Posts Tagged ‘Neuro-Aesthetics’

Visual meditation is great for brain/mind training!

December 14, 2008

Welcome back to the discussion on visual meditation and mandalas!

Within major wisdom traditions of meditation, be they spiritual, religious or scientific brain and health training programs, there is typically the path of education or entrainment. Meditation or mental practice, after all, is not the default mode of a mature human central nervous system that is wired for turbo”different detecting” in space/time! Remember, difference detecting is that old survival mechanism that helps all mammals determine: Will that eat me or will I eat that? Is it safe to sleep here or is it not? And now in our modern jungle version where we communicate and travel at the speed of light, our human brains and central nervous systems race faster and faster to keep up with the deluge of information, images, and experiences we encounter day after day!

It makes sense that in response to or retreat from cultures drunk on speed, we would turn to “best practices” of earlier times, namely the ancient art and science of meditation, to help us slow down, to assist us in creating equilibrium in our bodies and in our lives. The good news is that at the dawn of the 21st century, meditation traditions practiced around the globe are finding their way into translation in order to prevent suffering and benefit all humankind. A grand project indeed!

So how does visual meditation figure into all of the hoopla about meditation as being great for creating inner peace. lowering stress and brain training?

Drawing upon both Buddhist and Hatha Yogic traditions, we find two key lessons to enable the learner: Turning Inward and Consciousness of Abstracting.

Turning inward allows us to find the most important radar signaling systems of the human body: Breathing and Paying Attention, both made possible by a “conscious” brain. [I’m using the term “conscious” in the here and now, scientific sense of brain activation.]

Paying attention enables us to “consciously abstract” or selectively focus upon a sign, an feeling, a sensation, a process of movement out of all that we might experience at any given moment.

Now, suggesting that someone turn inward seems to be completely counter intuitive to surviving in a culture that demands external focus for reading signs for survival! In gung ho American culture, think of the mockery we make of the quiet, reflective types — the teen who hides in in fantasy novels, the poet who sits and reflects on life, the college student who prefers to study Art, Sufi Dancing or Zen practice rather than ice hockey!

The irony of course is that in today’s sports training, “turning in” is one of the key training tools of Olympic training practice! (Think of Michael Phelp’s incredible ability to turn inward and “focus.”!!!). So turning inward, drawing one’s attention away from the noise of the outside world and turning it toward the space of one’s own inner life is a key step of Hatha Yoga, Zen, T.M. and Vipassana or Mindfulness traditions.

You might be saying at this point, “O.K., turn inward. And consciousness of what? How exactly do I use a visual image placed outside my own body?

Good question: Here’s the neuro-scoop and poop on using visual mandalas: (more…)

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Meditation, Mandalas and the Brain

December 9, 2008

Greetings readers, a follow up on questions concerning choosing a visual meditation practice:

First a few words about the practice itself:

With respect to stress reduction and the desire to create a sense of inner well being, visual meditations may be ideal for

a) Those who find deep appreciation and calm in viewing visual art; and

b) Those who find the visual complexity of a mandala, the perfect sensory road to travel on in the quest for time/space centering of one’s “self.”

Put in everyday (well sorta) terms, visual meditations call on rehearsed neural circuits that enable the human brain to “pattern recognize” in ways that stretch beyond ordinary looking and seeing. Pattern recognition, after all, is basic to the acts of looking and seeing.   As the great anthropologist and cognitive theorist Gregory Bateson pointed out, “pattern recognition” is that which binds mind to life. Or as AI theorist Ray Kurzweil maintains, pattern recognition constitutes the first sign of biological intelligence (something that can be shared with non-biological intelligence, presuming we program the “thing,”).  Following this line of thinking, rehearsed pattern recognition creates the neurochemical connections necessary for the production of  new “brain maps” —  neural networks that correlate with learning and memory retention.

Practice, in other words, creates greater synaptic connections in our brains that form and correlate with sense perceptions, images, ideas, feelings and intuitions. With respect to using visual meditation as a way to reduce stress, some evidence suggests the less complex visual image, the easier it is to perceive and focus attention upon.  Let’s take. for instance, the act of attending to a single image like this week’s Hubble Telescope shot of a globular cluster of stars in the Northern Sky!

hubble

Northern Sky, Globular Cluster M13 captured by the Hubble Telescope

If you’re prone to nature mysticism (C.F. William James), then you might first sense the awesome beauty of the cosmic start system. If you’re given to the metaphysics of geometry, you might pause on the elegance symbology of a cosmic circle. But if you’re interested in using the image of a cosmic star system to train your attention toward calmness and stability, then I suggest bringing along with visual attention, your sensory awareness of ordinary breathing. As one learns from the ancient Buddhist practice of mandala gazing, its the repeated experiential pairing of “looking” and “breathing” that helps one move from image perception and analysis to image experience. Meditative looking, to put it neatly, is embodied.

Today, neuroscientists reporting on perception and cognition, tell us that visual meditation experiences, like all other visual experiences, are synthesized in the visual cortex, related to other areas of the brain, e.g. the somasensory cortex. By adding breathing to the mix, visuality is further grounded in the body of experience.

Or to put it another way,

Bringing the art of breathing to the art of meditative visual image gazing transforms the neuroscience, if you will, of the visual experience.

What then do we make of the complex patterns one finds in Buddhist mandalas or Islamic mosque imagery, such as we find anew on Phil George’s sublime surfboards?

To be continued in my next blog….

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.



The New Meditation Mandala: Surfboards Gone Islamic

December 7, 2008

The Platform: BBC story: Surfboards Gone Islamic! Work by Phil George

The Twitter: Surf Sufis: InShallah! Ride the Wave to Bliss!

The Big Idea: From Pattern Recognition to Ritual Meditation: Surfing Wires New Neural Maps Using Islamic Art.

I’m excited to share the work of Phil George, my dear Australian compadre whose luscious surfboards have “mapped” the beauty of Islamic meditation imagery on icons of Australian culture. Talk about whole brain, pattern recognition and creating new neural networks by way of visual and moving images!

Check out the following BBC article and video:

BBC: ** Sydney art fuses surf with Islam **
An Australian artist creates a range of Islamic surfboards to create a greater understanding between East and West.
< http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/7769028.stm >

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGTcMRsJpyI&eurl=http://www.unsw.edu.au/

pgeorgecasula081

Phil George, BORDERLANDS, 2008, Casuala Powerhouse Arts Centre

George’s boards capture in one gorgeous icon, the complex histories of art, culture and geo-politics, now the stuff of heated, ugly warfare! In the hands of the artist, ugliness is transformed into a thing of beauty, culture, a thing of dignity and ancient meditation practice …. morphed into a modern ritual of fluid wave motion.

Surf Sufis arise… and may the breath be with you!

Dr. G.

Neuro Neuro On the Wall: How do I change my brain?

September 18, 2008

The Platform:  Anti-Aging Programs for the Brain

The Twitter:    Pssst: Fluid Movement Rocks!  (Indeed!)

The Big Idea:   Movement changes the our brain and the brain changes our movement!

In this year of the brain, the term “neuro”  has now entered the lexicon of leadership training, conflict resolution training, literacy training, the aesthetic education of musicians, visual artists and designers and as I have mentioned in this blog, the performance training of Olympic athletes. No longer curtailed to the hinterlands of scientific research or the once culturally detached province of brain-injury, the message of “neuro”, especially, “neuro-plasticity” is making its way through all dimensions of global urban life.

 

 As I have noted on this site, the news of neuro-plasticity brings with it messages galore of how to update and change our brains. A casual survey of brain fitness programs reveals a trend:  Exercise and Nutrition change the body and the embodied brain! 

Now in the case of anti-aging advice, the brain/exercise connection is particularly dominant: Notice the examples that are given: aerobic exercise (for endurance and blood flow) and weight training (for balance and muscle strength).  

But let’s put the neuro-mirror on the wall and connect the dots: What neuro-kinesthetic image of movement is being fed to the anti-aging public?  A bouncing, muscle building body — one that ignores the change in joint fluids and over all sensory awareness of moving in space.  One that ignores the neurally encoded body map and cognitive possibilities of expanding one’s range of movement!

bodiesinspace.com along with other sites dedicated to brain health and wellness have noted the need to debunk the myths of the unchanging brain.   If exercise is going to be put forward as one of the ways to increase healthy brain tissue, I would encourage a rethinking of anti-aging and other brain fitness programs:  Speak to the advantages of using fluid movement to increase joint and neuro-muscular tonicity and balance.

What is fluid movement?  Think Tai Chi, Picture Belly Dancing, Imagine yourself on your “board” or floating on your back rocked by the waves of the ocean.

  

Fluid movement emphasizes curvilinear, serpentine or floating patterns in space.

Fluid movements “juice up” (i.e., lubricate) the joints — neck, spine, elbow, wrists, hip, knees and ankles.

Fluid movements stimulate the right brain, emphasizing spatial awareness.

Fluid movements make contact with the oldest, “pre-spinal” remnants of our bipedal evolution.  

Fluid Movement, in other words, invites the brain to learn and recognize another aesthetic pattern of movement…. another pattern that allows us to adapt to and enjoy the world.

SpaceSuit Yoga Tip 1:   Take a moment to observe things that move in a fluid manner.   Now imagine yourself moving in the same way.   

SpaceSuit Yoga Tip 2:  Noted Somatic Pioneers of Fluid Movement:  Emilie Conrad, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Gabrielle Roth

SpaceSuit Yoga Tip 3:  Check out the National Institute of Health, Alternative Medicine Research site for verifiable studies on the physiological effects of Tai Chi 

http://health.nih.gov/topic/AlternativeMedicine   (enter Tai Chi into the search area and click on the PDF)

So Connect the Dots:  Fluid Bodies, Fluid Brains!

From the rolling shores of the great Pacific — May the Breath Be With  You!

Dr. G.

2008 is the Year of the Brain!

January 2, 2008

2008 is the Year of the Brain Brains Brains Brains!Brains Brains Brains!Brains Brains Brains! http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html

2007 may have been a tough one for the global climate, global unrest and global media but whew!… What a year for the global (and local) Brain! With the news of “neuroplasticity” to hit the radio, newspapers and book-stores (it’s already all over the WEB), somatic arts and science will never be the same.

With this in mind, I am dedicating this year of SpaceSuit Yoga blogs to sharing all that continues to come my way from the expanded fields of neuroscience and neuro-aesthetics. The first is a highly suggested reading that dovetails Sharon Begley’s TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, namely THE BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN, by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee. Some of you may remember S. Blakeslee’s co-authoring Ramachandran’s 1998 tour guide through the brain. Her new book, written with her son, covers the breadth of neuroscientific research that brings somatics, mythopoetics and the psycho-physiology of human transformation up to date.

In months to come, I will elaborate on these issues and invite colleagues to join me expanding the ways in which we can relate these ideas to real time, creative thinking and action.

For time being, a SSY train your brain/mind tip for faking out the stress of New Year’s resolutions:

1. Don’t make any.

2. Instead, sit down for 5 to 20 minutes, close your eyes and tune inside to your physical, sensual experience of breathing.

3. Next, picture the action, the vitality of performing the goal you have in mind. Picture yourself accomplishing your goal.

4. Continue to be physically “present” with breathing and continue imagining the action you wish to perform.

5. Take one large deep breath, let it out. When you feel ready, open your eyes and go about the business of your day.

This process of contemplation or mental practice is reinforced through repeated practice. For more info, check out the suggested readings or write me at 2docgee@gmail.com

A Happy and Healthy New Year To All!

M. A. from L. A. a.k.a. Doc. G.

What is Spacesuit Yoga?

March 9, 2007

What is SpaceSuit Yoga? Dr. M. A. Greenstein, founder, explains:

In a vast sea of yoga for the everywo/man, I launched SPACESUIT YOGA in a city famous for unfettered artistic imagination, self-absorbed excess and a well-charted mystical history – no other than the myth-making City of the Angels (L. A.). With a group of smart, sophisticated artists who desired to learn about inhabiting their body/minds and about the generosity embedded in their hearts, I embarked upon a path of teaching contemplative movement inspired by an extraordinary synthetic, West Coast education in somatic and contemplative movement: Masters studies in Movement Therapy, doctoral research on the pioneering somatic work of Emilie Conrad Da’oud and Barbara Dilley, Buddhist meditation training in Zen, Vajrayana and Theravadan traditions, BMC Yoga studies with Donna Farhi , and Tantric approaches to Hatha Yoga (that’s Kundalini and Anusura lineages for you yoga novices!). With years of being Rolfed and needled for assorted dancer’s aches and pains, and my good fortune to study a cybernetic or a systems approach to the internal dynamics of “the moving body,” I was convinced that the teaching of yoga had to include up to date research gathered in the areas of human physiology, evolutionary neuroscience and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Call me lucky, but my students, who were researchers and teachers in their own right, joined me in exploring yogic practice marinated in progressive ideas. And what’s more progressive than to rethink the aesthetics of yoga in terms of space exploration and biotech? The picture was clear in my mind: we were investigating the floating, fluid body that gravitates to the pull of Planet Earth.

The result? For a child who grew up on Ray Bradbury’s MARTIAN CHRONICLES, Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE and John Glenn’s flight to the moon, the synergistic method took on futuristic proportions. As an Art Center College of Design instructor in conversation with cyborg artist Stelarc and with cutting-edge scientists from JPL and Cal Tech, the biotech possibilities of extending life beyond our body boundaries challenged me to fully think yoga anew. More a lab for restorative movement practice than a prescription for idealized athletics, SPACESUIT YOGA grew into an approach or an attitude, if you will, that emphasized the time-tested wisdom of initiating low-impact, contemplative breath and micro-movement experience in order to address real time, bio-med issues; e.g., heart disease, diabetes, pulmonary and autoimmune disorders as well as the age related issues of menopause, weakened joints and stress-induced lifestyles.

SpaceSuit Yoga, in other words, honors the healing and meditative arts of the past as well as respects the stunning research conducted in the fields of somatics, neuro-aesthetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biotechnology. It is a regenerative yoga portal into the neuroplastic possibilities of training our brains, our bodies, our minds to live with a penchant for eco-adaptability, self-respect and wonder.

Now relocated to Boulder (and catapulted into cyberspace), the vision for SPACESUIT YOGA has grown from a living room teaching practice into one of the courses offered in a forum for progressive, wholebrain/whole body /whole mind education: The George Greenstein Institute for the Advancement of Somatic Arts and Science (See ABOUT on my website).

May the Breath Be With You!

Zoom Zoom!

Dr. G.

M. A. Greenstein, Ph.D., R.Y.T.
Founder and Director, The George Greenstein Institute for the Advancement of Somatic Arts and Sciences
Adjunct Assoc. Prof., Art Center College of Design
303 440 8813; 2docgee@gmail.com
www.spacesuityoga.com