Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yoga, Brain Plasticity and Creativity

"Every act of perception is an act of creativity." Octavio Paz

By cultivating perception we are cultivating our creativity. Creativity comes from seeing or feeling or recognizing patterns—sometimes very simple patterns, sometimes very complex or abstract patterns—in both the world around us and in our selves. All life is composed of patterns, structures, or forms, as Plato and Greek philosophy understood over two thousand years ago. All the branches and practices of the many schools of yoga are disciplines that understand that the human brain needs to be observed and studied in order for it to be healthy and to work at it's most efficient level. Yoga never disconnected the brain from the rest of the body as Western thought did for so many centuries. Consequently Hatha yoga is a discipline that cultivates the health of the body precisely through both self-study and training of all aspects of human intelligence: physical/kinesthetic, emotional/energetic, mental and cognitive, intellectual/creative, and spiritual. All forms of intelligence work in harmony in the mature yogi. But the life long study or practice begins in the physical body and progresses from the outside in. Breath is a key component in this process of self-education and awareness as the breath helps us literally feel the presence of the quality of energy that comes with focused, concentrated awareness of our mind and our body working together. Our organs of perception are highly evolved parts of our physical body, affecting and regulating our survival in the world. Understanding how they work and using them efficiently and effectively is critical to our survival and our health.

Our creativity comes from our use of our body and understanding how our organs of perception work and feed us—stimulate and orient us. The clearer we see the world, the better we are able to live in harmony with it. Responding to life requires an attuned, sensitive and integrated mind and body. This is obvious but it takes work and discipline. This discipline can come in a variety of practices, skills, activities, and pleasures, as we all know. The key is deepening and exploring these skills over a long period of time.

Every act of perception is essentially an act of creativity as our body/mind records and interprets the patterns around and inside us. How we interpret these patterns—how clearly we see them outside of our prejudices, needs, and selfishness—is our creativity at work. Our lives are in themselves creative responses to the body and the world we live in.

If we study the history of art or literature, one can see that these traditions are rooted in the creative expression of people participating in sacred rituals and devotional acts of every culture in every corner of the earth. It seems that the most profound work of artists in the modern era, be they musicians, painters, dancers, or writers, are all works that not only reveal innovative ways to see or perceive the world, but also are in some way investigations into the very nature of how creativity works. Their art often can be seen as devotional altars to their exploration of how perception and creativity feed one another.

Neuroscience is discovering every day that the more conscious we are of how our body and mind function, the better equipped we are to find ways to maintain body and mind health. Oliver Sacks, a preeminent scientist and writer, describes the fascinating adaptive strategies of four people in his essay "The Mind's Eye." He speaks of "deep perception" or how blinded people use practical applications of their imagination to negotiate their everyday lives without the use of "normal" eyesight. In one case study in his essay, an engineer tells of how he felt completely confident on top of his house in the middle of the night patching his roof to the terror of his sighted neighbors. Scientists are discovering that damaged brains heal themselves in divergent ways, using what neuroscientist call brain plasticity or the brain's inherent ability to adapt and evolve. This ability to adapt and heal is our creativity at work. Brain plasticity, according to neuroscientists, occurs both at the unconscious and conscious levels. But it most certainly comes from our ability to apply our imaginations. Once our creativity begins to atrophy our brain, too, loses its natural ability to make new neurons and rewire itself. In other words, we can shape the way our brains are wired. Or, as so many philosophers have told us from the Chinese to the African to the European: We are what we think. Or let me add: we are what we feel and what we create.

No comments:

Post a Comment