I’ve got monkey’s on my mind. Which should not necessarily be confused with “monkey-mind” although I have that too.
A neuro-scientist at Princeton, Dr. Elizabeth Gould, studies the brains of monkeys, and rats. Personally, I’d rather focus on the former and not think too much about rats. Through her research, Gould has given a whole new meaning to “monkey mind.”
In a groundbreaking study about 10 years ago, she proved that monkey’s brains do in fact regenerate themselves. I remember when I was in college hearing things like this: “Every time you get drunk you kill 10 million brain cells and they never come back.” But Gould’s work discredited this dogma and broke ground for what would become the concepts of neuro-genesis and neuro-plasticity – our brains can change, grow and repair themselves if given the chance. (And no, I’m not suggesting college kids with a predilection for getting wasted shouldn’t be discouraged!).
In one of Gould’s studies she put the monkeys in a pretty rough environment – no banana trees to hang around in, no vines, nothing to shriek about, nothing much to do. In this stressful environment which was not very conducive to monkeying around, the monkeys got sad. And furthermore, their brains got dull and stopped producing new neurons.
When she put her monkeys in a much happier environment – with lots of natural surroundings that give them lots of ways to monkey around, the monkeys started to create new neurons. Their brains got better because they weren’t so stressed out.
The interesting piece of the puzzle for me as a yoga teacher is the yoga-like movement the monkeys were doing in their brain-healing laboratory jungle. Perhaps for us, the yoga studio is our “jungle” where we can undo our own stress. Especially if it has a rope wall like the one at One Center Yoga. Movement is key to reducing stress and when we move our bodies in unusual ways, stretch muscles were weren’t overly aware of, create movement patterns that are unusual to our modern day life, and breathe deeply doing all of this – perhaps these movements create and strengthen anti-stress neural pathways. In other words, perhaps yoga heals your brain.
You can read more about Elizabeth Gould’s work in this fascinating article in Seed Magazine.