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Most of us think we are in control of our thoughts, desires and aspirations, but science begs to differ. What we actually do have control over, our conscious mind, makes up only about 5% of our behaviors. Surprisingly, it is our unconscious mind that controls 95% of the things we do, say, feel and think. (1) Of course, a good chunk of the unconscious mind is busy blinking and breathing, but the overwhelming majority of our behaviors stem from our unconscious, unaware mind.
In the tender and formative first six years of life, we received much of our brain’s programming. These childhood patterns of behavior and beliefs have become the driving force of our adult behaviors, and very few of us, if any, have had the opportunity or awareness to change these unconscious old patterns. While Yoga and Ayurveda offer so many additional benefits, these Vedic sciences are dedicated to helping us becoming conscious. All the positive and negative impressions we felt as children, from our parents, siblings, classmates, environment and community, are responsible for unconscious aspects of our personality we all too often carry into our lives as adults. (1,2) Sadly though, because most of these impressions were survival mechanisms, the unconscious behavioral patterns we carry into adulthood are mostly, stimulating, reward-based, limiting, negative, or based on illusory fears that may have protected our feelings as children, but no longer serve us as adults.
Dr. Gregory Berns, an Emory University neuroscientist and the author of Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment, researches dopamine levels in relationship to the anticipation of novel stimuli. Basically, Dr. Berns describes for us the complex neurochemistry of retail therapy and why it works so well: when you go shopping for shoes, for example, your dopamine levels start to rise. The promise of satisfaction peaks as you find the perfect pair of shoes and dopamine floods the brain. Once you take them to the register, pull out the credit card and swipe it, your dopamine levels come crashing down. The reward – the anticipation and excitement of new shoes – is over. (3,4) Your brain, now stripped of satisfaction, pulls out its “how-to-get-happy” menu and browses through all the possible locations in the mall that could possibly deliver a reward. The menu maps the quickest route to the food court and the next thing you know, you’re steering your friends to the nearest Cinnabon. Then, once the reward route has been set and you head in that direction, dopamine levels begin to rise yet again.
We have created a reward-based culture that too often finds it’s only satisfaction from the stimulation of our senses through the latest action movie, the new house, car, job, partner or, of course, eating or going shopping – which all raise dopamine levels. Yoga and Ayurveda are Vedic sciences aimed at increasing self-awareness so that we can take action-steps to free ourselves from childlike patterns of behavior that are still expressing themselves in our adult lives.
Ayurveda uses lifestyle, herbs, exercise, detox and rejuvenation to bring the body back into balance, remove the physical density and enhance self-awareness.
Yoga uses breathing and asana to move prana (life force) through the density of the physical body in order to activate the subtle nadi pathways in the pranamaya kosha (the energy sheath). The nadis transport awareness into both the Annamaya (the physical body sheath) and Manomaya (mind sheath) koshas. With a heightened state of awareness in both the mind and body, there is less physical and mental density, providing the opportunity to take action to free ourselves from reward-based behaviors. With continued action-steps from our truth (Veda), we stop needing to “be loved” and find fulfillment in “being love.”
In chapter 2, verse 48 of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna expressed deep concern about going into battle and killing his own deceitful cousins. To ease his pain, Krishna tells, “Arjuna, Yogastha Kuru Karmani,” – which means, “Establish Being, then Perform Action.” In Yoga and Ayurveda, the ultimate goal is the enhancement of “Being” or self-awareness, but this is only half the job. Until you have taken action based on the awareness of your truth, nature we will not change your old childlike patterns. True human nature, although it has the capacity to be violent, is loving, kind, generous and giving. Giving without expectation has been shown to produce a hormone that opposes the reward hormone, dopamine. Giving without expectation, and truly loving and caring activates oxytocin, which has been shown to improve health and extend life compared to reward-based activities. (5-11)
There are many benefits of Yoga and Ayurveda, but remember, to achieve the most important benefit you must establish the awareness of your own “Being,” and turn that awareness into action. It goes something like this, “I love you, but it is no concern of yours.”