I have osteoarthritis in my knees. And in a roundabout way, my knee pain landed me in the office of a neurologist. A necessary step according to my cautious orthopedic surgeon, so I rolled my eyes (to myself) and dragged my feet all the way to the neurologist’s doorstep. After an MRI and a physical exam, the neurologist confirmed that the pain I was experiencing was not from something pinched, broken, or damaged in my spine. But I liked Dr. Neurologist, (probably because he confirmed my self-diagnosis), so I turned the tables and asked him a question. “What made you choose neurology as your area of practice?”
He chuckled a bit and said he had two answers to that question. He said one answer was funny and one was more serious. Well, I can’t remember what his funny answer was because his serious answer startled me like a cookie-snatching seagull on the beach. He said, “The serious reason I chose neurology is because
“we are our brains.”
Ok, two things I have learned through my yoga practice:
1. I am not my brain.
2. I don’t have to use my voice in order for my opinion to be known. My body language speaks with megaphone clarity.
So, as the good doctor went on to describe how our brains determine who we are, I held my head rigid so it wouldn’t shake left and right. I squeezed my lips together and threw my tongue to the roof of my mouth so the big “NO!” I was feeling didn’t fill the room. Now, I realize my training is a wee bit less than the doctor’s. And from the perspective of a neurologist, yes, the brain holds the power, but I’d like to offer another point of view from the bias of a yogi.
Our brains are the “hard drive” of our bodies. They store information gathered in utero, and continue to stockpile it through our last day on Earth. The billions of nerve cells in our brain coordinate behavior, movement, emotion and sensation through a road map of nerves connected to the rest of our body, resulting in a very complex, yet efficient mode of communication. I see my brain as something like an air traffic controller, plugged into the radar of my body. I might be walking along and see a curb in front of me. My eyes send the signal to my brain, “big step ahead.” My brain processes this and sends a message to my feet, “step up.” When everything is in working order, I lift my front foot a little higher and clear the bump in the road. But if I don’t see or sense the curb, my brain is not going to get a signal. And if my brain doesn’t get the signal, there will be no message sent to my feet, and I face-plant on the sidewalk. So, yes my brain is vital to living and breathing and it may be the control center, but it is not who I am.
Another reason I’m so sure I am not my brain is because there’s a very powerful force, strongly connected to my body, that is neither my brain nor me, called my mind. And the mind and the brain are distinctly different. The mind thinks it is the supreme ruler over the brain, and tries to be in control of everything.
For instance, where does that voice in your head come from? The one that says: “How did you NOT see that curb today?” “What an idiot to fall like that!” “You’re so clumsy.”
This is not my brain talking. After all, the brain responds to signals and impulses sent from the body. The brain registered injury from my fall and sent pain signals to my face, now smashed against the pavement. And these words of self-rebuke are not me either. I would not talk that way to someone else. I should not talk that way to myself. Unfortunately, I sometimes listen to the negative narration of my mind, which brings me to another lesson I am learning through my yoga practice.
I am the supreme ruler of my mind. Or I can be when I make the effort. It takes practice to slow the flow of thought and chaos in my head. It’s called meditation. Taking a moment to shine light on the inside, sending darkness and negativity scrambling.
I am the ruler of my brain too. We use the word mindfulness. When I pay attention to what’s happening in a specific moment in time. When the signals I send to my brain are purposeful and deliberate, the brain responds in kind. Like breathing. My body needs oxygen to survive so we are created to breathe without thinking. The brain takes care of it for us. But I can take a deep, full, deliberate breath that calms my senses, lowers my blood pressure, slows my heart rate, and sends a greater concentration of oxygen to my brain. That’s me breathing, not
So, sorry Doctor of Neurology, I am not my brain. And I’m not my mind. I’m not even my body. I am a spirit that dwells in a body; that functions with a brain, and that generally follows the guidelines of a peaceful mind. And without attention and care to all three, I will not function effectively. I will not have peace and I will have nowhere
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.