Jerry the cat is lying on my desk with his tail swishing back and forth over my keyboard, blissfully unaware that he’s making it difficult for me to type the letters “t” and “f.” He’s simply purring, while demonstrating his innate feline prowess for embodying contentment.
Humans embody cognitions as well.
Just notice the regular at the coffee shop, slumped over his double espresso, looking defeated; or the server who stands alert but relaxed, smiles at everyone, and deftly whips out orders; or the young woman who bounces impatiently in line waiting for her turn, her worry about being late for work frantically jostling her body around.
“Embodied cognition” is a psychology theory which proposes that many aspects of cognition emanate from our bodies, they percolate up and create emotions, feelings, moods, and/or behavior. Typically, this process is unconscious.
However, there are essentially two ways that we can consciously influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviors: top-down and bottom-up. Now, I realize that sounds like a British drinking game, but actually, it’s the way that neuroscientists have described the process of self-regulation.
Your front brain has some capacity to rationally guide your way to a happier mood or a better attitude. And your body also has some capacity to move you into a different frame of mind, clearer thoughts, more optimal behavior, and better decision making. Of course these processes are not distinct: they are continually interfacing with each other in feedback loops. The choice we can make is whether we let the process continue unconsciously, or if we attempt to do something about it.
As Carl Jung famously said:
But cut yourself some slack – this is not a simple, linear process. It can be very difficult to change deeply ingrained habits of being.
So, let’s talk about Warrior 1.
The video below shows a simple, one armed variation. It’s a great spinal extension and a lovely way to help integrate the functions of the hemispheres of the brain.
Additionally, with Warrior 1 (and really all the Warrior poses) you have an opportunity to create some potentially potent neuroplastic changes when you “embody the cognition” of the warrior. When you bring strength, fortitude, courage or willpower, and/or an archetypal image of the warrior into your mind while you are practicing this posture, you can do something consciously to help facilitate shifts in thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
In this way, you can use both the bottom-up feedback that the posture provides – throwing up into awareness courageous or strong thoughts, feelings and behaviors – and you can also use a top-down cognition like “I am powerful” or “I am fearless” to help catalyze the bottom up effects.