A Living Practice: Take a Tour of the Nervous System Through Yoga

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A practitioner in Tree Pose (or you can, of
course, use any pose in this exploration) can experience the different layers
of neural processing stacked atop each other, even if unconsciously. The
structure and experience of Tree Pose itself reflect the hierarchical structure
of the nervous system; the stability of the lower, sensory layers is like the
trunk of a tree, whereas the higher, abstract layers are like the tree’s
branches.

Whole
Body

While
you are positioned in Tree Pose, what information is available to you?

  • At the bottom layer are the
    exteroceptive senses that perceive the external world (touch, smell, sight,
    taste, and hearing)

  • Next are the proprioceptive
    senses—those that perceive the positions of neighboring body parts relative to
    each other

  • Also at play is the
    equilibrio-ceptive sense, which measures the position of the body relative to
    gravity

Neck

Can you
sense your heartbeat and breath while in Tree Pose?

  • You cultivate the stability
    discovered through equilibrioception through autonomic functions controlled by
    the medulla and pons in the brain stem

Heart

What is
your emotional experience while in Tree Pose?

Do any
fears or past traumas influence your current experience, even unconsciously?

  • The limbic system—comprised of
    numerous brain regions above the brain stem—is associated with assigning
    emotional value to experience

Head

When we inhabit an asana like Tree Pose with ease and stability, we
experience multisensory integration in a refined and cohesive way.

  • Mindfully paying attention to the
    body as we practice harnesses neuroplasticity, refining the neural pathways
    associated with processing signals from the body

What
does it feel like to be you while in Tree Pose?

Feet

  • The self-sense is the most
    abstract layer of the nervous system hierarchy; it’s associated with the
    brain’s DMN (default mode network). It is the part of the nervous system that
    generates a sense of selfhood, and it is also the capacity that allows the
    feeling of being me to occur.

Excerpted from Yoga & Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for
Healing, Transformation, and Joy
by Mariana Caplan.

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books in the fields of psychology, spirituality, and yoga. She has been teaching workshops and trainings online, in yoga studios and universities, and at major retreat centers throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally, and lives in Fairfax, California. Learn more at realspirituality.com and yogaandpsyche.com.

Buy your copy of Yoga & Psyche at your favorite bookseller!

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