Yoga and the I-function
Yoga and the I-Function
The temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit with fifty percent humidity. Sweat is pouring from every inch of my body. Leo, a tall bald man with several tattoos, reminds us all to breathe and to stay focused on ourselves in the mirror as we move slowly to tree pose. This is the setting of a Bikram yoga class. All Bikram yoga classes are conducted the same way, the room is heated as a certified instructor takes you through 26 postures and two breathing exercise in 90 minutes. This form of yoga is done at 105 degrees Fahrenheit to aid in detoxifying the body and to promote safe stretching of the muscles (3). While yoga is often thought of as a form of exercise, it is also widely known as the study of consciousness to those who practice it diligently. In biology 202, we have been equating consciousness and the awareness of ourselves to the I-function. The I-function is how we perceive ourselves and our ability to connect certain feelings to specific experiences. We also discussed how the I-function is generally unaware of what the rest of the nervous system is doing; so can practicing yoga somehow bridge the gap between the I-function and the rest of the nervous system? Can yoga make the I-function more aware of the body so we are able to control our emotion in certain situations?
Before diving into the discussion of yoga and the I-function, I want to briefly define yoga and the context in which I will be referring to it. While yoga can be an exercise or a way of life, I will be focusing on the exercise itself (which includes meditation as well). Essentially, the “…practice of yoga is intended at bringing mind, body and soul in perfect harmony” (2). Yoga has several physical benefits such as strengthening all the muscles in your body, as well as increasing flexibility and endurance. Yoga also benefits mental health by helping you relax which decreases stress and anxiety (4). What I will be exploring is how yoga instructors define consciousness during yoga and how that relates to my own experience of yoga and the I-function.
Alan Goode, a yoga instructor in Australia, defines yoga as a study of consciousness in the sense that it is “the way we are and how our mind works…” (1). Therefore, during the practice of yoga, the focus of the mind should be on the body and how each posture feels. So the mind should only be experiencing the calmness of the body and thinking of nothing else (1). Since stretching is an action, our bodies will naturally respond to it accordingly. It is our job to observe how our body reacts to these stretches in order to become more aware of ourselves. This awareness comes from listening to the body and that perception is what constitutes our consciousness (1).
Since yoga is based on the observation of the consciousness, Goode believes that this type of awareness can be applied to other aspects of life as well such as interpreting emotions and reactions. He emphasizes that being able to observe your emotions is different than controlling them, being aware of how you will react to a certain situation can help you become a spectator in situations rather than a participant (1). Based on this interpretation, in order to gain awareness you need to become ‘one’ with your body but in order to use the newly gained awareness properly a certain detachment is needed.
Goode’s interpretation of consciousness during yoga prompts me to reflect on my own experience during Bikram yoga. During each posture, your eyes must remain open and the instructor emphasizes the importance of staring into your own eyes in the mirror. By staring into my own eyes, I feel a connection with myself and an increased awareness of the rest of my body during each pose. During certain poses, I heard what the instructor was saying but I did not stop to interpret it or think about the words, and yet my body automatically responded. This observation makes me speculate that my I-function was not involved in certain postures. If my I-function wasn’t involved, then does that mean I was not engaging my consciousness to its fullest potential? Since the I-function is essentially how aware you are of your body, could it be that in order for the I-function and the nervous system to act as one, consciousness just manifests itself throughout the body since the nervous system controls most of our body functions? The decisions made prior to the yoga class and sometimes during are definitely made by the I-function such as deciding to even go to yoga on a given day. During the yoga class, I had to make a conscious effort to be calm and to forget all about the schoolwork I had to do for the duration of the 90 minutes. I found that once I told myself I was going to relax and forget about stress, my body responded as if it was my I-function that was holding me back from relaxing in the first place.
During yoga, the I-function’s awareness of the body is strengthened. If yoga is supposed to be a study of consciousness, then this would mean that the I-function undergoes a self-reflection. It would be interesting if this self-reflection could be monitored, could we somehow determine how yoga increases the I-function’s ability of perceiving the rest of the body? Since doing yoga is a conscious decision, this means you would have to consciously take time out of your day to relax. This form of relaxation may be the break your I-function needs in order to regain a proper sense of self. So while emotions may not be controllable, a more aware I-function may be able to predict the emotions felt during certain situations. By opening up the I-function through yoga, this conscious choice could allow for the acceptance of our true selves.
1. Goode, Alan. “Yoga: A study of consciousness.” Iyengar Yoga Resources. Oct 2001. http://www.iyengar-yoga.com/download/studyofconsciousness.pdf