Archive for November, 2006

Do Yoga, Get a Reward
Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one among many, operating now in your brain. It has multiple functions- the reason I’m bringing it into this story is because it is often seen as the central biochemical involved in an organism’s reward system. If a process is accomplished which satisfies criteria developed over millenia in the human neurologic system, dopamine is released into the neurotransmitter cocktail of the moment and it’s effects are experienced, which can range from mildly pleasant to overwhelmingly euphoric. Food and sex are seen by evolutionary biologists as the two biggies for dopamine-reward release: they serve basic functions for survival of the organism and the species. Connoisseurs of food and sex have focused on the various delights of anticipation and pleasure involved in the build-up and consummation of these arts.

Another way to get at dopamine is through certain drugs, especially cocaine, speed and heroin. These substances have been described as hijacking the neurological reward system, and if used extensively, seriously deranging it. All you have to do is take the drug, it’s a way of cheating the reward system, and it obviously wreaks havoc on the user. A true perversion: trash yourself, get a reward.

So, yoga: various processes of meditative focus can also tap into the reward system, but in ways that get at the essence of health as opposed to destruction. In last month’s post, I wrote about the sublimation of impressions. In short: we receive impressions from outward and inward experience, they both leave a mark on the psyche/soma, joining the cumulative fund of impressions that began from the moment we were conceived and possibly before. If we have spent some time practicing yoga and have learned to value and realize a mind relatively quiet of discursive thought when we so choose to quiet it, we find that when the discursive mind is quiet, a felt sense of impressions left from experience comes to the fore. This felt sense can then become the object that we focus upon, and that very act of focusing does something to the impression- if we can feel an impression, and focus on it, it will begin to transform into a higher version of itself, wherein it will also begin to integrate itself with the rest of our experience, becoming a more harmonious component of the whole which is our self.

The testimony of countless yogis reports that at a certain point in this sublimation-of-impression process, the heart begins to awaken- basically, a surge of energy begins to accompany the yogic act, and it registers prominently in the heart, ie: it begins to beat bigger or faster, or skip a few beats and then find a deeper kind of synchronization with surrounding energy fields, maybe it feels incredible pleasure or excitement. One claim I am clearly making here: the heart is a sense organ and it senses energy fields, both our own and others.

Another claim: our nerves are wired to reward evolutionary activity, and if impressions are sublimated sufficiently, the nerves will send their reward. Why? Well, a sublimated impression is one that has been mastered to a degree, and no longer holds us in its thrall, ie: the social trauma you received in high school. Evolutionary science may say that the trauma no longer slows us down, and this has life-value because the slow will perish. So, evolutionary activity is rewarded. Not just that yoga takes us into the dopamine zone but that dopamine is released to reward yoga. Interestingly, dopamine can initiate the release of adrenaline which stimulates the heart. This isn’t hijacking the system, so much as it is tapping into a higher realization of legitimate reward, the bliss of successive yogic realization. And if a group of people do this together in a room, they have access to each other’s delight (or grim drama, but we all have to start somewhere)- this is a not a small matter and I’ll address it again later.

Last part of this: the legitimate reward cannot be faked, which means that we must be actively applying ourselves to real impressions, which is very different than wanting or praying for yogic bliss to happen. It is actually doing yoga, an arduous, at times chaotic inner learning curve, and we need to stay on it for actual reward. When I said “the essence of health” above, I’m getting at a concept of health which implies an honest, courageous facing of developmental urges more than lack of a dripping nose and a good tan.


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