Back in 2009, at one of my workshops for mental health professionals, a woman approached me afterwards with a comment, “The presentation was nice, but I really didn’t get what I wanted out of this workshop,” she said, peering over the top of her readers with a frown. “I wanted to hear about how depression affects the brain and what yoga can do to help rebuild those chemicals and brain regions.”
Now, if you are a yoga professional, most of the feedback you get is probably along the lines of, “I feel more relaxed than I’ve felt in years!” or “This class was amazing!” or even “You have completely changed my life!”
So as you can imagine, she caught my attention.
But it turns out that comment was exactly the little nudge I needed. I got busy and starting collecting research, studying the brain, and trying to figure out what exactly was happening when you have those post-yoga practice life-changing experiences and insights.
As I explored, one key concept (something I originally learned from Rick Hanson) kept resurfacing: “the brain is like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones.”
Well, that certainly explained my over-reaction to the student who was unsatisfied with her workshop experience!
Human beings are hardwired for noticing the negative.
It’s a survival thing.
It’s important to remember that you have to look for cars when you are crossing the street and lock your doors at night.
But this hardwiring can also be a bad thing if it spirals out of control and we decrease our capacity to self-regulate the nervous system. This hypervigilant hardwiring, if we are not able to override it, leads to literally every stress-related chronic disease that has spread virally through our culture.
But a balanced amount of hypervigilance can be good. It can be a great motivator, a great builder of resilience, and a key to hauling ourselves up to the next level of awareness, expansion, creativity and self-actualization. As psychologist Kelly McGonigal says, even stress has its upside.
For me the upside of all this neurobiology study has been a really wonderful, expanded way of understanding myself, my personal history, and my reactions to stressful things that happen, as well as a greater capacity to help my students understand those same things within themselves.
Last month, I led a YogaU webinar which pivoted on key concepts of how yoga affects neuroplasticity.
And I’m super excited to be hosting a live workshop at the end of September in Asheville with more research, practices and applications: The Neurobiology of the 8 Limbs of Yoga September 30-October 1, at The Embodiment Center.
Check out this video for more info.
As I’ve explored this work over the past few weeks preparing for my upcoming workshops (I’m actually leading the same workshop in Brazil next week), I’ve been posting articles and livestreams over on my Facebook pages (Kristine Kaoverii Weber and Subtle Yoga), so if you are interested in this stuff, check out those pages for great info. Also, we have been having some great discussions on the Subtle Yoga Community Page.
Understanding the basics of the neurobiology of the 8 limbs will help you better understand how Patanjali’s ancient system works in light of the most cutting edge neuroscientific findings. And for those of you who attended my workshop last spring on yoga and neuroplasticity – don’t worry, there’s tons of new information.