Monday, February 1, 2010

Lost in the details?

I'm currently reading (among other things) Buddha's Brain - the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom by Rick Hanson PhD. with Richard Mendius, M.D.  It's geeky enough about the neuroscience without being sleep inducing.  Just my speed.   It has a lot of meditation practices to try out in the process of understanding the points being made about the brain. One piece really caught me and I've been using it in my own practice and also exploring it as a teaching tool in my yoga classes.

From the book:
"The methods here focus on stilling the clamor of verbal thought - that endlessly nattering voice in the back of the head.
Be Aware of the Body as a Whole
Some parts of the brain are linked  by reciprocal inhibition: when one part activates, it suppresses another one.  To some extent, the left and right hemispheres have this relationship; thus, when you stimulate the right hemisphere by engaging the activities it specializes in, the verbal centers of the left hemisphere are effectively shushed.
The right visual-spatial hemisphere has the greater responsibility for representing the state of your body, so awareness of the body can help supress left-brain verbal chatter.  Right hemisphere activation increases further when you sense the body as a whole, which draws upon the the global, gestalt processing of that hemisphere.
To practice awareness of the whole body, start with the breath as a whole;  rather than allow attention to move as it normally does, from sensation to sensation, try to experience your breath as a single, unified gestalt of sensations in your belly, chest, throat, and nose.  It's normal for this unified gestalt sensing to crumble after a second or two; when it does, just try to recreate it.  Then expand  awareness to include the body as a whole, sensed as a single perception, as one whole thing.  This sense of the body as a whole will also tend to crumble quickly, especially in the beginning; when it does, simply restore it again, if only for a few seconds....
Besides its benefits for quieting the verbal mind, whole body awareness supports singleness of mind.  This is a meditative state in which all aspectes of experience come together as a whole and attention is very steady."

What I've been practicing with is finding this whole body awareness, not only as a 'formal' meditation technique, but adding it to asana work.   The anatomical details for a yoga posture are important to be sure.  And there's a certain quality of attention and concentration involved. But to take some time in the posture to go global allows in a different understanding of the physical practice of yoga and yokes it to the meditative side.  It is very easy to get lost in the details, endlessly fussing and fixing.  So I do the details and then let them go for a bit and rest in the whole.  As Dr. Hanson says, the attention crumbles, but you can rebuild it and rebuild it.  The experience of the whole of the posture contains, I think, the essence of the practice...not the details.  I think the details are there to find a safe structure on which to hang our awareness. That's my theory.  I'm testing it out.

The photo reference, if you didn't catch it, is are you seeing the forest or the trees? (No value judgment implied).