A Living Practice: Take a Tour of the Nervous System Through Yoga

May 8, 2019

A practitioner in Tree Pose (or you can, of course, use any pose in this exploration) can experience the different layers of neural processing stacked atop each other, even if unconsciously. The structure and experience of Tree Pose itself reflect the hierarchical structure of the nervous system; the stability of the lower, sensory layers is like the trunk of a tree, whereas the higher, abstract layers are like the tree’s branches.

Whole Body

While you are positioned in Tree Pose, what information is available to you?

  • At the bottom layer are the exteroceptive senses that perceive the external world (touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing)
  • Next are the proprioceptive senses—those that perceive the positions of neighboring body parts relative to each other
  • Also at play is the equilibrio-ceptive sense, which measures the position of the body relative to gravity

Neck

Can you sense your heartbeat and breath while in Tree Pose?

  • You cultivate the stability discovered through equilibrioception through autonomic functions controlled by the medulla and pons in the brain stem

Heart

What is your emotional experience while in Tree Pose?

Do any fears or past traumas influence your current experience, even unconsciously?

  • The limbic system—comprised of numerous brain regions above the brain stem—is associated with assigning emotional value to experience

Head

When we inhabit an asana like Tree Pose with ease and stability, we experience multisensory integration in a refined and cohesive way.

  • Mindfully paying attention to the body as we practice harnesses neuroplasticity, refining the neural pathways associated with processing signals from the body

What does it feel like to be you while in Tree Pose?

Feet

  • The self-sense is the most abstract layer of the nervous system hierarchy; it’s associated with the brain’s DMN (default mode network). It is the part of the nervous system that generates a sense of selfhood, and it is also the capacity that allows the feeling of being me to occur.

Excerpted from Yoga & Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for Healing, Transformation, and Joy by Mariana Caplan.

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books in the fields of psychology, spirituality, and yoga. She has been teaching workshops and trainings online, in yoga studios and universities, and at major retreat centers throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally, and lives in Fairfax, California. Learn more at realspirituality.com and yogaandpsyche.com.

Buy your copy of Yoga & Psyche at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Mariana Caplan

Photo of ()\

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books in the fields of psychology, spirituality, and yoga. She has been teaching workshops and trainings online, in yoga studios and universities, and at major retreat centers throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally, and lives in Fairfax, California. More at realspirituality.com and yogaandpsyche.com.

Photo Credit- Tanya Constantine Photography

Also By Author

A Living Practice: Take a Tour of the Nervous System T...

A practitioner in Tree Pose (or you can, of course, use any pose in this exploration) can experience the different layers of neural processing stacked atop each other, even if unconsciously. The structure and experience of Tree Pose itself reflect the hierarchical structure of the nervous system; the stability of the lower, sensory layers is like the trunk of a tree, whereas the higher, abstract layers are like the tree’s branches.

Whole Body

While you are positioned in Tree Pose, what information is available to you?

  • At the bottom layer are the exteroceptive senses that perceive the external world (touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing)
  • Next are the proprioceptive senses—those that perceive the positions of neighboring body parts relative to each other
  • Also at play is the equilibrio-ceptive sense, which measures the position of the body relative to gravity

Neck

Can you sense your heartbeat and breath while in Tree Pose?

  • You cultivate the stability discovered through equilibrioception through autonomic functions controlled by the medulla and pons in the brain stem

Heart

What is your emotional experience while in Tree Pose?

Do any fears or past traumas influence your current experience, even unconsciously?

  • The limbic system—comprised of numerous brain regions above the brain stem—is associated with assigning emotional value to experience

Head

When we inhabit an asana like Tree Pose with ease and stability, we experience multisensory integration in a refined and cohesive way.

  • Mindfully paying attention to the body as we practice harnesses neuroplasticity, refining the neural pathways associated with processing signals from the body

What does it feel like to be you while in Tree Pose?

Feet

  • The self-sense is the most abstract layer of the nervous system hierarchy; it’s associated with the brain’s DMN (default mode network). It is the part of the nervous system that generates a sense of selfhood, and it is also the capacity that allows the feeling of being me to occur.

Excerpted from Yoga & Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for Healing, Transformation, and Joy by Mariana Caplan.

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books in the fields of psychology, spirituality, and yoga. She has been teaching workshops and trainings online, in yoga studios and universities, and at major retreat centers throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally, and lives in Fairfax, California. Learn more at realspirituality.com and yogaandpsyche.com.

Buy your copy of Yoga & Psyche at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

How to Keep Your Mind from Wandering in a Yoga or Medi...

Keep Your Mind from Wandering in a Yoga or Meditation Practice - Sounds True Blog Main Image

PHASE 1

Mind wandering is associated with the DMN (default mode network)—areas of the brain that are active when the mind is in its default state of rest. In this phase, the mind seems cluttered with thoughts and feelings all scrambling to be at the center of attention. The meditator may remain distracted by what seems like an endless barrage for some period of time. The brain remains in this state especially when it is not engaged in a specific task.

PHASE 2

Becoming aware of mind wandering occurs when we mobilize a conscious mind-body practice. This phase involves purposefully placing our attention in order to steer our practice, and this effort reveals itself as activation in the insula. As noted previously, the insula is characteristic of interoceptive awareness and self-awareness. In this way, cognizance of the mind’s habitual wandering is a form of metacognition—thinking about thinking—that sets the stage for neuroplasticity. Just to arrive at this stage of meditation is quite an accomplishment, as most people never cultivate any sustained awareness of how their mind meanders from one topic to the next. Practitioners should recognize the value of this second phase because it can take years to arrive here with any regularity. Without knowing this, beginners often become discouraged.

PHASE 3

Shifting out of wandering is like flexing a muscle or changing gears in a car. This phase involves the executive function of the brain, recruiting regions like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the posterior parietal cortex. The practitioner arrives at this phase through consciously and consistently bringing their attention out of unfocused wandering. Much like training a muscle, we go through high and low points of practice, and—as in the previous stage—it is easy to feel discouraged. Unfortunately, meditators can judge themselves harshly at this stage, lose interest, or give up entirely if they do not recognize just how important this phase is in training the neural muscles of concentration.

PHASE 4

Focusing means that the practitioner has gained some meditative stability and can remain for some time in a concentrative state. This achievement shows up as sustained activation in the dlPFC. At this phase, progressive layers of our mind reveal themselves—both within a practice session and “off the cushion” over time. When the mind eventually starts to wander again, the cycle begins anew, and the practitioner passes through the phases once more to regain focus. With practice, the amount of effort, time, and repetition it takes to go through the cycles decreases, with less time occupied in the earlier phases and more time spent in a focused state.

Excerpted from Yoga & Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for Healing, Transformation, and Joy by Mariana Caplan.

 

Keep Your Mind from Wandering in a Yoga or Meditation Practice - Yoga and Psyche

Keep Your Mind from Wandering in a Yoga or Meditation Practice - Mariana Caplan Image

 

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books in the fields of psychology, spirituality, and yoga. She has been teaching workshops and trainings online, in yoga studios and universities, and at major retreat centers throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally, and lives in Fairfax, California. Learn more at realspirituality.com and yogaandpsyche.com.

 

Buy your copy of Yoga & Psyche at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinterest Keep Your Mind from Wandering Sounds True blog

 

Discernment on the Spiritual Path

Tami Simon speaks with Mariana Caplan, PhD, a psychotherapist, cultural anthropologist, and professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is also the author of the new Sounds True book Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path. Mariana discusses enlightenment, the teacher-student relationship, and what makes someone “spiritually mature.” (54 minutes)

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