Evolution and the Yogi

There’s one thing I can say about all your direct ancestors without even having met them: None of them died sterile. To be your direct ancestor they had some kids, at least one who had some kids who ended up having you on down the line. Thank these people for your genetics – your predisposition toward hyper extending your elbows or knees, the length of your femur, the space between your eyes. A surprising number of traits are genetic.

A friend of mine never met his mother’s side of the family until after his father had passed away. These people were at odds with his father because his mother had died in childbirth. His mother died giving birth to him! So he really never even knew her. Upon meeting his relatives for the first time in his mid-60’s he was amazed at how easily he slid into familiarity and comfort. “It was like I had known them all my life,” he reported. “They had my same sense of humor, they even used some of the same phrases I use.”

In studying “altruism” in animals scientists discovered that animals (and people) are more likely to help others at their own expense when the “other” is related to them. The more closely related, the more altruistic animals and people are, i.e. a parent will aid a child sooner than a brother or sister. And an uncle will help a nephew sooner than a cousin, as it is a closer genetic relationship – and across the board relatives help each other more often than they help strangers in the animal kingdoms and human world alike.

This is rough news for people who don’t get along with their spouse’s children from a previous relationship, or those of you who aren’t too crazy about your in-laws. But we’re people right? We’re “supposed” to be above these million years of evolution – right? Well, are we or aren’t we? Seems like it’s been about two thousand years of religious leaders telling us to “Play Nice!” So Why hasn’t racism been eradicated? In two thousand years of breeding dogs we’ve created a thousand breeds, breeding out tons of unwanted traits. So why hasn’t sexism been eradicated? Why can’t we evolve out the ugliness from human nature?

I suppose even yogis are not immune from the perils of evolution. Say what?? Seriously. I suppose even yogis, who walk on water and hold their breath for eight days, I suppose even yogis are not immune from the perils of evolution. Let’s say for example you slow down your breath enough to handle the stress of driving in a car at 65 miles an hour, something that would have had your ancestors throwing up out the side window. But now what? Now the number of cars had increased to the point where a vehicle on the 405 goes no faster than a horse and cart traveled in 1910.

Where’s your pranayama now? If your stress level increases every time you increase your ability to handle stress that’s a lot of running just to stay in the same space. Maybe one yoga class isn’t going to be enough. Maybe this is going to have to become a regular practice. What’s that going to do? Your body will evolve. Gentle yoga and level one are fine to start but even a restorative yoga class can kick up the challenge. Don’t get stuck! Keep growing your knowledge.

Kaizen is a cool Japanese word meaning continuous improvement. As a half Japanese person I can honestly say I have a love hate relationship with this culture. It is ironically steeped in tradition, yet a world innovator in electronics and design. Loyalty is a virtue in Japanese culture but shaming is rampant. grrr. Culture is a work in progress. Kaizen it is. Start from a tradition of doing things well, with beautiful presentation and go from there.

Find Peace through Evolution! The best is yet to come.