Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Celebrate with me at YogaYoga January 1, 2017 at 10am. This class commemorates Sahasrara, or Crown chakra. Come if you know nothing about yoga or everything or anywhere in between – this class is welcoming everyone.
Sahasrara marks my interest in the neurology of yoga. Your body does NOT have a mind of its own. Your body has Your mind. People are mind-bodies. Muscle control comes from where? Your brain. Every action is created by thought. Every thought creates an action. (Believe it or not.) Large actions are easy to recognize: jumping when frightened. Others actions exist even if I’m not aware of them. Thinking of them as “reactions” just expands the spurious dichotomy between mind and body. Re-member. Pulling my hand away from a hot plate is an “action.” An immediate one at that. The brain is moving the hand, or more succinctly: my brain is moving my hand. We are sentient bodies.
Bodies have the appearance of separation from mind because I don’t spend my waking life thinking about breathing, writing or reading. These things evidently just “happen” like speaking a language fluently or walking. They’ve been going on so long I tend to forget all of that is learned behavior. Go visit a friendly baby if you don’t believe me. I swear I don’t make this shit up. Babies learn to arc their backs like little airplanes – this is an attempt to coordinate control which will later facilitate sitting, standing and crawling. Habits may feel automatic, but they were all learned once upon a time. We can learn ‘most anything we set our mind to – if you know what I mean.
Because of our lengthy dependency period human development remains tinted by those we were dependent on. I mean if you have parents who tied you to chair for your childhood the damage done to your brain function is profound. Same for children who had no one speak to them. Feral children do not have idyllic lives like Mowgli in the Jungle Book. They suffer horrifically. While in some ways they may seem more “free,” able to masturbate or defecate without shame in public, in most ways they are horribly stunted. Our quirks are not the fault of our well-meaning loving parents so much as the effect. I mean this in the most un-moralistic way. The effects on bodies from family is entirely obvious even to an untrained eye.
Go to any soccer field and observe the posture of a family unit. Everything from gait to stance apparently passes through generations. Handwriting. Vocal inflection. Even subtler truths may be discovered. The very “nice” girl who seems to be so well-adjusted? She, who turns out to have ulcers or anxiety or depression? I posit anxiousness comes from habitual patterns, neurological connections formed in childhood. When parents tolerate nothing less than “nice” what is a poor dependent child to do besides suck-it-up? This habit of denial-of-self has to go somewhere. The stress of not expressing heart-felt emotions turns into a persistent malfunction.
Spoiler alert: despite this, you can still change your mind. Just maybe not in the way you imagined. For example, perhaps I realize the reason I eat is because I am unhappy. Instead of feeling freed by this information, from the compulsion to over eat, I feel guilty, sad, and a bit of a failure for still struggling so against the overwhelming desire to eat. Intelligence is not enough. Pointing to the faucet won’t turn the water off. Turning the faucet to closed requires getting to the root of my unhappiness. When the unhappy issue is addressed, resolved, soothed, the smooth muscle tissue ceases to excite. No more heart pounding, stomach churning, blood boiling discomfort. No need to eat and dilute the system externally. Internal control has been regained.
Nice, but what does this have to do with yoga?
The regular habit of paying attention, deep, conscious thoughtful attention to movement reminds me of my own powerful cortical control. Cortical control is the headquarters for a purpose driven life. Don’t treat your “self” as if you are at the mercy of your failing body. Your body IS you. People, when they put their minds to it, have amazingly, surprisingly deep control of their body functions. You may never get to the level of professional athlete, dancer, or swami, but the good news is, you don’t need to. You can still pay attention enough to lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and drama, create healthy habits all by incorporation.
For example? Take “easy” pose, sukhasana. Sit still. I ask people and observe one out of ten people will immediately start wiggling or stretching when asked to sit still. Not because they are deaf but because they don’t even know what “still” is. They are functionally disassociate from their own bodies. Nine out of ten are evidently motionless. However, beneath the skin movement continues. One can never really be still without being dead. When subtle awareness ensues we become cognizant of how far we have to go with moving into stillness. I’m quite sure smokers who felt their own lungs would wish to quit. Too bad they don’t feel their own lungs unless they are coughing. That’s a shame.
We are all somatically amnesiac to some extent. Somatic amnesia keeps “nice” girls nice. Keeps drama queens busy. Keeps drinkers, drinking. They’d rather die than say “no.” Many of them do. But once people start paying attention, sitting still, noticing their lungs, their livers, their hearts – some of ’em realize they want more out of life. They start to relate with honesty to themselves. Instead of considering their ulcer-ridden body as a nuisance, they begin to incorporate their body as part of themselves. People who care, really care about themselves start getting persnickety about what they are willing to do. Being cognizant of our own potency makes us more considerate of what we do to others, especially children. We need to express ourselves, yes, but not shit on other people, not exploit, not abuse.
The gift of being cognizant is expanding choice. I observe that most people who are doing poorly are not failing because of poor choices so much as inability to perceive what all their available choices are.
Getting back to yoga: if trikonasana awakens an awareness of the connection between my left hip and my right shoulder I now have two choices in this dimension. I can continue to strain at my left hip or I can adjust my right shoulder. Voila! In three-dimensional space the choices multiply geometrically. By moving my body purposefully in unusual ways I continue waking up somatic intelligence. My body’s intelligence is My intelligence. Think of it as opening Pandora’s box. Once out the knowledge won’t go back in. The most vibrant memories are evoked by smell, but postural memories are pretty damn close.
Memories once faced can be processed, can be used to our advantage. We can make sense of them, and not be governed or tyrannized by them. If this seems ridiculously arcane don’t worry about it. In an average class I’ll never ask you to do anything but yoga. My point is, and I do have one, the yoga is going to work you – whether you believe it or not.
Now y’all play nice!