We are living in a time of suffering, but also in a time of transformation.
This transcendental progression will evolve as the Eastern practices & traditions of yoga and the Western science & knowledge of psychology continue to merge. There is a correlation between the two that is undeniable. In a society where evidentiary support is needed for belief, the studies proving the positive results of these ancient practices of yoga are providing just that and more. A personal experience is inevitable when you engage in any of these practices, and personal experience is said to be the highest form of knowledge. I have seen this strong correlation through my studies, as well as experienced it through my personal practice. We have developed a psychology of the mind here in the West, now it is time for us to take that one step farther into psychology of the soul with the help of ancient Eastern wisdom.
Over time, our brains have evolved to the three-part structure they are today. From the reptilian brain of pure survival, came the limbic brain of emotions and value judgments, to the neocortex brain which holds awareness, social interactions, and other higher cognitive abilities. These three cohesive parts are wired together to be an integral system. The brain stem integrates sensory information from the body’s senses and with input from the limbic and higher brain, they work together to regulate the autonomic state, mind, and behavior, further impacting mood as well. Therefore, the brain works best to serve the body when the three parts are fully integrated and balanced. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is part of the cerebral cortex, or higher thinking brain, and serves as the “conductor” of brain integration. It also is responsible for complex cognitive behavior, decision making, moderating social behavior, and expressing personality. It sits in the frontal lobe of the brain, and from a yogic viewpoint sits right behind the third eye chakra. Studies have shown the meditation and mindfulness both increase the grey matter in the PFC, which in turn provides more efficient integration of the three parts, and an overall stronger higher level of cognitive thinking and social behavior. This all leads to a better sense of wellbeing, and these practices are proven to support this development.
People are living in constant states of stress causing a
number of negative health impacts from physical to mental afflictions.
People are living in constant states of stress causing a number of negative health impacts from physical to mental afflictions. Stress is regulated by the central nervous system (CNS), which connects the brain and the spinal cord. The CNS is responsible for receiving sensory information from external stimuli, and then governing the body’s appropriate reaction response. It is made of up two sides – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) being the “fight, flight, or freeze” system and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) being the “rest and digest” system. The body’s levels of stress hormones are controlled by this system, with the SNS and the PNS made to balance each other. When the mind detects a threat and activates the SNS, there is a release of a number of hormones preparing the body to fight, flight or freeze. When this happens, the body is in a state of stress. The PNS is there to counter the stress release of the SNS, however many people are suffering because their PNS does not activate and therefore they never make it to a state of relaxation.
There are high levels of stress amongst the majority population resulting from overactive sympathetic nervous systems, which is causing turmoil in the brain and body resulting in further damage. When we are in constant states of stress, our bodies become inflamed leading to further physical problems, we cannot make clear decisions, cannot engage socially, and overall are not living a life that is well serving to us. An overactive SNS shuts down the higher thinking brain of the cerebral cortex, and reacts only based on survival instincts of the reptilian brain. The practices of yoga have been proven to induce activation in the PNS, therefore balancing the SNS stressful states with relaxation to restore and revitalize. We use the practices and knowledge of yoga to cultivate relaxation, reduce stress, and embody our nervous system. The practices of yoga are meant to balance our SNS and PNS, for they are both needed to live this life. Through conscious movement and breathing, we are able to influence and manipulate our nervous system to find the balance of the two sides. With consistent practice, we are able to eventually rewire our brain through neuroplasticity and change the way our nervous system reacts to stimuli, inevitably reducing unnecessary stressful states significantly and having overall positive effects on the body and mind.
Many are deeply suffering from disconnection today - disconnection from self, disconnection from others, and disconnection from divine power. We have forgotten our true innate self is that of eternal soul. Having become so identified with that of earthly life, the physical body and material desires of it, we have lost the connection to our true self. Remembering this connection and having a knowing identification with the true self provides a sense of release and relief on our mind. When we strongly identify with our physical body, we are living in a constant state of underlying fear, fear of the inevitable death to come. Fear is debilitating and does not allow for any meaningful growth in life. Upon finding and connecting with the true immortal self, that fear is released and allows for an abundance of new flowing life energy that progresses us forward with growth. We reconnect with this higher self, and inevitably we are reconnecting with all life as we all share the same innate essence. Yoga emphasizes the existence of the true inner self, and provides guided paths to finding that self within.
Our survival mindset that has progressed us as a species to this point is no longer serving us, we must transition to that of a socially engaged mindset as a whole. Western psychology has studied human need for safety, a sense of belonging, and loving relationships for many years, citing these needs as vital components for wellbeing. When we are connected to the omnipresent consciousness of all, we feel a strong sense of community, of love, of unity; therefore, satisfying the human needs we all have.
We feel safe when we are connected with others in a place of love. This sense of interconnection and belonging in a safe place promotes release of suffering and cultivation of inner peace.
We as humans have a unique feature of our autonomic system called the vagus nerve. This nerve connects the brain stem to the internal organs, and allows for us as humans to express our emotions through facial expressions and tone of voice. When activated, the vagus nerve produces feelings of deep connection and empathy to self and others, supporting the socially engaged mindset we are striving for as a species. It has been proven that conscious breathing, which is found all throughout yoga, activates the vagus nerve, further proving these practices support interconnection and compassion both internally and externally. When we are at ease with ourselves and others, we are able release the survival mindset and work towards a socially engaged way of life that we must obtain in order evolve as a species. The Eastern practices of yoga bring awareness to our soul self, the innate being within, and the practices guide us to expand our awareness to the oneness of all, promoting interconnection.
The brain has a deeply intrinsic function called “default mode network”, this network can be either online or offline. Most of the population spends 90% of the time in offline default mode network, that of being not present. Being offline drives feelings of separation and worrying for the worst. The default mode network is online when we are present, consciously aware of what is happening around and within us at that moment in time. When we are focused, we are present, and when we are present, we are happy.
Yoga has been proven through studies on the brain and MRI imaging that an online default mode network is activated and developed through these practices.
A large focus of the yoga practices is that of present moment awareness, of cultivating and strengthening our awareness of the present moment. Psychology has found a number of benefits of present moment awareness as it brings the mind out of ruminating on the past and worrying about the future, which is so often the cause of mental suffering.
The patterns that align between psychology and yoga are uncanny. There are many more correlations that are being studied and proven that I have not mention on this page. We often float through life without being truly there. What these Eastern practices do first and foremost, which I feel is a foundation to any further advancement, is they bring attention to awareness itself and look to expand that awareness, both outwardly and inwardly. From this increased awareness, we can start to understand how our internal processes work. Using different yoga practices of mindful movement, conscious breathing, and meditation, we are able to work with our physiological and psychological bodies to find an internal balanced state. From that balanced safe place, we are able to dive deeper into consciousness exploring the subtler layers within. Traveling inward seeking the magic and wisdom that lies beyond this dual world. With the backing of knowledge on how the brain and nervous system works from that of Western psychology, we can utilize the Eastern practices and teachings of yoga to best serve ourselves to obtain the highest level of wellbeing and internal peace. The end goal of everything being to connect with your true inner self, that of pure blissful consciousness, inevitably releasing suffering on all levels.