Does yoga feel good? Do you feel good during the practice – moving your body through the bending, twisting, inverting etc.? Be honest. I mean, since you’re probably sore as hell the next morning … if you don’t feel good during the practice, why would you bother at all?
Now that I have a tad of strength in my arms and shoulders, I think I can say that, “yes” I do feel good and enjoy the practice … but usually just for the first 20 minutes or so before I start playing the frantic “just keep up with the instructor and hope for a break” game.
Some say that their good feelings come from the relaxed meditative state that yoga puts them in. Some folks just like to move their bodies and are attracted to the strange and exotic beauty of the postures. I always enjoy the music.
But where do these good feelings come from? Aren’t they just in my head? Do I really need to move my body to feel good? Why not just sit and breathe?
It turns out that there is a scientific theory on this topic. The so-called Somatic markers hypothesis that suggests that afferent feedback from the body to the brain is necessary for generating our feelings. For example, stimulation of the vagus nerve (aka Kundalini serpent) makes us feel good, while individuals with spinal cord damage who lack afferent input from the body reportedly have blunted emotions.
In his research review article, Human feelings: why are some more aware than others? [doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.04.004] Dr. Bud Craig from the Barrow Neurological Institute reviews the science of this topic and lays out the neural circuitry that goes from body to brain and is necessary for us to FEEL.
These feelings represent ‘the material me’, and so this broader concept of interoception converges with the so-called somatic-marker hypothesis of consciousness proposed by Damasio. In this proposal, the afferent sensory representation of the homeostatic condition of the body is the basis for the mental representation of the sentient self. Recursive meta-representations of homeostatic feelings allow the brain to distinguish the inner world from the outer world. Most strikingly, degrees of conscious awareness are related to successive upgrades in the cortex (a target of visceral afferent activity), supplementary motor cortex (involved in manual responses), and bilateral insular cortices. This pattern supports the general view that a network of inter-related forebrain regions is involved in interoceptive attention and emotional feelings.
Amazingly, it seems that humans have evolved several unique adaptations that make us able to convert bodily sensation into self-awareness.
For instance, a novel cell type, the so-called spindle cell, is exclusively located in these regions of the human brain. Recent evidence indicates a trenchant phylogenetic correlation, in that spindle cells are most numerous in aged humans, but progressively less numerous in children, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees, and nonexistent in macaque monkeys. Notably, this phylogenetic progression also parallels the results of the mirror test for self-awareness.
The rapid development of right Anterior Insula within a brief evolutionary timescale suggests that nested interoceptive re-representations could be directly related to the advantages of advanced social interaction.
So it seems that we human beings rely on bodily awareness to attain emotional awareness. This sounds very yogic and something the yoga practice helps to develop. Feel your body –> feel your emotions!