause between the stimulus and your normal response and inserting a relaxed body and a mind capable of choosing something different.
Bruce Lee said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”. Exposing yourself to various teachings and digesting the ideas combined with participating in the physical practices, cultivating a relaxed and subtle body, is just one aspect of the equation.
To bring this into our lives we must break the habit. We must take action when the moment is called. This action is less physical and more emotional. We must put a pause between the stimulus of our situation and our normal reaction. This takes effort.
Anyone who has small kids understands this. Once a temper tantrum starts it’s hard to get them to change trajectories. The mind and the body want to continue down the same path. You have to create a completely different stimulus. One that has much greater joy and excitement that will divert their attention.
The same holds true for us. The challenge is we have to act as our own parent. That “higher self or state” within us has to place the pause between the stimulus and our normal response in the moment. Then we must shift our attention to the possibility of another choice, another way of viewing the situation.
The goal is to stop the conditioned reaction and replace it with a conscious response. This takes a relaxed body and mind, and the realization that this process can take place and lead to a new possibility, a new way.
The ideas in the books I listed above and the physical practices mentioned in this article introduce this new way. They mostly point to following a natural path, finding the flow or learning to resist less (more to come on this!).
I hope this is helpful. Please leave comments below and reach out!