Monday, March 14, 2011

To Scratch, Or Not To Scratch?

How many times have you driven to work and, if you think back, you don't remember most of the ride? How many times have you brushed your hair out of your face today? Scratched an itch? Corrected a typo while typing? Inhaled? Chances are, you don't have any recollection of doing any of the above, or if you do you don't have recollection of every time you have done it. That's because you have done these things so much your cognitive (thinking) brain region is no longer used and it instead the task is handed over to the "autopilot" region of your brain.

I attribute a lot of things in my life to yoga. And I often get funny looks because of it. To those on the outside, it is just a form of exercise such as spinning or step aerobics. But the physical part of yoga (the poses - called asanas) is just one of many tools used to get you to the heart of the practice - internal awareness and control. The goal of all yoga - whether physical, meditation, chanting, etc - is to get yourself off autopilot. 

As you progress in a yoga class, you begin to feel more. Feeling something is the same as using your active brain - you are consciously aware of what is happening. You can tell if you are stretching too far by how shallow your breath gets with the effort - something you may not notice regularly. You feel your spine stack upon itself to give you a solid base for headstand. Lying in Child's Pose the entire class is extremely valid as a yoga workout, if you are consciously noticing the sensations that come up in your body and breath. Yoga isn't about being flexible, or working up a sweat, or losing weight. It is about doing something - anything - that will wake up your brain. This goes for all types of yoga (officially there are 6: physical yoga, selfless service, meditation, sound and chanting, devotion, and knowledge). They are all tools meant to switch off your autopilot and become consciously aware.

So why is it important to make conscious instead of unconscious decisions? Why do we care if we automatically scratch that itch? The reason is, the more you can control the little things, the better you can control the big things. Think of those little things as training. Resisting an itch does a few things: (1) it make you aware there is an itch, (2) it makes you aware how strongly you want to itch it, (3) it makes you aware that very soon, even if you don't itch it, it will go away. Those little training tools can be stepped up into real life. You are on a diet and find yourself constantly looking into the fridge but don't remember getting there. By taking more control of your thought processes, you can become aware of having the craving, and resisting the craving because you are in control and know it will pass, just like that itch. You can use it when you get angry - instead of snapping back a comment you can acknowledge this feeling of anger, understand where it comes from, take a step back and come at it from a more productive angle. Being in control of what your brain is doing - instead if just letting it react like it has every time before - gives you the power to accomplish anything. 

"Our study found a significant relationship between patterns of activity in the default mode network and future onset of Alzheimer's disease.....These findings may help explain why mental engagement may protect against Alzheimer's disease." -  Dr. Jeffrey R. Petrella, MD

So get yourself to a yoga or meditation class today!!!! And share this blog with anyone you know who might benefit from a little un-autopiloting of their brain :)


  1. Jenn!
    With your permission I would like to post this to my FB and blog so that I may share this insight with friends and family!
    I love it!