Fact: You are not a victim of genetics or chemistry.
Psychology of Hatha Yoga Part II: Breaking free of the psychopharmacological cycle of genetic victim and chemical fate by changing your center of control and perception.
Any new discovery of truth does not contradict past truth but fits into it (Patanjali/Vivekananda 1:7)
I started my morning meditation with this phrase from the Yoga sutras fresh in my mind. It is a phrase that I have heard often in one form or another and in many distinct places-from the mouth of my mother, in the hallways of church and in the great lecture halls of university. It is the base of the scientific method and as a reformed researcher I cannot help myself but apply this method to everything, especially in the context of psychology and the concept of happiness and well-being. A truth that I have observed repeated and again in throughout various world mythologies, religions, philosophies as well as in the sciences of biology and psychology is what Pantanjali wrote over thousands of years ago: the base of all suffering has it´s root in the attachment to pleasure and the aversion to pain.
These two things tie us to external expectations and situations and as a result takes away our perception of freedom to choose and form our decisions from a place of internal motivation. This external focus results in lower life satisfaction. The idea that we are happier when we perceive that we are in control of our life circumstances is supported by the psychological measurement of Locus of Control. The studies of this scale show that when we give more control of our lives to external circumstances and people we are less happy. It is for this reason that I would conclude that the perspective that we are victims of our biology and genes, a perspective that goes totally against the philosophy of Yoga, is causing so much harm in the western world at both a physiological and psychological level.
Psychopharmacological drugs: A western epidemic
In their books and research Robert Whitaker (Anatomy of an Epidemic) Thomas Szasa (The Myth of Mental Illness) and Russell Brand (Relovelution) all claim that the movement of psychiatry towards a medical model that is guided by genes, chemistry and drugs rather than a philosophical-social model that is guided by introspection and communication, has caused a huge surge in the diagnosis and relapse of psychological disorders. This is supported by data that shows in countries where there are more economic resources with easier access to psychopharmacological drugs there are higher rates of mental illness and relapse. For example, Whitaker highlights a study done over a period of 10 years, completed by the WHO (World Health Organization) that shows very clearly that a person is less likely to suffer from a psychological disorder and more likely to overcome one if they live in a less affluent country like India or Nigeria rather than in the USA or the EU.
In other words, if you have some sort of psychological mental illness or disorder you are more likely to overcome it if you live in a place where there is less access to psychopharmacological drugs rather than a place where there is much more ease of access.
Furthermore, the WHO in another multi-national report in 1998 found that the use of anti-depressives was associated with higher levels of long term depression rather than the other way around. In addition to the increase in depressive symptoms consumption of anti-depressives was also associated with all sorts of side effects such as insomnia, sexual dysfunction, apathy, suicidal thoughts and mania, which as a result could manifest another diagnostic of bi-polar disorder.
The great lack of evidence behind the psychiatric-medical model
What I am going to write here is fundamental to understand and in the beginning completely surprised me. There is NO evidence that there is a chemical imbalance in the brain before taking psychopharmacological drugs. There is NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE. It could be the brain of someone diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, PTSD or mania. There is no scientific evidence that shows with well documented and well-designed studies that there is a chemical imbalance behind this behavior. This imbalance only seems to occur AFTER the consumption of psychopharmacological drugs. This chemical imbalance explanation is a great myth constructed without scientific facts. This myth has been told by Big Farma and their friends in the psychiatric world during the past 40 years. The result has been lots of money for Big Farma and the psychiatric profession with little benefit for their patients.
The data shows that in the long term and in fact, in the short term as well, the majority of the psychopharmacological drugs have little to no effect greater than a placebo and in the worst case scenario can end up causing permanent brain damage. Whitaker has documented this reality with historical records as well as qualitative and quantitative research. In his research he shows very clearly that psychological and physical risks and symptoms increase with the amount of time and the psychiatric drugs are taken. Furthermore, the younger a person starts, the greater the risk. From the philosophical approach taken from both the Yoga sutras of Patanjali and the Myth of Mental Illness written by Thomas Sanz it is no surprise that the consumption of the anti-psychotics and ant-depressives are correlated with an increase in psychological risk over the long term rather than a decrease in symptoms. Here is why:
Locus of Control
In Psychology of Hatha Yoga Part I: Locus of Control I explained via the psychological measurements of Locus of Control what was written in the Yoga sutras, that the ingredients of suffering are attachment and aversion. These measurements of Locus of Control have a strong correlation with levels of well-being and depression.
High levels of Internal Locus of Control is correlated with higher levels of well-being whereas high levels of external Locus of Control is associated with higher instances of depression. You can read more here.
From a psychological perspective as well as in accordance with the philosophy of Patanjali and the Yoga sutras is it logical that a world where people take pills in an attempt to feel better, experience less life satisfaction than those who take nothing when confronted with a negative emotional experience. When we avoid uncomfortable and negative experiences by taking on an external solution (ie pills) we start to strengthen our sense of external Locus of Control instead of developing a greater sense of internal Locus of Control. We increase levels of internal Locus of Control when we learn how to accept and confront these negative circumstances using internal resources, like self-observation and breath, two great skills that form the base of Hatha Yoga.
The psychiatric-medical model offers a fixed label that patients and doctors can attach themselves to in order to explain a psychological problems (ie. Schizophrenia, ADHD, PTSD, Bi-polar, etc.) Thanks to this labeling and the great marketing scheme created by Big Farma patients internalize their problem as something genetic and chemical that they themselves do not have the power to change. With this kind of perspective and attachment to a fixed label and identity the problem becomes something outside of the patients control and the solution that is offered is an external one, a pill, rather than an internal one (self-talk, self-observation, breath work, creative expression…etc).
The result of a treatment based on psychopharmacological drugs creates a vicious cycle of attachment and aversion. There is an aversion to confronting negative symptoms that is justified with attachment towards a label of a psychological disorder. According to the Yoga sutras of Patanjali combined with the measurements of Locus of Control it is only logical that this cycle of aversion and attachment results in a greater number of relapses and lower quality of life (measured by a patients ability to live independently and maintain important relationships) than patients who never enter into this cycle of psychopharmacological drugs.
In this graphic one can see that a person suffering from schizophrenic symptoms who does not take psychopharmacological drugs in the long term, lives a better life than a patient who takes psychopharmacological drugs. This is also demonstrated in cases of depression. In 1995 in a study done over a period of 6 years with 547 patients who suffered symptoms of depression, it was shown that patients receiving psychopharmacological treatment were 7x more likely to become incapacitated and 3x more likely to abandon their principal social role than patients who did not receive psychopharmacological treatment. (NIMH 1998).
From both a psychological and Yoga perspective I would hypothesize that this is because patients who are given psychopharmacological drugs to avoid psychological pain are never taught and never learn how to overcome their condition using internal resources (self-observation, breath, self-talk…etc). They are dependent on external resources (psychopharmacological drugs) in order to survive. This dependence is justified by the attachment to an identity of a psychological disorder. An identity and disorder that doctors say is out of their control. The result is an increase in the levels of external Locus of Control which is of course directly correlated and related to lower levels of life satisfaction.
You were never bound by laws. Nature never had a bond for you (Patanjali/Vivekananda 2:18)
Before the year 1992, western Lapland Finland had some of the highest levels of schizophrenia in the EU. According to the psychiatric-medical model schizophrenia is genetic and a result of an imbalance of dopamine in the brain caused by an error in the genetic code. Most often, once a person has received this diagnostic the patient has to accept a lifetime of anti-psychotic medication which is known to increases levels of apathy, dull creativity as well as academic success. However, with the introduction of a social therapy called ´Open Dialogue Therapy´ in this region of Finland, the levels of schizophrenia have dropped to some of the lowest in the EU for both diagnosis and relapses. Furthermore, 84% of the patients of this therapy are either working or attending university. This means that either schizophrenia is not genetic or if it is, therapies based on social support and self-knowledge, can help a patient overcome and control it. Or from a more general perspective, it is possible to let go of the attachment to a destructive identity (schizophrenia) and the aversion to negative experiences via confronting and accepting difficult sensations and conversations.
It is interesting that the base of Hatha Yoga as well as Open Dialogue Therapy and other therapies such as Somatic Experience is to help the patient and student learn how to observe their bodily sensation, their thoughts and with support learn how to analyze, control and let go of them. Russel Brand (ex-addict, actor turned Yogi and activist) in his book Relovelution and his documentary From addiction to Recovery says the same approach is needed to overcome the problems of addiction.
The researchers Dr. Kolk and Dr. Levine have arrived to the same conclusion in their research and have written prolifically about the theme. You can read more about that here and here. I would say this is because this kind of mind-body approach follows a happiness truth that is supported by multiple resources and practices. This truth has its root in increasing our perception of internal control and leaving behind the victim outlook that leaves all control to external circumstances.
All the various ideas that arise making us believe that we require something external to make us happy are obstructions…and are the result of past impressions´ (Patanjali/Vivekananda 4:26)
I learned many years ago during my studies at university the importance of our own perception in living a happy life. Each one of us has the freedom to either be the victims or owners of our lives and it isn´t any more complicated than choosing the appropriate perspective. Nonetheless, we are products of our past and cultural conditioning and sometimes it is hard to realize that we have the capacity to choose how we want to live, act and perceive the world. It is more common than not that we feel a huge attachment to our identities constructed by our past and culture and at the same time a great aversion, a great fear, in confronting, changing or letting go of these identities.
Nonetheless, Robert Whitaker, Thomas Szanz and Russel Brand-an investigative journalist, a psychiatrist and an ex – addict now activist -respectively speaking – are all in agreement and show with scientific evidence, logical arguments and personal experience what Patanjali wrote thousands of years ago in his Yoga sutras. We are not victims or slaves to our biology, family, culture or past and that the act of aversion and attachment to anything takes away our freedom and causes us to suffer. If we let go of our attachment and aversion to these various social constructions/labels and chemical crutches we can begin to take responsibility for our own lives and perspectives. As a result we let go of suffering. Hatha Yoga offers a complete system for us to do just that.
Hatha Yog and the psychology of Well-being
In former blog posts I have gone into detail how practicing the postures of Hatha Yoga either chest openers or pelvic work we can learn how to let go of both physical and emotional blocks including ones associated with post-traumatic stress. Hatha Yoga classes and the Yoga community offers us a safe space and social support (Sangha). This social support has been shown to be key for our happiness. Furthermore, in the observation of the sensations of each pose in Hatha Yoga, combined with the power of breath we learn how to listen to ourselves and self-regulate. We learn how to let go of aversion towards uncomfortable sensations-at first at a physical level than at a psychological one. In the conscious practice of Hatha Yoga we increase our capacity of self-observation and we gain control over our own mind-body system. With this control we are able to observe when we are in a state of attachment or aversion and we have the tools to leave the associated suffering behind. Consequently, we overcome the need to be dependent on external resources (psychopharmacological drugs) to alleviate suffering. The result is an increase in the scientific measure of internal Locus of Control that the philosophy of Yoga and states to be a universal truth – that when we leave behind the attachment and aversion to the external…
…we require none else to make us happy, for we are happiness itself (Patanjali/Vivekananda 2:27).
Recently I saw the opera Othello in the beautiful Plaza de España and I felt inspired to write the following concerning the difference between love and fear. I have seen opera once before in my life and this was the confirmation that I am not the opera type. It was good. By all means the acting and voices were amazing but my bum was numb after the first act, my leg started to twitch in the second and I was reminded again why I am such a bad movie date. But I digress.
I am currently living the philosophy (among others) that there are two motivating factors in life: Love and Fear. Everything else is just a shade and coloring of these two.
The question I now ask myself every day and with every decision I make, is which of these are driving my life decisions and actions. To help with this, it is important to know the difference between love and possession. Often times the two get confused thanks to a cultural education that paints obsessive and co-dependent relations as the idealized definition of love.
For example, Othello, a great and admired warrior and captain, lost it all because he allowed it to be planted into his head that Desmonde, his beloved and new wife, had a pre-wedding fling with his right hand man Cassidy. Jealousy consumed and eventually killed him and his innocent wife. It goes without saying that this whole story reeks of issues of domestic violence and abuse, but again, what is abuse but the lack of love? Othello confused his love for Desmonde with possession.
If he had truly loved her as a human being and not some entity to be possessed, than the jealousy never would have taken root, for jealousy is just the fear of losing someone or something to another.
Love is never lost and therefore can never be jealous.
I would venture to say that the desire to possess another is rooted in the fear of being alone. This is why so many unhealthy relationships continue on without ending or resolving. There is a fear of being alone of losing the other to another and this fear attracts more of the same fear. The result is a combination of repulsion and attraction and a relationship that appears to be somewhat scizophrenic. It is a vicious cycle that repeats itself again and again because energy moves in a circle and is never linear.The circular movement of energy is basic physics (and I am no Einstein…but this I understand). Sooner or later it comes back to the one sending it out.
The ideal of love might be what drives people to seek out relationships but often it is the emotion of fear that controls the dance. It can be fear that begins the relationship (fear of being alone) and it can be fear that terminates a relationship. For example, when a disagreement or miscommunication arises and ends a relationship. This often happens simply because somewhere in the midst of that argument the possession of some form of identity is being threatened and becomes more important than love and connection.
i.e….¨Oh it hurt your feelings that I didn´t call you when you returned home from two months abroad? Well…that is just the way I am. I like my space.´
´Just the way I am´ is a cop out for identifying with and possessing a particular behavior, and refusing to analyze it objectively when confronted about it´s negative effects. That fear kills the opportunity to heal and communicate. (In the same breath, the one hearing this reply is somehow sending out the energy required to recieve it…but that is a different post)
Biologically, fear is destructive because it creates tunnel vision whereas love allows for a universal perspective. There is a reason why Yogic Philosophy discusses cultivating a sense of universal love and calm amidst apparent stressful and hateful situations. It is the emotion of love that creates the calm corporeal reactions necessary for a much wider and all inclusive view. A wider view equates to more information and greater understanding. This greater understanding often dispels fear increases love and encourages one to understand and connect more rather than withdraw or fight, which of course, in that desire for connection and communication, increases even more the experience of love.
Do you see how that feedback loop works?
Fear creates more fear by biologically creating less vision and perspective. This then limits our ability to choose. Limiting options creates more fear as we see our escape options dwindling.
Love is the opposite. Biologically when love is felt, the ability to take in more information increases. Increasing perspective allows one to see situations and relations from many different perspectives. Multiple perspectives increase ones choice and control over any given situation.
We have a choice. We can choose positive feedback loops or negative ones.
How do we know when we are falling into a negative vs. positive feedback loop?
It is really quite simple, check your vitals. Do you feel calm and content or do you feel anxious and distracted? Scan your body. Your body is always speaking to you and helping you to understand where you are emotionally so you can take action to further the emotion or neutralize it. Your emotions are not you, but they are communicating to you via breath, heartbeat and muscle tone.
This is what Yoga teaches.
Be the observer so that you can control the observed.
Every pose is a mini laboratory helping us to notice the sensations of fear and the sensations of love. All of this is done by observing alignment of the bone, the tone of the muscle and the rhythm of the breath. As we progress in our practice those skills of observation can be taken off the mat and into real life.
Applied in real life we can take what we learn on the mat and notice how something as simple as correcting your posture in a meeting makes you feel more awake and maybe even more confident. In an argument you start to notice a clenched jaw and by the mere release of it, you find yourself relaxing into the argument and finding a solution rather than leaning into it with two upraised fists ready to defend an identity that is nothing more than a bunch of fleeting experiences and social conditioning. Noticing your breath as you stand up to speak or perform in front of others helps you to bring it under control and dissipate the fear that otherwise might twist your tongue and cause your words to stutter over each other.
Love is not such a difficult concept to grasp and is even less difficult to feel. Love is universal and always there waiting for us to stop, breathe and observe its existence. She is the most beautiful creature in the universe that is never possessed but always exists in you, in me and every being. Her universal existence and the observation of it leaves no room for fear and its fellow colors of possession and jealousy.
Yoga helps us to feel and to understand exactly which of these two concepts are driving our behaviors and it isn´t so hard to know. It just takes a moment, a breath, a simple space of observation to know which emotion is taking control. With that same moment, that same breath and space of observation we are then able to choose the current and end result (remember that feedback loop).
I decide. You decide. We each decide with each observed breath which experience we want coming back to us- Love or Fear.
It was the first of September and I had arrived back from Aranda de Duero with all kinds of thoughts in my head about what I was hoping to do in the future.
I have always been driven by a need to find the most effective tools for healing and health, both mental and physical. I never bought into the psychoanalysis of Frued, 1) because it goes against common sense 2) it is very misogynistic 3) the scientific research on this therapy has yet to prove its effectiveness and in fact, has proven that the constant revision of negative events (or ones that do not even exisit!!!) can make matters worse.
There is of course the behaviorist approach, but this theory pretty much turns people into machines and lacks the very important part of cognition which even animals have proven to display. Then comes the discipline of Sociology, kind of a result of behaviorism. But alas, dropping all the blame upon social conditions is not the entire answer either nor is it really very empowering or healing. It is useful and important to recognize various social structures that propagate destructive behaviors or ideas, but unfortunately can then result in a loss of individual responsibility. I dabbled a bit in Cognitive Behavioral Approaches but finally I found the most effective treatment for my own well-being, was the practice of Yoga.
I have taught Yoga for over five years now and practiced it longer. For me, it has been the solution to anxiety and debilitating fears. Nonetheless, recently, I have been feeling there was something missing in my Yoga experience. So I went to back to my old love, Psychology, and found that she had evolved into a wonderful and light being supported by scientific literature and studies. I spent the summer reading up on Positive Psychology. I read all the literature I could that was published by Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology. It was really no surprise to see many of the principals of Yoga (ie. Observing and re-directing thoughts) peeping through the various practices that Seligman proposed and tested. I will outline some of them below. Please feel free to try out these exercises on your own and let me know how they go.
Write out in detail three good things that happened to you every night before your go to bed or before you start your day. Often times our minds are habituated towards observing and re-living the negative which limits overall life enjoyment, dampens creativity, creates mind blocks and creates difficulty in problem solving. This activity can help break the habit. Adding WHY those good things happened is a great way to combat the sense of helplessness that proceeds depression. No matter how small the effort, write down what you did to contribute to that positive experience.
I totally aced my exam today and it felt awesome. I studied hard to achieve that grade.
I had a great conversation with my partner today and it is because I actually set the time aside to listen and ask him/her questions about their day.
My dog finally learned how to sit and roll over and it is because I spent a lot of time training him.
ABC (DE) of arguing with yourself
Everyone talks to themselves, and we are always harder on ourselves than anyone else, and learning how to refute and rebuttal those negative thoughts I found to be far more effective than ´just thinking happy thoughts´ or repeating time and time again positive affirmations that you and I both know, we don´t really believe. Below is a formula to help you nullify those negative thoughts.
A (Adversity) State the problem (I failed the exam)
B (Beliefs) State the beliefs/emotions associated with the problem (I feel hopeless and stupid)
C (Consequences) How does this problem make you act/think (I think I might just give up, drop the course, maybe just try something different)
D (Debate/Discussion) Have an argument in your head with a litigating lawyer and counteract every negative statement
Lawyer: Yes you suck. Always failing.
You: No, that´s not true. I passed the last exam with a great grade.
Lawyer: Whatever that was a fluke, why did you fail this one?
You: It wasn´t a fluke. I studied really hard and I enjoyed the material. I failed this one because I had fought with my partner the whole week and spent the entire night cramming instead of taking time during the week to study.
E (Energize) Write down the steps you will take to change
I will do better next time. I failed this exam due to lack of preparation. I will ask the professor what areas I need to improve upon and make sure that I space out my study time and make sure that before the night of an important exam I avoid discussions that might start a fight.
Always try to make negative events situational and positive events a permanent way of being. Use terms like always and never only when referring to positive events/aspects and avoid at all costs using ´always´ and ´never´ when referring to negative events/aspects.
Often times in psychology there is a lot of emphasis on the individual and not enough on how that individual is interacting with the world around him or her. We live in a very individualistic society that tends to create almost a kind of numbness or ignorance towards how we react to one another. This can be seen in work, everyday conversations and sex. This is a great error as relationships make up one of the most important components of PERMA, or well-being as measured by Seligman. No man is an island and if a human is stuck in pure isolation, even if provided for physically, they will either go crazy or die, or both. There is also a great emphasis in how to deal with negative or bad communication but less upon positive and good communication. This is yet another error. By increasing the positive-constructive communication between friends/partners one creates a kind of buffer so when there is a real negative topic at hand, the positives truly do outweigh the negative. For a business the minimum of such positive-constructive comments to negative interactions is 3:1 and for a successful relationship it is 5:1.
Here is a very basic guide to improving your positive communication ratio so that you can experience both greater happiness within your relationships and within yourself.
Active-Constructive: Ask in great detail that your partner/friend relieve the event with you. Ask who was there, what was said, how did they feel, what did they think than give your own ideas.
Hi Hun. I got a new client today.
That´s great! Tell me all about it! Who is it and how did it happen? How did you feel before the phone call and after? (Positive acknowledgement of the event and questions that further the conversation and re-live the experience)
Passive- Constructive: Congratulations or acknowledgment without asking for further details. Positive but not very warm or interested
That´s great. Congratulations (Positive acknowledgement of event but no further conversation)
Active- Destructive: Finding the negative in some good news that your partner/friend shared
Oh really? That would explain why you were 10 minutes late. Are you always going to be late when you get new clients? (Acknowledgement of event, but looking for the negative outcomes of the event)
Passive-Destructive: Not even acknowledging that your partner/friend shared something with you
Pass me the green beans . (No acknowledgment of the event)
Following these above exercises, I noticed a big difference within the first couple of weeks. I found myself observing my thoughts with more calm and when I felt that ever familiar swell of anxiety or uncertainty clouding my brain, I would search out a piece of paper and started writing down 3 positive things that had happened to me that day and why they had happened. So simple, but so effective. The arguing of negative thoughts is also a great tool and I am now much more aware of how my interactions increase or decrease my quality of relationships.
After learning and experiencing all the above and more, I was super excited to explore the world of Positive Psychology in more depth. One of my core strengths is love of learning. You can find out your core strengths here. I easily get obsessed and enthralled with learning and understanding new topics and ideas. In less than a month I had already read and digested the most important books of Positive Psychology, I had outlined all of the basics and I had recited the entire theory and the various practices to my friend as we drove back to Sevilla. I was even having him practice what I had learned. It was like a 7 hour positive psychology intensive! I was already pondering ways of perhaps pursing yet another Masters in the field or perhaps even a PhD, but then something changed…
I got home. I hugged my cat and I started to research various schools and opportunities and as I did this, the fire I had felt during the journey home, started to fade away. I felt tired. I did not want to answer the phone calls or emails from the schools I had contacted. I even stopped doing the Positive Psychology exercises that I had been doing so religiously.
I related this change of heart to a very good friend who I can always rely on for an honest assessment. She raised her eyebrow when I told her I was thinking of going to go back to school, and she asked if I really wanted to put myself back into the cold and very cerebral world of academia again…I had no reply.
The fact is that my head was super eager to be occupied all over again, but my heart knew better, my friend knew better and more than anything, my body knew better, I knew there was something else I had to learn, I just didn´t know what…
That was when, as I was watching yet another episode of John Oliver, Last Week Tonight in an effort to distract myself from this nagging feeling that I wasn´t quite in the right place, that there was something more I needed to study to in order to offer complete healing to myself and others, it was then that I saw to the right of my screen the prompt for a lecture titled: An academic overview of Tantra.
As John Oliver signed off for the evening, I clicked on the lecture and needless to say…my body, my heart and yes even my rebellious mind, alignedas I watched and began to understand with more clarity the ancient practice of Yoga, how deeply healing and practical it truly has the potential to be and where my next path of learning and healing should take me…
Stay tuned to learn more in my next post …Tantra: the sacred practice of sexual healing (no partner required)
Savasana, or as some of my students like to call it, La Siesta, is more than just taking a nap at the end of class – though the occasional snore heard around the Yoga Hall may argue to the contrary.
To the outside observer, it is true that Savasana appears to be an easy pose, or maybe not a pose at all. However, let me clarify, Savasana, when practiced correctly, can be one of the most challenging of postures and one of the most rewarding with great mental and physical benefits.
The point of Yoga is to still the mind in order to know the what some people call the spirit, others call the soul or just the observer. When the chaos of the mind becomes silent we are able to hear and come into tune with who we really are and what we really desire. Imagine your mind like a lake full of ripples. Imagine those ripples disappearing, one by one. Note how clearly you can see to the bottom of a lake once those ripples subside. The same principal applies to the mind.
The calming of these ripples is what each asana and round of pranayama practiced in Yoga prepares both the mind and body for. All that movement, focus and breathing is preparation for a state of silence both inside and outside. The final posture of Savasana is the blissful reward for that preparation; however, if we do not pay attention, the reward can become squandered and lost.
This is why I say Savasana is the most challenging of postures. Yes, even more challenging than perfecting Uttitha Trikonasana, a posture B.K.S Iyenger is quoted as saying can take up to 10 years to accomplish. This of course means perfecting the more challenging posture of Savasana is a lifelong pursuit.
While in Savasana one should try to let go of the mind while remaining alert. This takes time and lots of practice and this is the detail that is all too often forgotten. Those 15- 30 minutes at the end of each Yoga class gives us precious moments of reflection and peace that in our everyday lives most of us don’t normally get. Consequently, not only can new realizations come forth from this posture, a wonderful sense of peace and wholeness can also be experienced.
So the question is- How do you perfect a posture that can only be corrected by your internal guru, yourself? My advice is the following, though I encourage trying out different techniques if you do not find this one useful. The first trick is to pay attention. Listen carefully to the guided meditation. Allow yourself to feel each body part relax as your teacher guides you into a deeper and more relaxed state.
Pay attention to how your body changes in weight, in temperature and let the breath go to wherever tension resides. Let it go with each exhale. If thoughts begin to creep in (and they will) let them come and go. Watch them like a movie. You are the spectator during this posture. Don’t get angry or annoyed with the thoughts. And don’t get sucked into them. Watch and pay attention to how these thoughts, can change the tension in your body. Be curious about it, but don’t get upset with yourself for letting them creep in. They just want to know that they are still important. Let me them know that they are and you’ll get back to them…later. Resisting thoughts will only bring them in stronger. Listen to your breath. Feel it. Watch it. Focusing on the breath will help you exponentially to step outside of your head and into your body and as you do this, feel how you come into contact with something more than your mind, perhaps your soul?, and how this conscious relaxation and calm awareness carries you forward into then finally into the blissful peace of meditation.
The glands of the body work in much the same way that the muscles in the body work. When you stretch and contract your muscles you get movement. The movement of stretching or contracting is neither good nor bad, it is just how the body works to get you to move. Issues arise when a muscle has been overstretched or held in contraction for too long. When this occurs there is discomfort and pain. Such is the way with the muscular system and such is the way with the endocrine system.
To simplify things, the endocrine system is in large part what dictates your body’s reaction to stress. It is composed of two basic opposing forces that work together to regulate the secretion of hormones, bodily fluids, alertness and the uptake of nutrients. These are the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. The yin and the yang of your stress response.
The parasympathetic system works to bring the heart rate down whereas the sympathetic system is in charge of taking care of your ‘fight or flight’ responses. Both are equally important to the correct functioning of the body, but what usually occurs in our modern world is that we keep our ‘fight or flight’ response on all the time, thus overexerting our sympathetic system and creating unnecessary and harmful levels of neurotransmitters that inhibit the calming effect of the parasympathetic system. Bringing down the levels of these sympathetic neurotransmitters that are being distributed throughout the body and causing damage can be reversed by activating the parasympathetic system.