Neuroscience and the True

Purpose of Yoga

By Jonathan Davis on Wednesday July 22nd, 2015
Neuroscience and the True Purpose of Yoga

We all know it is good for you, but is the true purpose of Yoga being revealed by science?

For some time, whenever I went to a yoga class, I’d get that feeling you get when you come in part way through a television series. I got the gist of the story and was able to go along with with what was happening but it wasn’t until yoga teacher and human movement specialist Simon Thakur explained some details around what I’m choosing to see as ‘the beginning’ of the story that things really started to make sense.

The Foundations Of Yoga

The foundation stone I discovered I had been missing was the purpose behind all of the postures. Simon Thakur shared that one of the core functions of yoga is about increasing awareness throughout the body with a particularly important focus around the central axis of the body, between the spine and the organs. From here, a fundamental aspect of yoga practice can start with the awakening of our ability for the spine to undulate backwards and forwards, undulate side-to-side and to twist – and awakening this ability in each individual vertabrae.  This was the foundation stone I was looking for.

Like going back to the beginning of the television series I’d started watching in the middle, I suddenly saw new depth and had a more complete understanding of everything I’d already seen so far. For example, it suddenly occurred to me that this opening of spinal flexibility and increase in strength helps one to sit for extended periods of time with the spine in a state of alignment, for connection to higher awareness in meditation.

A fundamental aspect of yoga is the awakening of the spine's ability to undulate and twist“A fundamental aspect of yoga is the awakening of the spine’s ability to undulate and twist”

It didn’t take long to realise that this was the tip of an iceberg of knowledge that Simon Thakur tends to keep below the surface. Thakur draws from his experience spending extended periods of time studying ancient practices in their home cultures, including traditional Svastha Yoga in India and Xingyi in Taiwan. His philosophy of 90% practice, 10% talking about practice has thawed a little in recent years and I was fortunate enough to see him present a public talk earlier this year which shared some of the pillars of the practice he has developed known as Ancestral Movement. It’s a combination of ancient traditional practices, cutting edge developments in neurobiology and evolutionary theory as well as a deep respect for… well… playing like a monkey. Here’s a quick summary of what I learned at Simon’s talk, in February 2015.

By Feeling Our Own Body We Feel The World

Inside my own body, I can feel my own breath, if I really still myself I can feel my heartbeat, and maybe even the pulse at my carotid artery. Beyond that, I can’t feel much – and this is common for most people living in the modern world. The foundation of yoga may be about waking up sensitivity to feel each individual vertebrae independently, but it also extends to building increased sensitivity to all parts of the body, both internally and externally. What science is discovering is that through our increased ability to feel our own bodies, we increase our ability to empathically feel the world around us. To understand how this works, we need to first get our head around bodymaps and mirror neurons.

“The current human disconnection from the natural world starts with our disconnection from our own bodies, which we as a culture inherited – to a degree that most of us generally don’t quite acknowledge the extent of our inability to feel our own bodies.”
– Simon Thakur

Waking up sensitivity to feel each individual vertebrae independently“Waking up sensitivity to feel each individual vertebrae independently”

Bodymaps and Mirror Neurons

Known to neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science, bodymaps (such as those found in the somatosensory cortex) are the parts of our brain that electrically light up when we physically feel something, or when we think about feeling something. They’re called maps because the part that lights up for our hand is right next to the part that lights up for our arm and so on. If a scientist was to stimulate one of these parts of our brain with electricity, we’d feel sensation in our body part, even though nothing was touching it.

“If we can accept that [our] awareness of my body is not a fixed thing, it can change, it can change hugely… and I can change it, and the what I have inherited from my culture is not necessarily the best way it could be then I take that on, and I can use any practice from any tradition or I can make up my own, anything that will involve stimulating, whether through movement or awareness, every single little part of my body – maybe starting with the spine.”
– Simon Thakur

Neuroplasticity is our brain and nervous system’s ability to rewire itself according to what we focus our attention on. For example, as we practice a particular posture, the repetition creates more neural connections from the brain’s associated parts of your bodymaps. More nerve fibers are also created along the connection through the nervous system to that part of the body. As we do something more, our ability to receive more information about the subtlety of what we are doing increases. Mirror Neurons give us the ability to feel what it feels like to be doing something, simply by observing another person doing it. For example if someone waves their hand, around 15% of the neurons in our own bodymaps in our brain around our hand and arm of that area in our brain light up. The study of Mirror Neurons has widely been referred to as the science of human empathy.

Sitting in a chair every day, we lose flexibility and awareness in our spine as well as the majority of our body“Sitting in a chair every day, we lose flexibility and awareness in our spine as well as the majority of our body”

Yoga and the Biology of Compassion

When we sit in a chair at school or in an office all day, every day, we lose flexibility and awareness in our spine as well as the majority of our body. On the other hand, when we do a practice like yoga, we increase the amount of neurological detail in our body maps and our nervous system. We can feel more subtle detail within ourselves. Because there is a larger volume of wiring that has been built up in our nervous system, so we can feel more information. This also means that as we increase the volume of neuronal detail in our bodymaps, the 15% that behave as mirror neurons increase and 15% of a larger volume of neurons is a larger 15%. By feeling more detail within ourselves we increase our ability to feel empathy for others.

‘The more awareness we have developed of our internal processes is, the more we will feel and notice whatever signs –changing complexion, changes to the rib cage posture, the more we can tell if something is wrong or ok in another person.”
– Simon Thakur

We are Animals

Perhaps the most profound element of Simon Thakur’s Ancestral Movement practice is the recognition that humans have been exploring physical movement as a necessity for survival since long before recorded history. He theorises that the more we participated in practices like animal mimicry, the more we were able to understand our environment through our internal mirror neuron response, feeding us vital information about food, hunting and the natural world.

“If we take the spine as an example, and we practice movements that open up every segment of the spine, so the spine is free to undulate, rather than the spine moving as a rigid block, you’re going to experience empathy in the sense that you feel in your body as if you are doing the movement yourself whenever we see a moving spine.
Humans aren’t the only creatures that have spines. Lizards have spines, fish have spines. If we don’t have full awareness of every little bit of our spine and it’s potential for wave-like movement then when we see a lizard, our spine parts of our brain aren’t going to be very active. Whereas if you have a practice that involves spinal undulations and involves opening up every little bit of you central axis and your spine, then when you see the lizard moving, your spinal bits [in your brain] go crazy and you feel how much of you is in the lizard, how much of the lizard is in you.”
– Simon Thakur

The realisation I walked out of Simon’s talk with was that all of the indigenous cultures that speak of being part of nature and not separate, now have a biological basis for this very real animistic belief.

For further reading, check out the amazing reading list on Simon Thakur’s Ancestral Movement website.

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Source :


Buddhism to get boost : PM Modi’s endeavor

Sep 05 2015 : The Times of India (Delhi)
PM’S GAYA VISIT – Bodh Gaya likely to become spiritual capital of Buddhism
New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Bodh Gaya on Saturday amid indications that he may declare the city where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment as the spiritual capital of Buddhism. Modi who will be the first PM to visit Bodh Gaya since 1954, sees the place as one which has the credentials to emerge as the “global symbol and vehicle“ for enlightenment and peace.The focus on Buddhism is part of the Modi government’s strategy to leverage In dia’s soft power to reach out to a large swathe of countries steeped in Buddhist influence. “This is an asset which was never appreciated. Civilisational affinity between India and these countries can be a force multiplier for Delhi, helping it to forge new partnerships and deepen existing ones,“ said a senior government source involved in `Samvad -Global Hindu-Buddhist Initiative on Conflict Avoidance and Environment Consciousness’. The harnessing of India’s Buddhist legacy , advocated among others by national security advisor A K Doval, has emerged as a conspicuous feature of foreign policy under Modi. “The world is discussing that the 21st century will be Asia’s century . (Though) there may be differences which Asian country the Asian century shall belong to… but an aspect possibly overlooked by those having the vision is that Buddha’s way is the sole reason why the 21st century will belong to Asia,“ Modi had said at an official function on May 4.

Buddha’s Life

Buddha : life ,beginning of an era

In the sixth century B.C., in the parts of north india in the modern day uttar Pradesh there was a place named kapilvatsu ruled by the sakya clan.  The king or raja the clan was Suddhodana. Suddhodana was married to Mahamaya. Suddhodana was a man of great military prowess and was a very wealthy person. he had a  second wife, named  Mahaprajapati. She was the sister of Mahamaya.

In the month of Ashad. Suddhodana and Mahamaya came together, and Mahamaya conceived. In her sleep she had a  dream,in which she saw that she was in the Himalayas and a  Bodhisatva , by name Sumedha, appeared before her saying, and asked for her consent so that he can take birth on this earth.  Next morning Mahamaya told her dream to Suddhodana.   Suddhodana summoned eight Brahmins who were most famous with there foretelling. Suddhodana related to them the dream Mahamaya had and asked them  what it mean. The Brahmins said, “not to worry , You will have a son, and if he leads a householder’s

life he will become a great king, and if he leaves his home becomes a sanyasi, he will become the enlightened one , a dispeller of illusions.

When Mahamaya was going to her maternal home in Devadaha for delivering the baby. She had to pass through a pleasure-grove of sal tree in lumbini

She  delivered  a son in the adobe of sal trees.The child was born in the year 563 B.C. on the Vaishakha Paurnima day.  when the child was born, there was a  great sage named Asita visited the kings palace. Asita after observing the child, beheld that it was endowed with the thirty-two marks of a great man and also had  eighty minor marks, his body surpassing that of many gods.he fore told that the prince has two careers and no third. “either he will become a great king or if he leaves his house he will become a fully enlightened Buddha.” Asita knew that the child would become a Buddha started shedding tears thinking that he is old age and will not be able to see it. He said the boy will become Buddha and attain enlightenment , after that he will turn the supereme wheel of dhamma and will spread happiness and harmony for everyone.

On the fifth day, the ceremony took place in which The name siddharth was chosen for the child. Gautama was his clan name .thus he came to be called as siddharth Gautama

In the middle of  rejoicing over the birth and the naming of the child, Mahamaya suddenly fell ill, and her illness became very serious. She entrusted the responsibility  Prajapati and king suddhodana.

At the age of eight, Siddharth started his education under the eight brahims who had interoperated Mahamaya’s dream. After that he studied under a great philologist Sabbamitta  who had all the knowledge of Vedas, Vedangas, and Upanishads

Siddharth also learned the  science of concentration and meditation from one

Bhardawaj, who was a disciple of Alara Kalam,


Siddharth gautam showed early traits whenever he could he use to go a quiet place and practise mediation.

The prince belonging to the warrior class(kshatriya) was received teachings of combat also. He had being taught archery and use of weapons also. But he did not like it , he refused to join hunting parties with his friends and family. He was often ridiculed by his friends also because of this , they said he was afraid of tiger so didn’t go for hunting. But after all this also he maintanied that he didn’t like killing of inncocent animals.

Siddharth gautam was very compassionate about all living things from the beginging , he belived all to be equal. He explained that while thinking about living beings we create distinction and discrimination within us only. We divide them on the basis of friends and enemies, we divide them in animals and human beings. We discriminate between friends and enimies in the same way we discriminate pets from wild animals. He belived that universal love can be developed by meditating on the right subjects.

His supereme senese of compassion for all living beings lead him to make many enemies also. Once he was resting in the gardens , when a wounded bird fell in front of him. The bird had been shot by an arrow, the prince rushed to help . he removed the arrow and dressed its wound. He gave the bird water and help it him against his chest. His cousin devdatta came with a bow and arrow and asked siddarth that he had shot a bird has he seen it. Siddharth showed him the bird devadatta tried to take the bird but siddharth refused. There was a long argument between the two which reached the king. Devadutta argued that he had shot the bird so the bird belonged to him. Siddharth explained the person who saves the life has the right to claim it. He explained that a person who saves a life will always be greator than the person who tries to take it. In the end Siddharth got the bird.

In his sixteen year Siddharth was married to Yeshodhara . Yeshodhara was the daughter of another sakyan named Dandapni, she was famous for her beauty and conduct. After few years Yeshodhara gave birth to a son who was named Rahula.

The king was worried about the prophecy of the sage asita. He was ready to anything so that the prophecy fails. Hethougth of engrossing the prince with all the pleasures and joys of life. He built three luxurious palaces one for summer , one for rainy season and one for winters. These palaces had huge gardens with all kinds of flowers and trees.

He even built a place for courtseans who could keep Siddharth occuipied with sensual pleasures. But all of them failed as Siddharth thought how can some one be attracted to beauty which is perisable.

At the age of 20 Siddharth Gautama was introduced to the sangh and he started participating in the activities if the kingdom. He was always against war once there was a conflict between the sakyan’s and the neibhouring koliyas . Siddharth tried his best to persue the sangh not to go to war. He explained to them that enmity does

not disappear by enmity. It can be conquered by love only.”

When Siddharth was 29 he went to see his kingdom with channa his charioteer. His father had made all the efforts  to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering because he didn’t want to proficy to come true. Siddhartha while travelling in his kingdom was said to have seen an old man. Then he asked charioteer Channa about the old man he explained to him that all people grew old. The prince took further interest and increased his trips trips beyond the palace. During these trips he encountered a sick man, a dead body, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he tired to find the reason for suffering of human beings.

One night when Siddharth was around 30 years old he left the palace with Channa in serach for the answers of suffering of life. Siddharth send back channa and his horse and went on foot. He  initially reached  Rajagaha where King Bimbisara’s  recognised Siddhartha after  learning  of his pursuit , king Bimbisara offered Siddhartha his throne.  Siddhartha respectfully rejected the offer, but promised the king that he will visit again after attaining enlightenment.

After that he practised  yogic  meditation under two  teachers  on  of the teachers was alara kalama. When he completed his learnings there he was asked by Alara Kalama to succeed him. However, Siddharth  felt that his pursuit was not over and he felt  unsatisfied so he moved on . then he practised under a yoga teacher named  , he reached the highest level  meditative consciousness under him.  again he was asked to succeed  Udaka Ramaputta. But, again he felt that he had not found his answers so he moved on

Siddhartha then met five ascetics led by  Kaundinya, they decided to get enlightenment through restricting themselves on food intake and by undergoing  self-mortification. He practised it for many days and nearly starved  himself to death by reducing  his food intake. One day he fell down near the river because of the strict practise he was following .A village girl named Sujata saw Siddharth on the ground and  gave him some kheer (milk and rice). after  having that  Siddhartha recoverd and got  back some energy . then Siddhartha started to contemplate the path he was following.

He realises that extereme asceticism does not work , he realized the middle way- a path of moderation. He discovered that the two exteremes of self- indulgence or self- mortification should be avoided.  Thus awakened to this fact he decided to find the truth of life he sat under the bodhi tree (commonly know as pipal tree) on the banks of niranjana river near gaya(bihar). He mediated for many days. He realised complete insight in into the cuse of suffering and how to finish it.  He realised the four noble truths and the eight fold path. He was awakened to this truth and after that Siddharth gautam became the enlighted one or the awakened one whom we commonly call the Buddha.

After awkening he gave his first discourse at sarnath near banars to the 5 asthetics led by kaundinya who had abondened him. He explained the four noble truths and eight fold path. He explained the end of suffering was possible by achieving nirvana. Nirvana was a state free from greed , ill-will and delusion. These 5 ascetics became his first disciples and started sperding Buddha teaching everywhere.

For next  45 years Buddha preached his Dhamma to all .