Yoga and The Biology of Transcendence: Part Four

The first duty of those who really want to do yoga is to eliminate from their consciousness, with all the might, all the sincerity, all the endurance of which they are capable, even the shadow of a fear. To walk the path, one must be dauntless, and never indulge in that petty, small, feeble, nasty shrinking back upon oneself, which is fear. – The Mother, The Sunlit Path: Passages from Conversations and Writings of the Mother

According to Patanjali “when disturbed by negative thoughts opposite (positive) ones should be thought of.” Today multiple studies have shown replacing negative thoughts with positive ones actually shifts neural energy from the hindbrain to the pre-frontal cortex.

This takes us from “flight and fight” into the “rest and digest” function of our parasympathetic nervous system, slowing our heart and respiratory rates and synchronising the function of our automatic, nervous and immune systems.

Dr. Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist currently conducting a brain imaging study on Kundalini Yoga. Though the results of the yoga studies are yet unpublished, Newberg states the preliminary findings demonstrate that after only eights weeks of practise of Kirtan Kriya (a yogic meditation) blood flow to the frontal lobes of the brain was dramatically increased.

This echoes Newberg earlier MRI studies on Tibetan Buddhist mediators, which found that during deep meditation the pre-frontal cortex was highly activated. His scans revealed that blood flow to the brains orientation association area, (responsible for drawing the line between the physical self and the rest of existence – was dramatically reduced). The line between the self and the world out there were melded in the mystical state of oneness so often described by mystics.

This not only sharpened the monk’s intelligence, thinking skills, creativity and memory, it quieted the amygdala (centre of fear and anxiety in the brain) increasing feelings of joy and peacefulness. Other studies have since supported Newberg, showing that meditation increases activity in the left-prefrontal lobe in particular. Activity in this lobe is associated with feelings of happiness and contentment.

But most startling, recent studies by both Harvard and Yale universities have demonstrated that regular meditators not only increased function in their frontal lobes, they had literally increased its size and volume!

Neuroscientists like to say, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together” meaning when you think and do certain things repeatedly, you create neural pathways that get deeper and deeper over time. Where we direct our attention defines us on a neurological level. What we repeatedly think about and where we focus our attention, is what we neurologically become.

If something threatens us, (whether real or imagined) we have a choice to react reflexively or reflectively. Our reflexive response is lightening fast. Such is our evolutionary nature – we protect ourselves. It is not, however, our newest evolutionary possibility – and this new reflexive response must be developed deliberately.

Patanjali tells us we must disengage from the fluctuations of the mind so that we can go beyond to a higher state of consciousness. To be able to objectively observe that a stressful event is underway and not react reflexively is a tremendous evolutionary step. Nature has granted us the choice to manage our thoughts from fear, cortical overload and hours of depressed immunity, towards peace of mind, harmony, and healing.

Kundalini, Raja and many other schools of yoga, represent a “how to manual” to achieve our highest evolutionary destiny. They teach us to climb the limbs of the primitive brains towards our own transcendent potential.

Because we now have the technology to observe a living brain, we know that the mind is the brain in action. But if the brain is the instrument of conscious and subconscious impulses, and the mind is the end-product of the brain, then who or what is doing the changing of the brain and mind? In yoga, this is the Seer, our highest self, who is fully realized through the Ajna chakra, or our pre-frontal cortex.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Har-Prakash Khalsa says:

    Hi there,

    Thank you. I’m very much interested in this. Where did Dr. Andrew Newberg “states the preliminary findings demonstrate that after only eights weeks of practise of Kirtan Kriya (a yogic meditation) blood flow to the frontal lobes of the brain was dramatically increased” ?

    If there’s a link somewhere to this statement and/or the study I’d love to have access to it!

    Many thanks, Har-Prakash Khalsa.

    1. Danielle Prohom Olson says:

      Hi there,

      I found Dr. Newberg’s comment in Yoga Journal (How to Boost Brain Power, October 2008). The article states that the study was ongoing at that time. I have heard Dr. Newberg mention the study in radio interviews but have not been able to track down more information. If you find any – please share it.

      Thanks, Danielle

  2. Kerry says:

    I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz answer back as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. cheers

    1. Danielle Prohom Olson says:

      thanks! i designed it on my own, playing with custom settings/texts over the past year….the latest look is just the latest incarnation..

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