"Be easy on you, You are a breathing thing, A memory to someone, A home to a life." - Nayyirah Waheed
As yogis, we have the privilege to become intimate with the functions of our being and to understand when the signals in our bodies are switching. For example, in the stem of our brain there is a little part called the amygdala. When we sense danger, this part of our brain sends signals to our hypothalamus, which tells our body to get ready to protect itself. Our hypothalamus then tells our autonomic nervous system to shift to sympathetic (fight or flight mode) and rush adrenaline through our body. This incredibly healthy response was developed in ancient hunter-gatherer times to protect us from danger. It feels like fear, anxiety, and high reactivity.
In the last 70,000 years or so humans have developed the frontal cortex, which is responsible for logic and reasoning. This cortex developed the capacity of meta-cognition; the ability to step back and see the larger picture. It gave us the ability to experience compassion, empathy, collaboration, and communication. This development has not only allowed for the human race to evolve into one of the strongest and most cooperative species on the planet, but it has also allowed us to see that those who are different from us are equals.
If you are feeling the effects of modern-day insanity, it may be due to the confusion between wanting to survive, and the natural impulse of needing love to do so.
The threat of a pandemic, loss of control, and isolation can send the sympathetic nervous system (aka survival function) into overdrive. If we allow ourselves to live in survival mode, we may develop trauma, illness, and even PTSD. Our brain does not understand the "why" of our sensations. The brain only feels the signals, sends the chemicals, and our body reacts to them. The longer we allow ourselves to stay in this state, the more difficult it is for our brain to find peace of mind.
Can you think of an example in your everyday life of someone who may be operating from the survival function?
The good news? Studies have shown yoga creates improvement in grey matter in both the hypothalamus and frontal cortex. Grey matter plays a significant role in helping humans to function normally. Grey matter assists us in regulating movement, memory, and emotions. Finding our way into consistent yoga practice, we can learn to regulate these functions and care for ourselves in a deeper capacity. Yoga practice counteracts the adrenal fatigue we can experience from too much cortisol (stress hormone) shooting through our body.
Now that we have established a basic awareness of the brain/body relationship, I invite you to take a few deep breaths and dive deeper. Answer the following questions to explore how these functions show up in your life:
What is a fear-based thought I’ve been believing? How do I feel when I function from a place of fear? From this awareness, how can I show myself compassion?