Why Do Asana? Part 2

WHY DO ASANA? PART 2
I’ve been reading an intriguing book by science writer, Annie Murphy Paul. The
Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain (2022) gathers and
analyzes the recent work of cognitive scientists demonstrating how we “think”
and perceive not just with our brains, but also with our entire body (embodied
cognition), our shared spaces (situated cognition) and our relationships with
others (distributed cognition). This isn’t just another book recognizing the reality
of “gut feelings”, but instead a deep dive into what exactly that might mean and
how we can specifically use this recent science to enhance our ability to learn
and, particularly, to think creatively.
Although Paul never mentions yoga, I’ve been struck by her reports of recent
studies and the terminology that has resulted. “Interoception”, a word scientists
are using to refer to our awareness of the inner state of our bodies, is something
yoga instructors constantly urge. We ask (or should ask) ourselves how does a
certain asana or movement make us feel? Even when most of us don’t turn our
awareness inward, she documents numerous studies showing that we engage in
“nonconscious information acquisition”, particularly when we significantly move
our bodies. Many of her insights in this area are linked simply with walking
(Thoreau’s “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin
to flow)”. But she also devotes an entire chapter to the role of “gesture”
(movement of hands, arms and body), citing studies which show that actively
gesturing on our part not only allows us to better communicate with others
(particularly children), but can be closely associated with what and how well we
(and our children) learn from others as well.
It got me thinking: Can we start to somehow equate asana practice with gesture?
When we ask ourselves why we do warrior pose in a certain shape, might it be
that previous teachers have noticed that such shape communicates with us better
than others? Or that the posture stimulates interoception or at least the impetus
to focus our awareness on bodily feeling? When we wonder or worry about the
historicity of yoga, might certain asana in fact be simply gestures from former,
accomplished teachers that instruct us across time without the use of voice or
words? And don’t get me started about mudras or a vigorous power yoga class!
Questions, questions, questions! Come join us for more at Inside/Out!
Kerry Wilson 3.31.22

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