Neuroscience

Why Optic Flow Restores Us

Boosting optic flow is a powerful and effective way to nourish physical and emotional well-being. Optic flow refers to the unique sensation that occurs when you perceive your environment actively moving in relationship to your body’s movements. What’s at play here? As you walk, bike, run, or swim, objects in your environment appear to move. During a walk, for example, objects grow larger as you approach; this lets you know you’re getting closer. During a swim, you perceive the bottom of the pool (or lake or ocean) receding underneath you, or objects on the side moving as you turn your head to breathe. In optic flow your eyes move, continually updating your brain on your location. That’s not all optic flow does for you. Your visual system links closely with (read: is part of) your autonomic nervous system. Activating your sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system ignites the stress response. This dilates …

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Neuroplasticity, boundaries, and the body

In a multiple-slide post on my Instagram feed, I talked about neuroplasticity, the science of change (and, um, how things can stay the same) in a 10-frame post. But that doesn’t lend itself well to this format, so here’s the text for you. Neuroplasticity refers to the role of the brain and nervous system (which includes the autonomic + enteric nervous systems) in helping create change. In this post, I’d like to apply that very cool science to the art + practice of setting good interpersonal + intrapersonal boundaries. Emerging research suggests that we can target a behavior we’d like to strengthen (or extinguish) by focusing not just on the practice itself, but on the prelude and postlude that precede and follow it. This helps recruit our attentional centers to pay attention. It supercharges our motivational system. And it deepens the relationship we have with the behavior we want to …

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Body Clocks + Biorhythms: Immunity, Mood, and Well-Being

A few weeks ago, I did a post on Seasonal Affective Disorder that advised exposure to light early in the day (within two hours of waking) and recommended other practices. That post lacked context, and prompted the apology post you’ll see after it. At the time, I promised to provide that context. Here it is. Almost all species have internal rhythms and a sense of time, which are the focus of a field now known as chronobiology. We have internal circadian (24-hour) clocks that generate and shape daily cycles in our physiology, emotion, and behavior.  Most organisms inherit the ability to track time on this 24-hour scale. For example, bees use their clocks to visit flowers at the appropriate time of day so they can feed when flowers are open. Birds use their biological clocks during migration to compensate for the changing position of the sun throughout the day. Other …

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The Art of Inquiry: How to Create and Undo + Create Ourselves:

    You know those rare moments when an idea, person, or experience moves you from a static place to a place of disorganization and discomfort, but ultimately, transformation? One of those occurred for me in March of 2017. I was in the middle of a strength training session in the gym, casually listening to an On Being podcast episode which featured the poet, theologian, and social healer Padraig O’Tuama. His words hit me mid-pullup, echoing in the special way that signals things will never be the same. The passage: “There’s a Buddhist concept,” says O’Tuama, “where if you’re asking a poor question—if a question is being asked, “Are you this or that?” Robert Pirsig says that you can answer, according to his telling of the Zen tradition, you can answer with the word mu, m-u, which means, “Un-ask the question, because there’s a better question to be asked.” The …

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How sexual harassment impacts our sense of personal space

Proprioception is our sixth sense. It encompasses our awareness of movement, the position of our body and its parts in space, how we occupy space, balance, the senses of effort and force and heaviness, and our posture or shape. Proprioception also includes the space around our bodies—and sometimes others’ bodies too. It involves a symphony of actions, reactions, predictions, and functions in which multiple instruments playing both in harmony and in a state of intelligent entropy.   Proprioception is not just part of our sensorium. It’s a scaffold for our sense of self. And an integral part of proprioception—and thus, our sense of self—is how we negotiate peripersonal space, the area that surrounds our bodies.  Peripersonal space is brought to us in part by the frontal and parietal regions in the brain. These regions team up with peripersonal neurons throughout our bodies in a mutual and multi-sensory network of visual, auditory, …

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What’s up with the Chakras?

At first glance, it can be tempting to dismiss the chakra system as an esoteric, new age concept. During my last teacher-training course in Boston, a participant voiced her reservations. “In theory, the chakras are so compelling,” she said. “But out of all the things we study, they seem least connected to the actual practice of yoga.” The class agreed. “What, exactly, are we supposed to do with them?” they wondered. While the chakras offer a rich conceptual framework for growth, they give less direction for putting that framework into practice. Over the past year of reflection on my students’ queries, I’ve begun to wonder whether there’s more to the chakras than meets the eye. Could it be that when we view them through the lenses of psychology, mindfulness, neuroscience, and yoga, the chakras become more than elegant vessels for self-understanding? Could they in fact be touchstones for practice, showing …

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