Both biologically and preferentially, human beings gravitate towards the often repeated “variety is the spice of life” pledge/axiom/precept. Even though everyone has their idiosyncratic perspectives on just exactly where they will allow variety to actually infiltrate their own life, it is still apparent that no one wants to eat the exact same thing, nor live out the exact same life, everyday. There is a reason why the dystopian structure of the “Groundhog day” life is invoked as a frightful lesson on how to live better. In fact, the common complaint of many modern people, is the monotony and predictability of their lives. To see absence of variety in our lives, is to witness the absence of novelty in our experience. This absence not only produces feelings of anxiety and/or depression, but has consequences for which we should be better armed.
It should first be noted that obviously not all novelty is good, and should be strived for. If you have never been in a car accident, the risk of seeking one out for the sake of experiencing something new, far outweighs what minimal benefit one may derive from it, if any.
Within the domain of neuroscience, the very seat of learning rests upon the confrontation with the new. Neurogenesis and synaptogenesis are the very mechanisms by which the structure of our nervous system adapts to new information. Without new experiences these mechanisms atrophy, and in turn lead to actual atrophy of the brain. There have been great studies, such as this, that have observed how abnormal behavior is attenuated by enriching the environmental factors of visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, motor, and social variety.
By definition, to have learned something is to assimilate novelty into ones understanding. Without novelty there is nothing left to explore, and without exploration one cannot grow and evolve.
This is as much the case for our musculoskeletal, as it is our nervous system. This is important to reflect on because we do get into ruts of preference when it comes to our physical activity. Whether it is a yogi, weight lifter, cyclist, or martial artist, the tendency to branch outside of one’s scope of interest is not typical to most people. This is not surprising because we are habit forming creatures. However, the uncontroversial reality of being wedded to one specific activity, is the way that it depletes a certain set of skills, while maintaining others. The variety of the many skills that a functioning human body has evolved to possess are represented by the physical structure of the body. Im specifically referring to the different types of muscle fibres that we are composed of. From endurance, to power, to explosiveness, we are the fortunate inheritors of tissues that have evolved specifically for each activity.
The central thesis and orientation of the Yoga Dharma, is to foster the wisdom, which fosters the behaviors that bring about harmony within oneself. This harmony is a concatenation of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual facilities. To atrophy in one district, undermines the function of the others. To understand that we are fundamentally physical beings, at least while alive ;), is to see how the physical body is the support network of literally every other function we prize.
I was fortunate to have had teachers that drove this home for me. Having previously been a staunch yoga purist, I suffered physical pains and imbalances, that in hindsight are not surprising. By only moving the body in one way, classical asana practice, certain skills of my anatomy became malnourished, which led to a very unsurprising result.
By resuming a multi-colored repertoire of movement, such as running and strength training, I witnessed a restoration of function and feeling, that I cannot recommend enough.
To do something new is uncomfortable, but that discomfort is only fractional compared to the discomforted one would be fated for, if it is not undertaken.
Whether its swimming, running, jumping, or crawling, give your body the variety of experience you will in turn be reward for.