There is an interesting side effect of being employed in the world of science, more particularly in the realm of genetics. There is an assumption by most people that I am naturally skeptical of all things spiritual, meditative, or unexplainable by modern science. If a response can’t be measured or tested, it can’t be real.
I am always amused by people who make this assumption about me. Though I am grounded in reality by basic scientific principles (like the earth being a bajillion years old; sorry creationists), I have learned enough in my work to realize that there are plenty of exceptions to every rule and that anything is possible. For example, the human brain in particular is a pretty amazing organ capable of some bizarre stuff that defies logic. It is a highly flexible and dynamic structure and is constantly rewiring itself to better serve the body.
Along these lines, recently I have found myself learning more about ancient Eastern ideologies, chakras, and meditation. I am trying to be more mindful in my daily life by practicing mindfulness to reground myself when stressed and overwhelmed. Mindfulness involves acknowledging the thoughts that are racing through your head, accepting them, and bringing yourself back into the present by focusing on senses like smell, touch, and sight. For instance, I have been grounding myself before ridiculous Cellular Biology exams. I try to clear my mind of the anxiety of not doing well, and instead I focus on the room I am in. I look at the hue of the lights or the dust on the chalkboard. Though I have no scientific proof, I think it has helped; I have definitely felt more focused taking each test.
On Saturday Ellie took me to my first official yoga class at East Meets West Yoga in Buffalo. First, I have never really appreciated just how difficult an hour of actual yoga is. I am incredibly inflexible, and I was sweating pretty good by the end of the class, despite it being a beginners’ section. Second, it was palpable how much stress was released during the class. I felt much more in balance afterward. Not just biomechanically, but also energetically. For a #Scientist, that’s a hard feeling to explain. I’ll call it “zen mode,” for lack of a better term.
I think there is a lot to gain from slowing down and focusing on the present, from removing thoughts about the past or worrying about the future. During yoga, I was simply present. I focused on movement, on feeling my tight hamstrings stretch for the first time in years. I felt the tension release with every different move. The only thing I was thinking about was getting the most out of each move . . . and remembering to breathe in and out.
After practicing in a calm, quiet environment with an educated, professional teacher, I now understand the therapeutic benefits of practices like yoga, more so than when Ellie and I tried doing yoga on Hulu and were interrupted with commercial ads in the middle of a plank pose. (Not very zen mode.) We definitely plan on returning to East Meets West, and Ellie is looking to find some quality videos for home. Despite my scientific background, I fully buy in to how much yoga and other mindful practices can rebalance my own energy . . . whatever energy that may be.