Embodied Cognition

Uncategorized Sep 21, 2020

What has been called “The Enlightenment” in the Western world, was basically the ascendance of reason and rationality as the main instruments of human knowledge. It was a natural response to the primacy of religious dogma and faith, which had dominated most of the world with an iron fist, for centuries, if not millennia before. Over the course of time, this ascendance brought about most of the modern advantages of medicine, politics, and technology. The power of this method to elucidate information about the world and universe around us, simultaneously provided the opportunity to intercede and control our physical and social environments. This progress and the fast changing environment which followed in its wake, eventually led to push-back against the impending reign of science and reason, coining such familiar pejoratives as “scientific materialism” and “reductionism”. 

But one of the more legitimate criticisms of the age of Western Enlightenment, was that it dismissed anything that wasn’t objectively verifiable and replicable. It dismissed first-person, subjective, and anecdotal claims on the grounds that it could not be confirmed by a third party. The crucial point that can reconcile these seemingly opposing views, is the subjective reality within which every individual is ensconced. The scientific method itself, especially as it is implemented in the life sciences, and the logical arithmetic which it employs, depends on the reports and testimony of individual subjects. The domain of health, whether measured anatomically, physiologically, or psychologically, uses the subjective reports of patients to design/determine the intervention that is to be applied to them. 

 

As useful as scientific rigors are, it is important to remember that an individual does not live by only what is objectively verifiable. Most of the meaningful moments in our lives do not compel us to confirm their scientific legitimacy. The love that a mother has for her child, or the empathy evoked by seeing someone in pain, speak for themselves, and couldn’t be overshadowed by the technical measurements and conclusions of technology. The reason that these events speak for themselves is because they are composed of feelings. Feelings are not just our moods or emotions, but include everything from the five basic senses of exteroception, to the awareness of every state that arises from the interior of the body, such as hunger or thirst. Feelings are not the products of our intellect or reason. They are created by the physical body. 

This is the fundamental temple that has been spoken & written about, in all traditions. It is afterall, the body that reveals the world to us. We taste, smell, see, hear, and touch our environment, and feel how our body responds in kind. The practice of Yoga is a reawakening to the reality within which we are already steeped. We squeeze, twist, lengthen, flex, and direct our body, which brushes off the residue of life’s big and small challenges. The reason we come back to the mat is because we know that the person that emerges at the end of the practice is somehow better than they were in the beginning.  

The framework known as “embodied cognition” proposes that it isn’t the mind that influences the body, but is actually the body that is the very root of all mental and cognitive phenomena. This is the scientific position that is reminiscent of the oldest teachings of Yoga. It is an objective and calculated illustration of the actual grandeur of the body. This perspective entreats us to honor the very same flesh that allows our experience to occur in the first place. If our experiences can be greatly trimmed down in the presence of any dysfunction of the body, then the converse is also true. This is why we feel better when we practice. As the practice improves the function of the body-temple, the body is able to convey more vivid sensation. The depth and scope of these revivified sensations is the measure of our Quality of Life. No matter what anyone’s orientation in life may be, everyone is motivated by the hopes of improving the quality of their experiences. 

One of the most traditional framing of the individual, depicts an amalgam of five separate but interdependent layers, referred to as “Pancamaya kosha” model. This perspective offers a schema that what comprises a human being are several distinct, yet intertwined functions, that are best improved and maintained by a holistic practices of Yoga.

 

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