Back in my Ashanga days, I remember one of the things Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say was ‘do not think’. It was usually when just before I was dropping back into wheel to walk my hands up onto my legs. It helped to not think about it…..
Despite my love of deep backbends however, I have to admit, these words never sat well with me. Don’t get me wrong; I deeply respected and loved my teacher, but I also noticed a part of me distrusted anyone telling not to think. It was the same part of me that felt caution around any spiritual ideology that might be trying to brainwash me and steal my soul…. Of course, we also meet ‘do not think’ in Patanjali’s 2nd yoga sutra “ Yoga Chitta Vrtti Nirodha” – yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind. This I understood and understand better. I do have a deep appreciation of trans-cognitive peace when my mind elevates beyond the mundane anxieties and to-do lists of modern living and can settle into its own nature.
Recently however the words ‘do not think’ took on greater significance..and I think back to Guruji’s words with a deeper appreciation. … Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens” tell us that we have huge jumbo brains in relation to other animals and our ancestors. In Homo-Sapiens; the brain weighs about 2-3% of our body weight but it consumes about 25% of our bodies energy when the body is at rest. Conversely, the brains of apes require only 8% of their bio-energy. And there is a price to pay for this ! – our muscles have atrophied as a result ! As Hariri explains “Like a government diverting money from defence to education, humans, diverted energy from biceps to neurons”. I wouldn’t mind if this muscular dystrophy was the price to pay for really using our brains to eradicate suffering for all living beings on the planet, then that would be muscle wastage worth wasting, but lets face it, unless tamed, a lot of the time, the mind falls into anxiety states, depression, yearning etc.- all the emotional baggage of modern living.
According to Harari, 10,000 years ago, before Sapiens found wheat and settled into communities to become farmers, back in the days when we hunted and gathered, we had “the bodies of Olympic Athletes or advanced yogis” . We didn’t have to work our butts off to provide food and shelter for ourselves and family. We didn’t sit for 8 hours a day up in our heads plotting, worrying and regretting. We MOVED and we lived in the here and now.
However, then we settled into huge agricultural communities where societal structures and brain conditioning were essential for controlling the masses, we as a species developed a form of somatic amnesia, we forgot how to move ! The discovery of wheat did not help this evolutionary development, but another interesting factor that distinguished us from other animals, was our victory over fire which meant that we could cook our food. Some archaeologists suggest that cooking food was also another reason for our bio-energy migrating to our brain; that there is a link between cooking and the shortening of our intestinal tract. As energy consumption of the intestines decreased, more energy could be diverted to the brain.
So what interests me about all this, is how this effects our evolution ? How yoga can effect our evolution as a species ? How overthinking effects our evolution as a species in relation to the over-population of our species on a planet with limited resources and the suffering being created due to modern agriculture? What was Pattabhi Jois trying to tell us ? What was Patanjali trying to tell us ?
In Patanjalis’ day, 250 million Homo Sapiens lived on the planet; only 10,000 years earlier only 5-8 million nomadic foragers existed. It would not surprise me if even then, Patanjali could see the dangers of where our evolution was heading. His sutras are based on the Samkhya system, which is a dualist system, but not western dualist which is the separation of mind and body and which asks us to live up in our heads and negate the body (Descartes – “I think therefore I am”…. really !) but Eastern Dualism, where mind and body are in the same jar and this is separated from being (aka Purusha, our soul nature), which is perceived to be in another jar. Patanjali wanted us to be, not to think and tackle life from our heads, but to be in the here and now and he used asana (the third limb of Ashtanga yoga) to help us get out of our heads, to achieve that. Looking at this globally, we would all benefit from this migration from the mental process and return to our being. Our incredible brains have given us the power of gods and yet suffering has increased on the planet (especially when you include all living animals). And its getting worse, lets face it.
The limitations of living in our heads becomes evident when we look at the huge natural drive in many people to get “out of their heads” using alcohol and drugs; our limited brain doesn’t connect us with our deeper self…… we will do anything to find freedom from that space between our ears. We can do work on healing the mental process (psychotherapy) and this has can have some value to help us connect us to our feelings and reveal our truth. Its just that thoughts are superficial in relation to our deeper being. We see this in the Koshas or body layers. The manomaya kosha is the mental layer which is sandwiched between the two more superficial layers, 1. the anamaya (physical body) and 2. pranamaya (energy body) and two deeper layers, 3. the Vijnanamaya kosha and 4. the Anandamaya kosha (the bliss or soul layer).
So how do we connect with these deeper layers and move beyond the cognitive towards our deeper being? We connect mind, body and breath, through our practices. It is this connection that opens up the deeper intuitive and bliss layers. and the good news is that the connection doesn’t need to involve very strong movement. Strong Vinyasa will deliver you to a blissful shavasana and change your day, but thankfully Restorative and Yin practices can also create a similar result.
So yoga offers us an alternative evolutionary path. A path with its roots in animism and shamanism, where the names of the poses are often dedicated to animals and aspects of nature and so by embodying them, we can reclaim the dignity of our ancestors that enjoyed substance and connection with nature, in their moving and being (without the drugs and booze… )
All change starts in the mind and our consciousness effects others. I do not wish to be airy fairy and suggest that this new evolutionary direction will take over the planet. Its a nice thought though…… and I like that I have planted it in yours now 🙂 However sometimes it seems to me, that although 99% per cent of the planet wants peace and its that 1% that holds the power. Rather than collapse into despair, its important to remember that we can change our world. We can bring substance and movement and sacred being into our life no matter what governments are saying. We can revolt peacefully against the regime by eating consciously and moving our bodies and not letting our heads and the societal impressions we have inherited that do not serve us, limit us. Through movement and the gifts of feeling and sensing that it brings, we can find freedom.
So we choose our evolution, we choose how we develop. We choose to move or not move. We choose to eat dead flesh or plants, beans and nuts. We can chose to overthink and become brains with limbs, disconnected from our felt sense of the moment. Or we choose to move, to flow in our being, sensing, feeling, integrating our experience and learning to be with it all. Or we can work on finding our own individual balance between mind and body. Our creative intelligence is also a gift. We just have to be aware of the price we pay for over-using the brain, tackling life from our heads and the empty power it can bring to our lives. The choice is ours.