RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Yoga And A Rightward Brain Shift?

QUIETING AND CALMING—“doing next to nothing”—sets off a burst of activity—a qualitative shift throughout the body that may be less conscious but operant in large systems—neurological, circulatory, endocrine, lymphatic—and down into microscopic nuances.  Search Islands Of Grace blog for specific posts on these systems in relationship to body-mind practices.

Quieting and calming can produce significant neurological effects: See Islands Of Grace post: “Neurological Changes In Restorative-Yin Yoga Practice,” 8/12/11.

One underplayed neuro-aspect of yoga in general can involve stimulation of the brain activity relating to explicit organizing and more implicit aspects such as emotional response and the experience of joy and wonder.  Quieting and calming may amplify a general “mind shift”.  This is popularly described as a shift from dominance of the left cerebral hemisphere (that is sensed to be more analytical) to the right cerebral hemisphere (that is sensed to be more emotional).  Having discovered right and left hemisphere distinctions in both normal and brain-damaged populations, there is a public sense of each hemisphere having completely distinct functions.  However, our understanding of the function of the brain is still in its infancy, and it is known, for example that language may provoke activity in either hemisphere rather than be exclusive to one hemisphere.   The lateralization of brain function into right and left is not an explicit given as it is popularly described to be in stimulating creativity or logic or rationality or irrationality. 

There is likely some truth to the position that yoga poses may stimulate right brain activity as, for example, William J. Broad writes in The Science Of Yoga [NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012, pp. 203-204]
The right brain (which controls the body’s left side) does its handiwork in parallel fashion—taking in many streams of information simultaneously from the senses and creating an overall impression of smell and sound, appearance and texture, feeling and sensation.  For instance, the right brain dominates an inconspicuous type of sensory activity that yoga seeks to develop—proprioception, or inner knowledge of limb position.  On the mat or in life, it tells us the position of our arms and legs—even with eyes shut.  Proprioception, like other body functions dominated by the right brain, works best at portraying the big picture, at delivering impressions.  It produces what is known in psychology as a gestalt, where the whole is greater that the sum of its parts.  It is holistic.

However, the sense of domination by the right cerebral hemisphere to guide proprioception, or to focus exclusively on the immediate moment, or to be largely unconcerned with aspects of language and speech, or to dominate the production of spontaneous response, intuition, enjoyment and the experience of “wonder,” are not clearly established.

If truth be known, accomplishing a task [left brain] and enjoying it {right brain] can complement each other, and likely be a subtle combination of each other.  Language, for example, might be stimulated by the right brain to a significant degree in some left-handed individuals.  Further, in the case of injury, processes that seem to be related to one hemisphere may be performed by the “less dominant” hemisphere.  It is even reasonable to assume that proprioception and even a complex perception such as “wonder” may be a composite of brain functions.

What is clear is that a qualitative shift in experience—a “brain shift” as well as a variety of body system shifts—may occur in the shift from everyday activity to calmness and quietness.  The “brain shift” may, in fact, be much more of an exquisite melding of hemispheres than a shift toward one hemisphere.  The brain is analyzing feedback from various endocrines regarding a variety of body conditions such as salt and water levels that ultimately might generate awareness of balance and harmony.

Restorative-yin yoga and other body-mind practices such as tai chi and qigong slow activity and may amplify a holistic body systems shift.  And it is certainly clear that quieting and calming may generate qualities in direct practice that may not be emphasized in everyday activity.  And it is posited that these qualities may evolve into longstanding attributes in everyday life.

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