Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain


by Janna Leyde


The coincidences used to come like little shocks, zaps of jarring electricity. But once I chose to see synchronicity where there was coincidence, these uncanny alignments became less uncanny and more comforting.

Take, for example, my flight from Chicago to New York this week.

Getting situated on planes—it’s just never any fun. There are twisted seatbelts and persnickety tray tables. Someone’s kid is upset. Someone’s not sitting near enough to someone else. And, always, someone did not read the seat assignment on their ticket correctly. It’s like the domino effect of chaos. I was up and down and in and out of my original seat (yes, I had read my ticket correctly) to accommodate others, and then finally the flight attendant planted me between two dudes. Two very boisterous Jets fans—one with stiff legs, fresh from the marathon (good on you, sir) and the other on his way back from business trip who wished he were headed to Vegas instead.

About the time they were passing out the Terra Blue chips, we’d shared the quintessential New Yorker exchange: “What do you do?”

And there I was sitting between Mr. Marathon Runner and one of the top pediatric neurosurgeons in the country who happened to be on the board of the New York Brain Injury Association. Like that, the conversation turned from two-point conversions and lawyers and bars to neuroplasticity.

For those of you who are itching to Google neuroplasticity, it’s the ability of the brain to change the neuro pathways through which we do our thinking, feeling, moving, and living. Patanjali calls them samskaras. Either way, this idea that we can gradually rearrange how neurons fire and carve out new, more positive, patterns is exactly why I’ve been teaching my father yoga. It’s giving him the change to remold his brain.

Dr. Vegas and I were having one of those chats in which our heads bobbed constantly in shared recognition—pattern shifting, repetition, change, neurons, executive functioning, mental benefits of yoga.

If your brain is a map, then think of most of that map as uninhabited real estate. My father’s brain contains a good bit of rather important real estate that’s been ravaged—but the good news is that he still has a lot of neuro land to work with. And by strengthening the mind-body connection through repeated practice, he can get more access to it. It’s that “dedicated, uninterrupted practice of yoga” that can help him rewire. My dad has more patience, a little more awareness, and he doesn’t eat the entire bag of chips. No, it’s not perfection, but it’s the beginning of creating new grooves of thought, new ways of being.

Certain statistics prove that regular yoga practitioners tend to eat better, quit bad habits, quit bad jobs and get out in nature or with animals or with kids more. When you can create stronger neural networks you can create a life filled with behaviors and influences that are good for them and make them feel good. The doctor and I spent the majority of the plane ride geeked out on the concept that the very complex human brain is, in fact, quite mutable. And his enthusiastic affirmation that I should be bringing yoga and TBI together on the mat was the huge pat on the back that I needed to keep doing what I’m doing, to keep talking to strangers on planes, to keep coming back to my mat, which helps me align myself with a career and lifestyle that fits me.

So get on your mat and see what new grooves your regular practice can create for you.

Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on publishing her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain.


About The Mala Yoga Blog

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