It is a common misperception that sitting on a couch, behind a desk, or behind the wheel is a “non thing” These are forms of conditioning just like anything else, and we adapt to make the repetition of those events more efficient. All things require compensatory movement to balance them, including those events that are normally considered “not moving.” Even the stillness of meditation is a physiological act of movement, which is why Buddhist monks embraced the rigorous exercise of yoga – so that they could endure the rigors of seated meditation.
If compensatory movement is not practiced, imbalanced adaptations will lead unerringly to pain and injury. For instance, the practice of sitting on a couch for several hours leads to the body holding forward spinal flexion, and standing and walking with effortlessness (our genetic inheritance as anti gravitational creatures) become increasingly painful and injurious. Eventually the “posture” of being seated on the couch is armored (in the same way that bodybuilding armors the body) due to the lack of a balancing compensatory movement. Once that armor is set in place, fear reactivity protects the area from deviant movement – anything that moves the armor in a way that acts against the posture of being seated on the couch. Emotion exists throughout our bodies, not just in our brains. We create and store emotion in the body wherever we condition, adapt, and progress in an imbalanced way – one without compensatory movement to balance a repeated event. Understanding how asana are a compensatory tool to disinhibit vinyasa and prasara flow allows us to now discuss the nature of body flow and bound flow.
“Neuropeptides and their receptors thus join the brain, glands, and immune system in a network of communication between brain and body, probably representing the biochemical substrate of emotion.” (Candace Pert, Ph.D.,Journal of Immunology, 1985.) For millennia philosophers have pondered the existence of the concept of a “mind” – an ethereal consciousness that cohabitates with our physical “body.” Religious leaders, alongside the philosophers, have also pontificated on the coexistence of a spirit or soul, which they describe as a network of astral light superimposed over the physical frame.
Only a few hundred years ago, Rene Descartes received an official papal stamp of approval to work on cadavers. And in his pact with the Pope to claim no domain over the mind, the emotions, or the soul but only over the “brutal, ugly and short” life of the mortal coil, the distinction between mind and body became institutionalized in modern medicine (and for that matter the distinction between mind, emotions, body, and spirit).
However, despite the foundational work of philosophers and early scientists in understanding human existence, these crude concepts have been made obsolete in recent decades with the advent of interdisciplinary research, in particular with the establishment of the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) in the mid-1980s.
PNI began as a result of the innovative work of Candace Pert, Ph.D., at the National Institutes of Health to determine the intercommunication between the brain, body, and behavior by tracing the path, nature, and operation of pep tides. Peptides were referred to as “informational substances” by Francis Schmitt of MIT in 1985, relating to information theory’s description of how communication networks. Dr. Pert’s work helped discover that these peptides were present in the brain, the endocrine system (the glands), and the immune system (the spleen, bone marrow, and lymph nodes), and as a result stimulated synergistic collaboration between the previously independent disciplines of neuroscience, endocrinology, and immunology (which is why the accurate term for PNI was actually proposed to be neuroimmunoendocrinology).
Dr. Pert fought a long, cold battle against old paradigm thinking of the body as a patchwork of independent systems thought to not communicate or interact. Despite her triumph over the scientific myopia of the old paradigm, conventional wisdom still reverberates with the echo of that obsolete thinking: that the brain, behavior, and the body operate relatively independently – that there is such a thing as the mind separate from the body, which is separate from the emotions.
PNI is only 20 years old – a newborn in history. But in its short existence, it has demonstrated through rigorous scientific trials, publications, and discoveries aiding the cure and resolution of illness and disease that the mind/body/emotion distinctions are not only artificial but problematic.
What PNI has shown is that these little informational substances, these peptides, are released by the brain, the immune system, and the endocrine system to communicate with one another and with all of the bodily subsystems. And through a process of “sniffing out” and hunting down the right key and lock mechanism they travel throughout the entire organism, searching for the right information for the job. Endocrinologists refer to this as “action at a distance” and, as the author has stated previously regarding the myofascial system, reiterate that the site is not the source.
When those pep tides lock in to the right receptors on the surface of our cells, they actually change the nature of the cell. At a cellular level, we are transformed by this communication. Release of a hormone, such as epinephrine (adrenaline), and capture throughout the body change the nature of our mood, as anyone engaged in a fight knows. Prasara yoga uses specifically personalized movements, which elicit fear so that when the neuroendocrine response occurs we do not experience biochemical shock from these hormones pumped and dumped into our system. This yoga demands courage, as anyone who has performed a Threading Bridge can attest.
Although conventional wisdom so often makes the brain and the mind synonymous, the brain is just one aspect in a trinity that makes up the information sharing network of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. But even these systems themselves are not the “mind” per se. It is this ocean of free floating information body wide, this fleet of peptides that potentiates not just our physical state but, simultaneously, our mental and emotional states. It is this peptide network that is the body wide mind:
“Peptides serve to weave the body’s organs and systems into a single web that reacts to both internal and external environmental changes with complex, subtly orchestrated responses. Peptides are the sheet music containing the notes, phrases, and rhythms that allow the orchestra – your body – to playas an integrated entity. And the music that results is the tone or feeling that you experience subjectively as your emotions.” (Candace Pert, Ph.D., Molecules of Emotion, p. 148.)
For thousands of years, disciplines such as yoga have had a physical practice to yoke down the physical body in order to influence the level beneath conscious awareness. And yet, until recent decades the West has branded these practices as “new agism” (even though they are, ironically, the oldest). Only recently have Western clinical hospitals included “alternative” therapeutic models to address the mental and emotional states of the patient, and since doing so have repeatedly demonstrated the dramatic therapeutic benefits in recovery, remission, and even spontaneous cures.
It is upon this absence of a distinction between mind, body, and emotions that yoga establishes its transformative physical practice. It is this emotional disposition that engenders not merely powerful, graceful physical performance but health, longevity, and a life of fulfillment and bliss. Dr. Kathleen DesMaisons, author of Potatoes Not Prozac, said at her Radiant Recovery· ranch, “If you try to break the capsule that holds the pain it won’t work – but if you ‘bathe’ it, instead of, breaking’ it – it will work.”
Bathing the capsule. It’s so beautifully ironic that this literally happens physiologically; we bathe the joint capsules in nutritive and lubricative fluid. Muscle release relates to Dr. DesMaisons’ description of bathing the capsule rather than trying to break it. The entire universe vibrates. This is the way energy works. Muscles, too, vibrate; they have a frequency. When we hold tension, part of the muscle still holds a fixed frequency. We can try to combat that frequency by forcing it to release, but this only reinforces it as our muscles hunker down even more defensively. Or we can “bathe the capsule” by matching the frequency through slow and smooth range of motion.
Matching the frequency requires that we revisit and match the initial tension, so at first, we’ll feel tension mounting in the area. But as we move through and beyond, we match the frequency, and the muscles discharge the unnecessary vibration. It’s quite an amazing mechanism.
We heal our own energy levels in our muscles through dynamic range-of-motion movement, as in our biochemistry through nutrition.
Vibration strategies have been around for a very long time, several million years as a matter of fact. Animals do this instinctively. If we alert, say, a white-tailed deer by stepping on a branch, her head pops up and her ears focus in the sound’s direction. When no danger presents itsel£ she returns to grazing. Step on another twig and we see her spring into action, orienting her entire body toward a potential avenue of withdrawal, her muscles actively tensed. If she finds again that no danger exists, she returns to her grazing. However, this time after a couple minutes, we’ll notice a very interesting phenomenon of twitching. Animals do not store fear’s tension like humans can. They discharge the residual muscular tension from survival arousal (in the first instance above, autonomic, and in the second, hormonal).
Humans can obviously do this as well. And we do. There are countless rituals in various cultures to account for this, as well as just the very commonplace “Oh, just shake it off; you’ll be okay.” It’s a part of the very fabric of being a human creature.
In Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, author Peter Levine describes how increased autonomic arousal stores tension as a positive survival strategy. Our heart rate and blood pressure increase, sending blood volume to our large muscles, our breathing rate becomes rapid and shallow, our pupils dilate. We perspire and our urination and defecation become inhibited (sometimes after “blowing the bilges” to get rid of unnecessary baggage). This arousal reflex to perceived threats or challenges can give us the necessary explosive power to run away from a saber toothed tiger on the tundra, or to have the courage to face our most challenging pose or movement in our yoga practice.
We then become supercharged by a chemical cocktail being injected into our bloodstream: epinephrine, norepinephrine, aldosterone, endorphins, and so on. Many sport psychologists focus heavily on drawing out these chemicals through visualizations. This condition basically makes us a highly charged but chemically volatile version of ourselves.
Therein lies the difficulty. This stress arousal syndrome (SAS) was perfectly designed to bring down prey or to combat or flee from predators. But it does interfere with skillful performance. SAS decreases accuracy (by shifting blood volume from the periphery to large muscles), most obviously, but the so called adrenal dump (for those ill prepared for the chemical download) wreaks havoc on perception, causing phenomena such as tachypsychia (or time distortion), tunnel vision, auditory exclusion (no or “selective” hearing), or shorHerm memory loss.
For millennia, yoga has taught how to manipulate respiration to lower autonomic arousal, such as heart rate and blood pressure. This is due primarily to the fact that only breathing has two distinct nervous pathways. So if we manipulate our breathing, we may control the arousal state of our heart rate, blood pressure, muscular tension autonomic arousal.
Shaking blood volume into periphery avenues may divert blood flow away from large muscles – a manual version of affecting the arousal syndrome. But it primarily serves to release stored muscular tension. This principle was taken to an extreme by the introduction of the Power Plate – a vibrational plate upon which one steps to stimulate tension to an equal frequency – minimal tonus. Researchers report instant nondeforming range of motion and even performance and strength gains after only minutes of use.
Carmelo Bosco, an Italian human performance company, developed a machine comprising a vibrating metal disk upon which athletes stand to amplify vibration through the body. The effects of this machine include increased neural arousal and dramatically increased flexibility. (Chris Korfist, “The Foundation,” Intensity Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 39, July 9, 2002.) Vibration allows us to minimize our energy expenditure (researchers say to about 25%) while accomplishing the same if not improved performance.
It’s definitely a performance inhibitor to have the “pump:’ Shake in between poses or flows, before and after, generally and selectively the muscles used. Gently slapping the muscles also has the same effect. It was quite disconcerting to line up against wrestlers from the former USSR as they would be violently shaking, breathing explosively, and slapping themselves. And yet, when the author first learned this technique, it was taught by a Siberian shaman right before diving with the author into the February frozen Baltic Sea.
All movements require selective tension, so we need to focus our activation of the necessary muscles and deactivate superfluous movement and tension to maximize our performance. There are techniques we can use to discharge residual muscular tension: Something even as seemingly insignificant as wiggling the fingers during a rest pause enhances potential stamina by releasing marginal amounts of tension.
A sect of Buddhist monks residing on Japan’s Mount Hiei, often referred to as the “Marathon Monks,” has a unique approach to vibration training. Over a seven year span, the gyoja, or “spiritual athlete,” completes an arduous I,OOO day challenge, which builds to a finall00 day trot during which he runs 52.2 miles a day – twice the length of a marathon. An effortless running gait enables the individual to run these extreme distances by maximizing energy conservation while minimizing the adverse effects of stress arousal syndrome.
The direct impact isn’t the greatest threat to our health, strength, and performance. The most significant hazard to our well being has to do with how these stages of bound flow directly affect our self image, self confidence, and self determination (perceived autonomy) and lead to illness, disease, and chronic conditions.
Fear-reactivity is the nonspecific, conditioned pattern of concrete, observable behavior involving movement, breathing, and structural alignment, as opposed to the internal event, such as catastrophic thinking or emotional anxiety or panic.
Increasing the threshold of pain, such as holding an asana for an agonizing minute after minute in order to have the tension surrender, increases how well we may perform. However, doing so often means hovering on the brink of injury to stimulate the organism to adapt and progress. Progress is often the villain. Our progress can conceal our body flow if we misinterpret body flow as compilation and not distillation of performance, health, and strength.