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Posts Tagged ‘Teachers and Centers’

Playing with Google’s Ngram site … exploring the usage of words & phrases in the zillions of books currently digitized by Google.  Here are a few charts showing the frequency of a few popular yoga words published between 1808 and 2008.

There seems to have been a spike of mentions in the early 1900’s followed by a wave in 1980 and a recent wave in 2000.  Vipassana meditation and the term “namaste” seemed only to catch the 2000 wave, but not the earlier yoga wave … seems it was yoga that caught on first and then finer aspects of the practices followed later?

yogaearliest blips in 1810 then a spike in 1980

 

ashtanga mentioned in the early 1800’s!?

bhagavad – its spikes seem to presage the spikes in yogic terms?

 

anusaramentioned in the very early 1900’s!?

vipassanano wave in 1980, but tracks the 2000 wave

meditationalways a commonly used term in many non-yogic contexts

 

namaste caught on only in the recent wave

what other words might be of interest???

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Hatha Yoga Video - Revolving Lunge Pose
Image by myyogaonline via Flickr

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!

 

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Richard Freeman

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In his new movie, former Harvard psychology professor turned spiritual teacher Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert), hails us to, “love everybody and tell the truth”.

Tell the truth.  Not only a great rule to live by, but one of the things that I’ve always loved about science … its a way to discover and face the objective “truth” as separate from our subjective wants and wishes.

Take the latest scientific data on happiness.  I mean, from a – scientific point of view – what really makes us happy? Daniel Gilbert (another) Harvard psychology professor has published a research article entitled, “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” [doi:10.1126/science.1192439].  The researchers used a cool mobile web application trackyourhappiness.org to collect:

an unusually large database of real-time reports of thoughts, feelings, and actions of a broad range of people as they went about their daily activities. …  The database currently contains nearly a quarter of a million samples from about 5000 people from 83 different countries who range in age from 18 to 88 and who collectively represent every one of 86 major occupational categories. … what people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than was what they were doing. …  The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost. (the figure from the paper shows the happiness scores of mind wandering vs. not wandering)

As covered very nicely in the NY Times, it turns out that when folks’ minds were engaged in focused activities, they were happier as compared to when their minds were wandering.  So, it seems that scientific data support the ancient teachings (and Dass’ 1971 book) to Be Here Now!

Here’s the new movie clip found on RamDass.org:

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Neal Pollack
Image via Wikipedia

Really enjoyed reading   Stretch – The Unlikely making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack!  He’s so honest and blunt about his extensive journeys through yoga practices, workshops, conventions, that – as a guy and newbie to yoga – it was hard to put the book down.  Over and over again in the book, he skewers the phony “open your heart to the possibilities of the universe” and “feel good” culture of western commercial yoga inc., and finally comes to resonate and find inner-peace in the deeper guidance of Richard Freeman and in-depth analysis of the ancient yoga texts. Drug-use, fart and sexist humor aside, I learned A LOT about yoga!

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Do you?  Do you care for yourself the way you’d treat a sweetheart or your very own child?  Do you accept yourself and ‘not see’ all the imperfections in yourself that you ‘don’t see’ in your loved ones?  Do you give yourself the same gifts of kindness, tenderness and tolerance that you lavish on those you love?  Perhaps if you loved yourself more, you’d love others more.  You’d love your loved ones more deeply and in more ways.

But how do we learn to love ourselves?  It sounds narcissistic.  Its not.  In this video (0:10:50), former molecular biologist and medical school professor,  Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that giving yourself a small gift – some time to rest – time to accept yourself – time to allow your thoughts to drift – time to listen to your feelings and thoughts with honesty and vulnerability – via yoga and meditation – is a wonderful act of self love.

Put aside the stronger muscles, the leaner body and the soothing music …  to me, Kabat-Zinn points to the one and only, most fundamental reason to practice yoga and meditation.  Ultimately, its an expression of LOVE that is practiced first on oneself – and then – radiates to others.  If you can’t love yourself – body, mind, soul – how can you really love others?

P.S.  The images (0:12:03) of Harvard Chemistry Professor, Nobel Prize winner George Wald doing yoga and sitting on a beach while beating a drum and chanting are priceless!

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Oregon Health & Sciences University
Image by drburtoni via Flickr

A recent scientific study of yoga and fibromyalgia has been buzzing around the web (here, here, here, here).  The study is entitled, “A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia” [doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.08.020] and is one of the most scholarly articles on the science of yoga that I have ever read (more posts to come on this research article). In a nutshell:

53 women who have suffered with fibromyalgia for 1-10+ years were randomly separated into a test group (25 women) who participated in an 8-week Yoga of Awareness course vs. a control group (28 women) who participated in so-called routine care for fibromyalgia.  After the 8-week course, the test (yoga) group showed greater improvements in a number of fibromyalgia symptoms than the control group.

The results are big news – not only for people who suffer from fibromyalgia – but for many others who suffer with chronic pain.  The results suggest that yoga works!  and may be worth a try!

One of the things I found so great about the article, is the way the authors delved into the question of WHY yoga works and why it may be a rather ideal adjunct to traditional medical therapy.  Here’s a passage from the article:

The intention of the yoga program we employed was to fulfill the need for both exercise and coping skills training as effective counterparts to pharmacotherapy for FM. Recent reviews of exercise trials concur that aerobic exercise and also strength training usually improves some FM symptoms and physical functioning, but rarely shows effects on pain or mood. In contrast, reviews of FM coping skills trials have concluded that such treatments usually show mild to moderate post-treatment effects on pain, mood, and disability. However, several reviews have emphasized that the best results have been produced by multi-modal interventions that combine both exercise and coping skills training.

What made a this yoga intervention so innovative – from a purely medical or clinical perspective – is the way it aimed to treat BOTH body and mind.  Note how the medical world has a way of divvying up treatments into those that are specific to the body and those that are specific to the mind.   Perhaps, it is starting to dawn on modern medical practice that this separation does not work well for certain ailments – particularly for the treatment of chronic pain.

Credit two unassuming yoga instructors for this!

It turns out that the lead authors for the research are James W. Carson and Kimberly M. Carson from the Department of Anesthesiology and Peri-operative Medicine and School of Nursing, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.  They are strangers to neither science nor the practice of yoga.  From their website – Jim is a former yogic monk with more than 25 years of teaching experience while Kimberly is an instructor of Kripalu Yoga – in addition to numerous other academic and yogic accomplishments.

Yogis doing science?

Of course!  This should not come as a surprise.  Ancient yogis were dabbling in psychology, chemistry and medicine LONG before our modern era of science came along.   Just like modern medical practitioners – they wanted to help people cope with suffering 🙂

Today, there is much to be gained in scientific research on the mind-body interface.  A recent article in Nature Medicine reviews the neuroscience of this most mysterious interface.  “Getting the pain you expect: mechanisms of placebo, nocebo and reappraisal effects in humans” [doi:10.1038/nm.2229].  Will try and explore some of these brain-body connections and the way yoga practice engages them in future posts (related post here).

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