Your Brain on Yoga


There is a happiness researcher.  Yes, there is.

It is his research at none other than Harvard University that has generated the relationship between certain rituals and a measurable increase in experiencing what we refer to as happiness.  Even more important is that it is provable(like with charts and numbers and empirical data)that happiness as referred to above results in functional advantages in energy, creativity and intelligence.  These advantages even show up in measurable ways on a bad day when you are stressed or struggling.

I have personally hoped for a pill or an injection as a punchline, but even better it turns out that our meditation and yoga practice takes us most of the way there.

Meditation is a key ingredient in delivering to your brain a juicy cocktail of joy.

Many ask me what is really meant by meditating.  It is fair to be confused because in yoga we meditate in motion and also in stillness.  In general, meditation is calming the mind to a state of ease and peace while continuing to be alert with a certain amount of awareness that is focused inward. It has been referred to as “thoughtless awareness”.
It is easier to know when it is over than when it is happening.

But, what happens in your brain can be measured there,  although the effects are total body.

Some important changes happen in the frontal lobe or cortex.  This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness in meditation it goes offline.  Practically, this helps you out of the planner loop.  The parietal lobe which processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space slows way down. This accounts for the lack of awareness of the passage of time.  Often when I teach meditation, a full hour will have passed but the students will feel like they just put their head down.

The thalamus, gatekeeper for the senses focuses your attention by drawing selected sensory response data deeper into the brain and in some way slowing the number of messages that get in.  Meditating dials back the arousal signals so what is urgent and heart pounding lands softly.

Meditation has also been shown to diminish age-related effects on gray matter and reduce the decline of our memory and actual cognitive function.

This, I suppose has become my pitch.  I have called my meditation class everything just to encourage the fearful, the disinterested the non-believers to try.  I think it is finally time to call it what it is; meditation.  So many people tell me they are not able to sit still.  The insist that others can but their special type of brain is not available for calm.  This drives me nuts.

Meditation is a skill.  It takes practice.  It is true that it is easier for some, but so is everything.  It doesn’t impress me to tell me that you are too busy to meditate or slow down.  I know extremely productive people and the most productive and accomplished among them, understands this…the human body and mind love and require stillness to function at their peak.

Physics teaches us that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.  It is within the capacity of a human to intend to adjust that.  There are many ways to get started.  Only some of them involve another person’s guidance.  I think you should handle this practice by understanding the way you like to take on a new skill.  Would it help you to have a teacher? Can you learn from internet tutorials? Would you like a class?

These are useful inquiries but I am going to give you the secret that will change the trajectory of your body currently in motion.  Ultimately, you will develop the skill of sitting still.  Do that.

A simple approach is to sit with your back supported in a comfortable seat.  Do not expect to sit in full lotus ommmmming to have the real experience.  That is not necessary and frankly, not possible for many.  Just sit.  Not with anything to do.  With nothing to do.  You may make that work for a few breaths and start to work out why this is not for you.  But you just got on the path.  From here you may simply begin by counting your breaths.  Finding the sound of them and listening for them and then counting them.  I am not advocating for any particular style of thoughtless awareness.  I am advocating for you.  This path to quiet and still will eventually call to you and when you have practiced you will gladly visit.  Until that day, take the body in motion and even if just for a breath or two; stop it.


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