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Running on Circuits of Peace

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Running on Circuits of Peace

Let a quiet mind heal you.
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D.
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D. More by this author
Sep 14, 2010 at 10:00 AM

My personal interest in yoga and meditation began in the late 1960s. A grad student at Harvard Medical School, I was scared silly by the competition and began studying late into sleep-deprived nights. Migraine headaches, stomach pain, an immune disorder, chronic bronchitis, borderline high blood pressure, and anxiety qualified me as a bona fide wreck. In fact, some of my friends took to calling me “Psychosomatic Sally.” Fortunately, one day in physiology lab, my partner “Jerry” taught me how to run my right-brain circuits of peace.

Looking up from a lobster claw that he was dissecting, Jerry commented that I had a very powerful mind. I was just beginning to bask in the praise when he added that my magnificent mind was also the hidden source of all my stress-related ills. Well, that’s an intriguing idea, I thought, as I put down my scalpel to listen.

He said something like: “You create such vivid mental images that you mistake the movies of your mind for reality. Since your body can’t tell the difference between what’s actually happening and what you’re imagining, it responds to your frightening fantasies as if they were real. You need to learn how to calm your mind and come back down to earth.”

Jerry, as fortune would have it, had studied karate since he was a kid. All of the martial arts, he explained, are like meditation exercises that quiet your thinking mind and let your instinctual body wisdom take over. Then you can move organically and gracefully, picking up the slightest cues from your opponent on a nonverbal level.

Jerry was also a student of yoga, which he assured me, trained the same kind of mental skills as karate. So I signed up for a yoga course. It was difficult at first, both because the postures (asanas) were new and because I thought success was becoming the perfect pretzel. It took several months to realize that the elderly woman next to me who could barely touch her knees, let alone her toes, was a great yogi. She knew that success is a matter of awareness, of paying exquisite attention to the feelings in your body and the movement of your breath—relaxing gently and mindfully into each pose. You can be a great yogi even if you’re in a wheelchair.

I gradually learned how to relax and feel the underlying aliveness of the body. Once you feel that energy, you can understand what Dr. Bolte Taylor was describing about her stroke experience. When you access that field of energy that’s within everything, no wonder you become aware of your opponents’ energy in martial arts and “know” how they’re going to move. In daily life, you become cognizant of people’s moods—whether your boss is lying or telling the truth, whether a neighborhood is safe or dangerous, and other such right-brain skills known as intuition.

One day at the end of a yoga class, after I’d begun to feel some of these subtle shifts in attention and energy, I experienced an enlightening moment while I was in savasana (the corpse pose). I was filled with a deep, inexplicably wonderful sense of peace and thought, Wow—this must be what people mean when they say relaxation. This realization was an epiphany.

Relaxation tends to be a throwaway word used for kicking back. Take a bubble bath, get a massage, or go out to dinner and a movie. While kicking back does help to relax the muscles and mind, deep relaxation is a right-brain state of expanded awareness—a mindful immersion in the pleasures of the moment. Past and future become irrelevant since you’re as firmly and flexibly anchored in the present as a sailboat rocking gently on its mooring. There’s nothing to resist and nothing to desire. You’re completely content and at home in yourself.

About Author
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D.
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., is one of the leading experts on stress, spirituality, and the mind/body connection. She has a doctorate in medical sciences from Harvard Medical School, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and is the co-founder and former dir Continue reading