Conscious Changes with Yoga

Yoga is the reconciliation of polarities and a deep understanding of our inherent wholeness.
As we cultivate a personal practice, no part of us gets left behind. A re-membering of the fragmented versions of ourselves is initiated.

I get on my mat to sort myself out…


Interoception. Have you heard of it?

According to Psychology Today, interoceptive awareness is the awareness of inner states and fluctuations; the process of receiving, accessing, and appraising our internal climate. Often these internal processes are relatively automatic and unconscious (i.e. they can continue without conscious effort, like breathing, heart rate variability, etc.). The more we practice yoga and embodied awareness, the more we can engage with the process and become active agents in our own everyday experience.

In other words, we can consciously re-program our system through intentional practices of yoga. Wanna know how? Simple (and not so simple):

Notice the breath, the respiratory system.

How do you feel when your breath is fast and shallow? How do you feel when your breath is slow and steady?

Notice how the pace of the breath impacts our felt experience. Faster, shallower breathing correlates with a hyperaroused sympathetic nervous system (i.e. fight or flight).

Slow steady breathing correlates with the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

As we begin to consciously slow down the breath, we begin to signal to the nervous system that calm is possible and that we can be peaceful while confronting challenge. This awareness places us as a co-pilot in our operating system, one that can assess, regulate, and impact our perceptions, actions, and ultimately our beliefs of what is possible.

Rewire the Nervous System (Neuroplasticity).

The basis of neuroplasticity is that “neurons that fire together wire together.” That is, new neural pathways are being built all the time.

What we place our attention to becomes stronger. What we don’t pay attention to gets pruned away. Use it or lose it.

How does this apply to yoga?

Simple, when we focus on the breath and how particular actions, poses, and challenges impact our nervous system, we can consciously re-direct our attention into the processes that we can manage: our thoughts, our physiological responses including tension, breath rate, and eventually our posture.

Another way to say this is: notice when you confront a challenge …

  • How does your body respond?
  • Where do you feel it?
  • Do you notice tension building up?
  • Do you notice particular thought loops or patterns arise?
  • How does your breath differ in times of difficulty vs. ease?

If we are to consciously work with the concepts put forth by neuroplasticity, we would purposefully attenuate to the present challenging experience. For example, instead of unconsciously flooding the body with tension, old thought patterns, and quickening the breath, notice the opportunity to reprogram and rewire a new pathway, a signal of ease, autonomy, clear headedness, and deepening of the breath.

If we shift our response to challenge and expand our perception of reality beyond the automatic, unconscious looping mind, we can dramatically alter the state of ease or dis-ease in our body. Felt experience pierces the rigidity of the mind.

Acceptance and Integration.

Yoga is the reconciliation of polarities and a deep understanding of our inherent wholeness.

As we cultivate a personal practice, no part of us gets left behind. A re-membering of the fragmented versions of ourselves is initiated. We take all of our experiences and harness them; we learn to not ignore, deny, or harbor on them.

Thus an integration of dichotomy is possible (our present/ future selves; the seen/ unseen; etc.) and we can situate ourselves in this generous present moment. Our embodiment becomes richer in the present, it is not stuck in the past. As this happens, we bolster and infuse vitality into every source of power we have access to. That is, we fine tune how we listen, how we perceive, how we move, and become so tuned in, so aware that slowly, day by day, we begin to feel, know, and engage in ways that are highly integrated, creative, and free.

By Marie Belle Perez Rivera

Marie Belle Pérez Rivera, PhD, is an educator, artist, community leader, and practitioner of yoga and mindfulness. She currently resides in Washington, DC and travels and teaches yoga, mindfulness, and critical thinking throughout the United States, Caribbean, Latin America, Spain, and Bali. Marie Belle has focused much of her professional and academic career on the roles that psychology, culture, and empowerment play in health, resilience, quality of life, and emotional well-being. She considers herself an anthropologist of movement: delving deeply into the heart and roots of classical yoga and meditation practice while also keeping a panoramic perspective that includes academic research in science, astrology, nutrition, and personal experience. Find out more about her on her website.

Image by Bhikku Amitha from Pixabay

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