Your Brain and Yoga

roni_pose_optI spent the past 4 days immersed in the Tony Robbins conference. Tony is a motivational speaker, but even more so he has spent his life studying neuro-associative conditioning. This is basically learning to use the way your brain works to create triggers and reactions that will cause you to think and feel the way you want to think and feel in any given situation. He spent a lot of time talking about the foundational importance of physiology, or the way we use our bodies. He taught in an intellectual way about what you already know from your life’s experience: If you don’t feel good physically, you won’t perform at your best. This doesn’t just mean having an injury or being tired or even sick, but even more critical is how we choose to sit, stand, walk, or any of the tiny ways we experience our own body language.

We know that body language is something we use to communicate with others, but we grossly underestimate how much our own body language is communicating to ourselves. Once he explained this connection on day 1, it was time to teach us exactly how to stand and utilize our bodies for the optimal results in life, how to position ourselves physically so that we are at a peak state mentally. He began, “Stand tall, even the weight out in your feet, lift your sternum, roll your shoulders back and down, find your center…” and he continued on. In that moment I had a small revelation. I have been repeating those exact words hundreds and hundreds of times in yoga classes. His language was so incredibly identical to what we say in yoga that two of the other yoga students I knew in the room instantly texted me “Tadasana Pose!!!”

This trend continued of course, and on day 2 we talked about the power of your emotions and how you think; day 3 we were all lying on the floor doing guided meditations; and on day 4 we learned how to breathe deeply. I couldn’t help but feel like a yoga class was a mini-conference, and in that hour we do almost every single, foundational thing he mentioned that was necessary to live a happy and effective life.

The thing that I was most fascinated by in terms of his strategies and their connection to yoga was the neuro-associative conditioning. As I looked around at the other 4,300 people in the room learning to stand tall, find their center, drop their shoulders, and root their feet to the earth I could see in their eyes that this was actually a somewhat new idea, not that they didn’t know it, but that they don’t ever do it. They rarely stand with this much intention and that type of body awareness by simply standing still did not come naturally. Over and over and over again he had us stand this way, even sit this way.

This is a man whose passion is interviewing the people who are the best in the world at everything, and researching psychological studies on living happily and efficiently. And it was VERY clear that after all that research one of the most critical things he learned was the importance of how we repeatedly use our body in everyday situations. It was apparent in the amount of repetition that he was trying to re-train our brains so that we will stand this way, walk this way, and sit this way regularly. The best way to train your brain to do something subconsciously is through repetition, something any athlete can tell you. As I looked around I realized the odds are that most of the people in that room will go back to a daily routine in their office, cubicle, or car and without the repetition, this use of physiology will not resonate long term.

This is not the case for yogis. People who regularly do yoga just happen to be repeating the same exact neuro-associative exercises that everyone in that room was paying thousands of dollars to learn. You are coached to stand this way repeatedly, told to breath this way constantly, reminded of the power of your thoughts and emotions regularly. Without any meaning to, you are literally training your brain and body how to live the happiest and most effective life you can. Anyone who has been doing yoga for a while figured this out on their own. There are so many ways that yoga sets us up for success, but now we know that we are not just standing that way because it is creates the proper alignment, or because it just plain feels good. We are subconsciously retraining our nervous system towards confidence, strength, and peace. I left this conference with many gifts but the most overwhelming was the reminder that as a yoga instructor and as yogis we are tapping into the most ancient and cutting edge ways to live the life we want. That through yoga we mentally, physically, and emotionally repeat the exercises and thought patterns that history, science, psychology, religion, and common sense all agree works. And we get to break a sweat while we do it. I’ve never been a fan of any product that claims to be the miracle cure or that says it can do it all. But if I’m being honest, I left that 4 day intensive mental boot camp feeling very confident that yoga is the most intelligent and effective activity that a human being can add to their life.

Excerpts from class, written by Roni and based on the principles she learned at Tony Robbins:

I want to tell you one of the most powerful concepts that you will ever understand. If you can understand this and master it you will have the exact life you want. The key to life is this: The quality of your life = the quality of your emotions. This is similar to what we always say in meditation that you are your thoughts. But people don’t make changes in their life based on what they know. There are lots of things you know that you don’t do. People only make changes based on what they feel. So think about those feelings, those emotions that you have on a regular basis. What types of emotions do you feel daily, what is your emotional home? Is it happiness, frustration, joy, anger, fear, worry, self-loathing, positivity, unworthiness. Take a moment to scan your emotional life and see what the common patterns are. Whatever those emotions are is what your life will be. No exceptions. The exciting thing is that the moment you change the quality of your emotions, the quality of your life changes. When we are trying to lose weight or move up in our careers, we have to work hard and wait for the results. But not here. The very second you decide to choose the emotions, that is the very second that your life gets better. Think of what you want most in your life right now, what do you want most? Is it a home, a relationship, a car, a job — see it in your mind. Now is it that actual thing you want or is what you want the feeling you think you will have if you get that thing? Identify what the feeling would be, what would you feel like if it was yours right now? Feel it in your body, summon up every ounce of that emotion, feel it rising until you think you’ll explode. Keep it in your body, and try to realize that you are feeling right now exactly the way you want to feel and didn’t need whatever that thing was to feel it. The quality of your life = the quality of your emotions.

People’s lives are a direct reflection of the expectation of their peer group. No matter how strong you are, you will become like the people you spend time with. If you have a friend that just came to mind because you know they are not a good influence depending on the situation, you don’t necessarily have to end the friendship. But you have to take seriously limiting the amount of time you spend with them. You should be spending your time with people that you want to be like, people that raise the standard of what it means to be a human being.

See things as they are, not worse than they are. Successful people see things as they are, not worse than they are. Leaders see them as better than they are. Is there something going on in your life right now that you are dramatizing? See it as it really is right now, no additional drama, no woe is me story, just the facts. And then if you are brave enough, choose to see it as better than it is. Because what you focus on is what you’ll get. If you see it better than it is, that’s your only shot at it ever being better than it is.

Most suffering is caused by the inner conflict of who you think the world wants you to be and who you really are. The interesting thing to me is that most of us aren’t really sure who we think the world wants us to be or who we really are, and yet this conflict is still running our lives. Take a moment right now, you’ll need to work on this at home too, but get started right now. Ask yourself, who do I think the rest of the world wants me to be? Who are you really? As you look at the two answers, be reminded that one is a story and one is a reality. You’ll begin to eliminate that inner conflict as soon as you recognize one is a made-up story based on fear, and the other is an undeniable truth.

Biography is not destiny, decisions are destiny. Your life is the way it is because of the choices you’ve made. Just because you’ve caught yourself making a gesture just like your mom or dad did does not mean you will end up living their life. That’s the ultimate form of being dramatic. You may be predisposed to certain things, but nothing, absolutely nothing is allowed to happen in your life without your input or permission. Be honest with yourself for a second. Do you think life is happening to you? Do you feel like a victim of the world? Do you wake up ready to live defensively? If you are living with a victim mentality, not only do guarantee that you will be victim to many things but I’m here to tell you that you are exhausting the people around you. Own your life. If you’ll allow my personal opinion for a moment — one of the things I love most about God is that he allows me to co-create my life with him everyday. Thanks to free-will your destiny is something you are molding every moment. He went to great pains to create for you an environment where you get to decide what you do, who you love, how you love, and don’t disrespect his trust by assuming that your story has been written. It hasn’t been written, it is being written.

“We are not creatures of circumstance. We are creators of circumstance.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Expressing a desire is not the same as making a decision. And not making a decision is a decision. If your inner dialog is long list of all the things you should do, such as I should work harder, I should exercise more, I should spend more quality time with my family that is called “shoulding all over yourself.” Pick a should in your mind right now. Make a decision to do it. See yourself in your mind doing it, see yourself, what does it feel like, what does it smell like. Picture yourself doing it in high definition. Should is for people who don’t know what they’re missing, they don’t know how amazing consciousness and vitality and focus feels like, but you do. You felt all three of those on your mat tonight. Should isn’t for a person like you. And if in your head you just said “I should stop saying should” then you are still doing it. See the word should right now in your mind, see the letters. As you keep looking at it, it begins to look like a foreign language, the letters aren’t moving and yet they are morphing into something you don’t recognize. All of the sudden you can’t understand the word you are seeing, it doesn’t make sense to you, it ceases to exist in your vocabulary.

Meditation:

Fear cannot exist in a state of gratitude. While one exists, the other is dead. Fear says that you have no idea how innately sacred you are. Gratitude is a state where you see all things as sacred. In the presence of gratitude fear cowers, and embarrassed it tries to run but disintegrates before it can take a step in the intense light of gratitude. What are you grateful for? See it in your mind. See it again in your mind in high definition. See another moment. And another moment. Now maybe a person. Keep seeing things you are grateful for like a slideshow of joy in your mind. Notice how fear cannot exist in this place. What does gratitude feel like in your body, does it have a color or a shape, does it have a sound. Immerse every sense that you have into the experience of gratitude. Without speaking out loud just move your lips and say, “Thank you.” Say it again, and again. Keep that feeling in your body and lift your arms up to the sky in the shape of a V. And not yet, but in a moment you will take all of the gratitude that you’ve built up in your body and you will release it out into the world as if your arms are creating a megaphone and you will feel it rising up out of your body and you see it filling this room, this building, this block, this city, this state, this country, wrapping around the planet and then bursting out into the universe working its way into every tiny space until there isn’t a single crevice left in this universe that hasn’t been bathed with gratitude. Hands to your heart center, all your senses still overwhelmed, we will say thank you out loud three times. Take a calm breath in and join me in saying Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

“Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.” – Kahlil Gibran

~ By Roni Sloman

Principles and inspiration based on the Tony Robbins, Unleash the Power Within Conference