Saturday, November 14, 2015

Updating Understanding

Thinking about the back-brain (circa 1990)
Imagery has become one of my favorite elements of yoga practice and teaching. While I used to consider creating mental images to be the province of make-believe, I now appreciate the potential for imagery to harness and direct the power of the mind.

One of the earliest images that I found engaging was that of front-brain and back-brain. At a retreat I attended many years ago, the renowned teacher taught us that the front of the brain was the seat of fretting and worrying, and that the back of the brain was the home of primal skills such as sensing, feeling and intuiting. Throughout this retreat, the teacher asked us to relax our front brain and to rely more deeply on the ancient wisdom of our back-brain.

I found this imagery to be almost immediately soothing, and spent the next few years focusing on reconnecting with my primal back-brain. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that there is more to the brain than front and back!

While relaxing into the back of the body remains an essential part of my practice and teaching, I’ve largely let go of imagery about the front and back of the brain. Yes, every so often I’ll revisit this imagery in classes that I teach but I strive to qualify these images with an acknowledgement of their metaphoric quality. The brain and its structures are wondrously complicated, and it’s an oversimplification to suggest that any single part of the brain is responsible for even the simplest thought or experience.

Modern neuroscience is revealing that the brain’s structures work in a wonderfully complex and orchestrated way. As it turns out, the back of the brain is often involved with thinking complex thoughts, and the front of the brain is activated in the processing of emotion.

In Yoga, as in life, it seems like each time we look for binary this or that answers to complex questions, we find that the answer is often it depends or it’s both!

As it turns out, the front of the brain and the back of the brain are part of a coordinated whole, both involved with the complexities of sensing/intuiting and thinking/feeling.

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