Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Your brain, in a yoga class room: and being my student Sarah Windhover:)

I am reading V. S. Ramachandran's book Tell-tale brain. It is a lot similar to his first one Phantoms in the brain, which I found absolutely engrossing. He does not have the compulsion of Richard Dawkins (internationally celebrated biologist and best-selling author on several books, and more  famously known for his atheistic take against mystical `mumbo-jumbo' in science or where religion uses science to promote itself) to keep taking on mystics.

Ramachandran often can display a similar wonder at the brain, as would a mystic:) That way Ramachandran's first book was amazing because he had used a lot of  mystical quotes that underlined the fact that the 100 billion neurons are actually constantly firing, creating a chaos that loops and settles  into something that creates the illusion of the `I'.  So, we could be just a void pretending to be something:)

 This illusion of a central `I'   is essential for the survival of the biological structure that  a human being is  -- and even this biological structure is just  a construct of several things at once... I recall that absolutely rivetting book Body (damn, cannot remember the author, can u imagine?)  which wonders at how though we appear to be one unified structure -- our body -- we are several things all at once, working at several levels, some even with  disparate interests or moving with a momentum of their own (For instance,white blood cells die much later after natural death occurs. So, would that mean they are alive when we are dead?!! And that death can happen at different levels to different parts of the body).  In a way, when you read Patanjali's Yoga Sutras u get the same sense of wonder of how, when u go really deep into yoga or meditation (raja yoga), suddenly you can reduce yourself into these disparate things and select what you want to be, largely as a matter deduction ( I am not That, I am not -- neti, neti:).  Patanjali is dissecting thoughts in a similar fashion, even more precisely and logically and clincially  than any modern day psychologist or psychotherapist would.

Even Richard Dawkins (though he likes to use the word Natural selection, as if it were a living thing and prefers it to what Indian Philosophers -- who must have the most intuitive scientists in the world --  called Brahman) points out how gene has its own code that may often be at variance with what you are as a biological entity (his book River of Eden, for instance, takes on this amazing subject, though he seems to believes his argument is against the idea of a cosmic flow of energy: Dawkinsji --   Natural selection, Nature, cosmic energy, who cares??) .

For instance, death is coded into your DNA because the gene wants u to be dead so that it can continue in its enternal flow. If you did not die, the gene must make do with an old body. So, it finishes you off, after creating in you a need to procreate. Then it passes itself into your  progeny, which is a young body that can cater to its passage. In the meanwhile, it has programmed you towards self-destruction. One,  because it has no use for you. Two, because if you continued living, you will crowd out and eat into the progenys's limited resources. So, you simply have to die. So the gene, in its flow towards infinity, creates a finite thing, you:) So that you can die and make place for the progeny, so that the gene gets the best of the world:) It is fascinating, this flow of the nature (if you call it cosmic energy, Dawkins will shoot u down with his scathing brilliance:) In Indian philosophy this would be split up as Brahman and Jiva..  But hey, Dawkins, bred largely on a monotheistic religion would rebel at those labels...


So, in a way, a lot of what you read in science seems to be what Vedanta was actually saying.
However to come to prosaic things like your behavior in a classroom, and the science of your brain in creating a good energy in a class:)

In neurology (Ramachandran is a world-famous neuroscientist) there has been talk of mirror neurons. The amazing thing that was revealed about this, is when u watch somebody doing something, mirror neurons in your brain start shooting off.

Here are some lines from his book that explains it better than my blundering words:

"Mirror neurons fire not only whn you perform an action, but also when you watch someone else perform the same action. ... When you watch someone else reach for a glass of water, for example, you mirror meurons automatically simulate the same action in your (usually subconscious) imagination. Your mirror neurons will often go a step further and have you perform the action they anticipate the other person is about to take -- say, to lift the water to her lips and take a drink.  .... usually your mirror neurons are reasonably accurate guesses of others' intentions. As such, they are the closest thing to telepathy that nature was able to endow us with. .. Mirror neurons may well be central to social learning.."
I believe this is what happens if there is a good energy in a class -- there is a collective uplift of the mirror neurons and other students are pushed into trying things that may otherwise seem difficult for them.

Interestingly, when the flow of energy is positive from a person, the students want that person to be with them, or attend class where this student is. For instance Sarah Windover in my current batch, Amitabh also, other students always react to them positively, wanting to be around them. Otto, also,  for instance, has a similar draw.  Other students  miss them if they don't come. Everybody wants to be in Sarah's class, because she is involuted, focused about her yoga practice and gets poses with a flowing ease that comes from a mind that simply won't be distracted. 

The other students believe their practice will improve being in the same class as her! Now that is wonderful.. and this business of the mirror neurons is what seems to be at work here...

As a teacher, I also use this flow of energy -- if there are groups which are very slow or lethargic in learning, I mix them up so that the general drag does not pull everybody down (including the teacher:) And that the `bad' students are with the `performing' ones.

However, look at this from another  perspective, which actually worries me quite a bit: if you want to be in Sarah's class because her practice is uplifting you, what are you contributing towards her practice??!! Or, are  you taking away from her practice??

That is why you will find really good students involuting in a class -- I have wondered at that: it may be because they don't want to be exposed to negative mirror neurons, that could drag  them down!! That must be it... They don't want to be watching people fumbling in poses or struggling, so that it does not set off their mirror neurons to do similar mistakes!!

That is the reason I also worry when someone is constantly cribbing about some little toe or an eye twitch in a class -- such casual physical complaints also have a way become suddenly infectious... in a class!! Pain, I have found, can have a similar ripple effec in a class if u gave it too much credence. It is a fine balancing act, to rein such things in, so a nocebo effect is not let loose!

So, yes, while everybody wants to be with somebody good, the idea would also work if your practice was good enough to attract that sort of attention... That your neurons are firing in a fashion that inspires the other's mirror neurons to follow u in like fashion...

Think about it...

1 comment:

Thin Air and Beyond said...

you know i just did a review of this book for this issue of the harmony magazine... if you dont have the magazine yet i'll get it for u