Bikram Yoga Teacher, Misha Soltis, recently led us in our daily 10 am PDT live-stream Pranayama breathing on Facebook. She reminded me, and all of us, how great it is to have this one constant in our lives: our breath. With so much uncertainty, we often remind ourselves to stop and take a breath. We instinctively know that this breath will calm us, that everything is and will be okay.
There is a video of B.K.S. Iyengar doing the most amazing inhale and exhale demonstration (shared by Matt Newman in our Facebook Group, BYSJ Everywhere). In it, he illustrates the length and the beauty in the sound of both the inhale and the exhale. He states:
“The king of the senses is the mind,
The king of the mind is the breath,
And the king of the breath is the rhythmic vibration of the nervous system.”
– B.K.S. Iyengar
If there’s anything rattling right now, it’s our nervous system. We may not be able to feel it, but take a closer look at your breath and you’ll probably discover an ‘unease’ in the vibration of your breath. Yet, a calm nervous system is crucial to your well-being. Engage in good, slow breathing techniques and you can control or slow down your nervous system.
Still, there is even more going on here.
My week was packed with a lot of emotion, coming from unpacking so much of my past. ESPN started the documentary on Michael Jordan, The Last Dance. Being from Chicago, much of my upbringing included numerous gatherings around the TV watching anything “Air Jordan.” Watching this series brought me right back to the couch that I sat on, the people I cheered with, the worn-out Chicago Bulls sweatshirt I wore, and even the jobs and relationships that I was in during those 10+ years!
I also watched the “Let’s Go Crazy” concert honoring Prince, which brought me back to my college years at Michigan State and the dance contest that I won to that crazy song called, The Bird. (Yep, I’m showing my age here and my dance skills – lol!) I also made bread this week, reminding me of times in the kitchen with my mother.
I talked to old friends and did an interview with studio owner and yoga champion, Zeb Homison. In it, we hit on so many stories that helped to create BYSJ nearly two decades ago: how we started, what we stood for, and what we stand for now. Please take a listen, BYSJ community– you’ll not only learn a lot about me, but about what started the character of our home, and the foundation it is built upon.
Like you, my routine right now is so different. Living alone affords me a considerable amount of time to ponder, to reflect on the thoughts that I’m having. One of the many beautiful things happening at this time is our ability to listen to more podcasts – some really good and wonderful stories. We get to absorb knowledge out there that we can listen to while we cook, do backbends, make jewelry, and when we go and take a long walk.
The Neuroscience of Uncertainty
BYSJ teacher, Jason Rahlwes, sent me a WHOOP podcast interviewing Dr. Andrew Huberman, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford, on his research into the brain. Now, this guy is not your average ‘smart guy.’ His dad was a theoretical physicist which led Andrew at a young age to decide that he was going to be a scientist too but study the brain. He even has a science lab at Stanford named after him! This podcast is a worthy listen, as there are many yoga tie-ins that relate to what you know from your practice. It was a treat to listen to and ponder over on my long walk on the Los Gatos Trail!
Dr. Andrew states: “We should all congratulate ourselves on how well we are doing in this time of uncertainty. Our brains are hard-wired to want to know the duration of a situation, the path, and the outcome. The brain does not like uncertainty.” He then explains the equipment our brain gives us to keep us going: dopamine, for instance, is a chemical secreted in the brain that helps one feel good, satisfied, inspired. Dopamine too isn’t just produced at the time of the goal, but more so in the effort towards one’s goal, or all along the journey of getting to one’s goal. One of the gems in this intense interview is that as human beings we are designed to create ways to increase our dopamine levels, consciously or not.
Perhaps the unpacking of my past was really a method my brain used to re-generate the good feelings I had about that time in my life, thus increasing my levels of dopamine to keep me going! Fascinating!
Dr. Andrew Huberman talked about the need for “deliberate disengagement” which, when done, slows down the nervous system. He emphasized the control we have over our diaphragms and how this muscle is intended to communicate important signals to the brain, i.e. slow down your breathing. It slows down the diaphragm muscle, communicating to the brain that things are good. The nervous system can relax.
Yoga & Self-Regulation
Iyengar mastered this control over the nervous system creating this harmonious long heavenly sound of which we get to hear in his inhale and exhale. With our practice of Pranayama deep breathing and all the postures in our Bikram series, you to have the ability to self-regulate your nervous system, and through that process regulate your dopamine levels. Our longer Savasana between the standing and floor series is a ‘deliberate disengagement,’ which you’ve prepared for by completing the standing series.
Ironically, the uncertainty of our time has given me more certainty and belief in the benefits of your yoga practice. Yoga is nature working in us; mind and body supporting the supernatural beings that we are!