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Yoga Science: Thinking Feelingly

Table Of Contents: 

 

1.1 Thinking About How We Feel, Feeling about How we Think


 

 

 

 

Can we find the Rosetta stone between the Yogi and the neuroscientist? 



“King Lear asked Gloucester: 'How do you see the world?' And Gloucester, who is blind, answered: 'I see it feelingly.' I see it feelingly.”


Most who truly believe and practice yoga echo this mantra with their physical poses as well as accompanying mental and spiritual state.  

 

1.1 Thinking About How We Feel, Feeling about How we Think


Throughout my life, one of my greatest interests has been discovering the bridge between science and mysticism. 



The question that has persisted: How do we better understand the link between our individual, subjective inner world and our collective, objective outer world? 


What is the difference between how the “thinker” thinks and the feeler “thinks?”


Conversely, what’s the difference between how the “thinker” feels and the “feeler” feels?


Of course, we all know people on the other side of the Yogi.  Maybe coworkers, family members, friends etc., perhaps very intelligent and successful - but see the world from an entirely different perspective.


Those who see the world analytically, logically, mathematically, and scientifically. 


Those who roll their eyes at the word “Chakra” or “energy” because they hate the fact it isn’t clearly explainable by science.   To them, what’s not completely explainable must be pseudoscience. Another charlatan selling snake oil and magic crystals. 

However, the poses created through Yoga, and the resulting chakra alignment that accompanies them are largely explainable today by understanding the connections between difference branches of established sciences, such as  neuroscience, chemistry, biology, physics, and quantum wave mechanics. 

Using Mysticism 

And the beauty of mysticism is that the spiritually inclined can understand the big picture, without needing to understand or prove every detail.  


The same way you don’t need to analyze every crevice and detail of each petal to appreciate the beauty of a rose.  And you don’t need to understand pollination, botany, biology, or chemistry to enjoy a piece of fruit. 


 They behave with a strong sense of intuition, and just like Gloucester, they can “feel” their way through existence. 


I propose that neither side is wrong, and perhaps they are just speaking two different languages.



The same question can be asked in multiple ways. What is the link between the right side of our brains that is responsible for intuition and creativity (mysticism/spirituality) and the left side that is responsible for logic and problem solving (science/math)?


To be clear, I’m not speaking literately in regards to brain dominance.  The theory that we are left or right side brain dominant in the “actual,” “physical” hemispheres of the brain is largely a myth.  


In general, there isn’t actually more measurable activity in the right hemisphere of the brain for a creative person, or visa versa for the left hemisphere.  In general, most people use both hemispheres pretty equally, and each hemisphere also collaborates and communicates with one another through the corpus callosum.


We are talking more about a complicated myriad of thoughts, actions, habits, behaviors and an accompanying personality that is also largely influenced by genetics and environment (left/right brain dominance is just one name for this).  


What manifests as a result of all these factors, is a personality and worldview perspective that tends to be either more “inner world dominant” or “outer world dominant.”


As mentioned earlier, neither view is wrong.  And if we are trying to REALLY understand the world we live, empathically, through another’s eyes, it’s important we understand each perspective clearly as well as their relationship to each other.



Continuing this theme, I think that this exploration of differing mindset and worldview also has implications on studying the differences between Western culture, which is historically considered more left side brain dominant, with the cultures of the East, which are historically considered more right side brain dominant.  



Given rising global tensions, especially with China, it seems more timely than ever to understand how others view the world, both individually and collectively.


And it’s not just different nations and cultures that we can better understand through this link, there are countless applications.  Men and women tend to think quite differently, as do people of different age groups (especially children).  





Because after all, isn’t that the point of empathy and the golden rule?  


By understanding how other individuals, groups, and cultures think, we can better understand how they feel.  


And the product of our individual thoughts and feelings ultimately create our words, actions, behaviors, habits, etc. – this makes up our personality and state of being.  


In other words, over time, how you think affects who you become.  



Given that L’Aquila Active is a global platform for sustainability, it’s important to note that in many ways, sustainability is a synonym for stability.  


We are looking not just for sustainability and stability in our environment that address climate change, rising CO2 levels, the plastic pollution crisis, water crisis, deforestation etc.  – we are also interested in our social, economic, and political sustainability and stability.


Because even if our world was perfectly ecologically and environmentally sustainable, and we were finally in sync with nature and eliminated fossil fuels, plastic pollution and reduced CO2 levels…..


….the world, as it stands today, would still be on fire.  Still globally unsustainable, albeit in a different form.


So I think it time we finally combined our material and immaterial worlds, once and for all, since ultimately we are both particle and wave, objective and subjective, spiritual and scientific.  


As quantum beings, our lives are an example itself of the duality between a particle and a wave.  And just like quantum mechanics itself, we are paradoxical beings, seemingly dressed in rational and predictable clothing, but always wearing the lingerie underneath of chaos. 


We are both creators and experiencers of our own reality, and our eyes are both viewers and projectors, simultaneously. 


Where does it all begin for the individual?  


Think about it.


Did you happen to think about your thoughts?


If so, you thought correctly.


I think : )


Interestingly enough, thought itself can be objectively and scientifically measured through different brainwave frequencies.  


And you probably know this intuitively, but your thoughts are the beginning stages that create your subjective, inner world, and a change in your inner world affects your outer, objective world.  


Let the Waves Begin

What exactly are "brainwaves" and how are they measured?
Brainwaves are synonymous with neural oscillation, and "oscillation" is just a fancy way of saying "regular movement back and forth."
Probably the easiest example to visualize would be a pendulum.  
The brain has billions of neurons which are constantly communicating with each other.  So in simplified terms, you can think of brainwaves as the electrical communication and movement of electrical impulses between groups of neurons in the brain.  
The repetitive movement of electric impulses creates an electrical current that is measurable between the "highways" which neurons connect and communicate, the synapses.  
While each human has approx. 86 billion neurons (brain cells), there are between 100 -1,000 TRILLION brain synapses.  
Here's where the mystic and scientist can meet:
 intuitively and statistically, there are seemingly INFINITE possibilities and connections within our brains. 
In fact, there are 300 times more connections in the brain than there are stars in the milky way galaxy!
The larger the network of connected neurons that are firing in sync, the larger and more measurable the brain activity will be.  

Bryn Farnsworth, Ph.D from Imotions, explains, " Any synaptic activity generates a subtle electrical impulse referred to as a postsynaptic potential. Of course, the burst of a single neuron is difficult to reliably detect without direct contact with it. However, whenever thousands of neurons fire in sync, they generate an electrical field which is strong enough to spread through tissue, bone, and skull. Eventually, it can be measured on the head surface."
 
 
This is all quite measurable through an EEG (Electroencephalography) machine, where you can simply place electrodes on one's scalp and measure synchronized neural activity of thousands of neurons using a computer which measures and graphs one's electrical activity in volts.  
 
This technology has been around for decades, and it is amazing that we don't track our brain states the same way we count calories.  
 
In the future, I believe we will! We will be consciously be more aware of what neurons are wiring, and firing - and be conscious of our brain wave states, as well as better awareness and regulation of the chemicals and hormones we are secreting through various glands each day. 
 
Let's talk about the five different brain wave states, and how they are impacted by our thoughts, words, actions, and behaviors - and how all this is connected deeply through Yoga!
 
Before we dive into brain wave states, it's important to note they are quite analogous to light or sound waves - and the most important thing to remember is the inverse relationship between frequency and wavelength.  If a wave has a high frequency, it has shorter wavelength - and visa versa.  
 
Keep in mind, when we are referring to "brainwave states," we are referring to the dominant brain waves present, as there are always trace amounts of all brain waves at any given time.   
 
 
1) Delta brain waves - this is the slowest brain wave, and is characteristic of deep REM (rapid eye movement) while one is unconscious. Think of deep, dreamless sleep as the best example of delta brain waves.  Frequency is measured in Hertz, and delta brain waves are very slow, typically between 0.5 - 4 Hz.
 
2) Theta Brain Waves - Theta is the second slowest brain wave.  They are associated with reduced consciousness, almost a dream-like state.  Think of this state right before you go to bed, and right when you wake up.  It is also associated with heightened creativity, deep meditation, and daydreaming/deep meditation.  The Frequency of Theta is typically between 4-8 Hz.  
 
3) Alpha Brain Waves - Alpha has many similar characteristics as Theta, but they tend to more associated with relaxation than reduced consciousness.  Similar to theta, they are also associated with creativity, and they are also present when doing YOGA!!!.  We will talk more about this later. The Frequency of Alpha is typically between 8-13 Hz.   
 
4) Beta Brain Waves - Beta is the state most of us live in most of the time, and they are associated with heightened perception, alertness, increased consciousness, decision making, problem solving etc. The Frequency of Beta is typically between 13-32 Hz.   
 
5) Gamma Brain Waves - Gamma brain waves are the fastest, with the highest frequency and shortest wave length.  Gamma is associated with a peak mental state and also very heightened perception.  This can be achieved and measured through very deep mediation, and can also be thought of when you are "in the zone" or "flow state" The Frequency of Gamma is typically between 32-100 Hz.   
Bringing it all Together - and  back to YOGA!
So, what does all of this have to do with Yoga?  And how can understanding the link between neuroscience and yoga help us live better lives?
It really comes back to neuroplasticity and mirror neurons.
Here's the awesome thing we all intuitively know: the human brain, alone among all the animals, has the capacity for unbelievable powers of visualization.  
So powerful, in fact, that when in deep enough visualization, your body DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A "REAL" EXPERIENCE, AND ONE THAT YOU "IMAGINE."
Deep down, you know this.  Ever have a "pretend" fight with your boss or your spouse or a relative that gets you so pissed, that psychologically, it feels like the fight really happened?  You get as stressed as you would have if the event actually occurred - you hands get clammy, you get angry, you get nervous, you might even get tears in your eyes.   
You FEEL like it happened.  And guess what? What's going on in your body in regards to the chemicals being released and the brain wave state you are in - is IDENTICAL to if that "fight" really occurred.  
Repetitive thoughts can create FEELINGS, and feelings over time make up your state of being (and are measureable through an EEG based on frequency)
This is WHY the mediation in Yoga matters - if you can change your inner world, then quite literately (and quite scientifically - and measurably), you can change your outer world - for real.
Because when you change the way you look at things.......the things you look at.....change. 
So let's talk about how this happens chemically and neurobiologically in the brain.  
 
Lets once again return to the "pretend" fight example. In most cases, you are likely in high beta brain wave state, and biologically speaking, this state is very important from an evolutionary standpoint.  High beta means DANGER.  High beta means fight...or flight.  It is meant to be a temporary state when many other important biological and chemical processes either are significantly impaired or shut off completely.  
 
During these times of aggression, serotonin is greatly reduced and less present in your cerebrospinal fluid.  
 
Additionally, cortisol is increased, which greatly stresses and taxes your body and nervous system.  
 
This increase in cortisol is known as the stress response, and it also reduces our immune system's functionality when this hormone is released by our adrenal glands. 
 
Here's the sad reality of our modern world: due to our technology and stressful careers and lives, so many of us never leave "HIGH BETA!"
This is why so many of us (myself included!) suffer from increased stress, anxiety, depression and more! 
We can't escape the never ending avalanche of emails, texts, and notifications - this stresses us out endlessly, and also creates an environment of permanent stress for many. 
Evolutionarily speaking, high beta is meant to be a temporary state in extreme times of stress so we make important decisions that keep us alive, not a place to live!
Here's my point: this ain't no neurobiological, cognitive Hotel California - where we can check out any time we want, but can't ever leave.
We don't need to live there, and we can emancipate ourselves from our own self inflicted mental slavery!
Enter: Yoga and deep mediation!
When you are in the lotus pose, your body is in optimal spinal alignment for transmitting information from your brain directly to your body.  This is done through your central nervous system (CNS), and through fluid in your spine, called cerebrospinal fluid. 
Joachim Rodenbeck explains, "These nerve paths, together with the brain, are surrounded by a protective membrane within which the so called cerebrospinal fluid flows. This fluid nurtures the nerve endings and the brain – the Lotus pose provides an optimal condition for its flow. (A chiropractor will in many cases treat diseases by removing blockages in the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid.) "
So long story short, you are increasing better flow of information and signaling while in this yoga pose, and in conjugation of slowing down your breath, can allow you to go from a high-beta brain wave state to a more relaxed, alpha state.
What does this mean for the body?  More serotonin is flowing into the body while simultaneously more cortisol is leaving it.  Immune function is restored, and you feel (and are!) more relaxed and in a healthier, less stressful state.  
Conclusion:
This is a very difficult and also rewarding topic for me to tackle, because it's so relevant to people today as they balance their busy and stressful lives.
The most important thing to remember is that the BODY (and all the associated hormones, chemicals, and neurological circuity) DOESN'T know the difference between a perceived event, and a real one.  
If our lives are going badly and we are really burnt out, anxious, or stressed ALL the time - we must take better ownership of our own thoughts!
Our thoughts are the foundation of our emotions, which make up our words, actions, beliefs - and ultimately this is our personality and state of being.  
Using yoga and mediation - and focusing on breathing techniques - can take us all out of high beta, and relax and restore our racing minds.
Equally important as our mental health, it also acts as an opportunity for increased creativity and seeing the world from a different perspective as we move into a world where we are the actor, the director, the writer, and the viewer - all at once! 
We can retrain our stubborn mind to re-wire our own neural circuitry, using neuroplasticity and associated training techniques.
Because neurons that wire together, fire together! 
It's time to send a literal message to your negative thoughts.....you're (NOT) FIRED!
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
--
Best,

Jonathan O'Donnell
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