The following articles should be read as a point-counterpoint about how we think we know our bodies, our brains, and how they all fit together, and how each individual human being is a unique creation.
NYTimes.com - The Secrets Inside Us
Vesalius’s wasn’t the first book on anatomy, but it was the first detailed study based entirely on actual dissection of human cadavers — on scientific fact, not supposition. It systematically dismantled the error-filled doctrine of Galenism, which rested in part on animal rather than human anatomy and had held sway for 14 centuries.But in mapping the inner body, Vesalius didn’t get everything right — he didn’t correctly grasp the circulation of the blood, a discovery that the English physician William Harvey made in the 17th century — nor was his work immediately embraced by all. Revered in retrospect, he was not immune to criticism, or skepticism, in his day.
Through neuroscience we are discovering fresh dimensions of how our brain works, but these can easily be blown out of the water by the next round of discoveries.
The Guardian (UK) – Despite what you’ve been told, you aren’t ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained‘
What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood. It has an amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.
Our understanding of our bodies, brains, minds and souls should always be tagged as provisional, not locked into dogma or sound-bite ready one-liners that give the appearance of insight.
A mudra seals the flow of prana in the body.
Today, I started working at Digital Management Inc (DMI) in Bethesda as a technical proposal writer. I will finally get to put my MS in IT to good use one decade after getting it.
About a month ago, I realized that it had been a full-six months since I left the Organization of American States (OAS) and I started to second-guess myself. I had been working at creating a consulting business for writing, editing, translating and publishing, but I’ve been dragged down by illness, mini-crises, distractions and other matters (Next time around, I try to set up a business, I am going to position myself to concentrate on just that).
I reached out to my limited network of former colleagues, classmates and friends to see if there was a good fit for me in IT, education, the government or something like that. Luckily for me, I chanced across a direct link to DMI’s senior management, who happened to have an urgent need for editorial and writing support. I interviewed seven days ago, and today I showed up for my new laptop and desk. And the office is only 15 minutes from my home so no commute to downtown DC, no Red Line delays, no need for coordinating transport to and from the Rockville Metro station.
Working in an IT consulting and service company requires me to break the old mental habits of an international bureaucray. I will have to leap into the 21st century and learn a whole new generation of software and technology (the OAS was entrenched in MS Office 2003, to name just one example of its tech lag).
A Visit to Yoga: The Art of Transformation is a report by Cindy Cotte Griffiths, a friend and teacher at Thrive Yoga. ‘Nuf said.
There was so much information saturating us during the yoga symposium that I’ve barely had an opportunity to review my notes and impressions. One of the things that came up was that several people noticed that many of the Indian temples showed figures of yoginis (female demi-gods, not the current use as female yogis) using yoga straps (yogapatta) to bind their legs in cross-legged position, leaving their knees raised off the ground. I did a quick search through the PDFs of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation catalog (page 146 for one reference) and found at least three illustrations that demonstrated using a strap to hold a seated posture:
Ascetic yogi in India – photo by James Mallinson
Following up on my previous commentary on the yoga art exhibit, I want to express my frustration about trying to make meaningful remarks about the exhibit, symposium and catalog. Here we have a major trans-global intellectual enterprise about yoga, past, present and future. Major authorities participate in the conceptualization of the the enterprise, its visual nature fills the eyes with light, the juxtaposition of artifacts sets off ripples of imagination, the road map points in multiple direction of investigation and meditation.
I see a picture of an Indian ascetic seated in Lotus pose and I myself am seated in easy pose (Western hips don’t lie), and I feel a connection across the centuries, across the oceans, across the cultural and language barriers. I can feel it in my bones, tissues, blood and breath because yoga affects the physical bodies of all human beings the same way — it’s in our DNA, our genetic code. But the meaning is not. That’s why the physical practice, hatha yoga, is the most easily and directly assimilated by Westerners. Continue reading
The Freer-Sackler Gallery has put up a special page for the extraordinary catalog that they produced for the “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit currently showing in Washington, DC, through January 25, 2014. As I mentioned before, this book is a must-have for anyone seriously interested in the history and evolution of yoga into a worldwide phenomenon. I had been unable to find a dedicated page on the site before today so it must have gone up yesterday or early today.
In an exceptional gesture, the Gallery is making a substantial part of the catalog available in PDF format. The Gallery is in effect foregoing catalog sales in order to promote wider availability and access. My judgment would be to buy the book as well as getting the PDFs: Continue reading
Freer-Sackler Gallery organized the first major exhibit of yoga-inspired art.
The second day of the “Yoga and Visual Culture: An Interdisciplinary Symposium” culminates a long process that began in the summer of 2009 when the Gallery brought together scholars for two interdisciplinary colloquia, which is a break from precedent for most Smithsonian initiatives. So in a sense, the exhibit/symposium had several exploratory discussions and then an extended period of research, planning, writing, editing, peer review and then execution of the physical display and the catalog.
Meanwhile, outside the scholarly confines of the Smithsonian Institutes, yoga as expressed in mainstream culture (North America, Europe and even newer frontiers in Asia) has been growing. In the United States, its spread has taken on the trappings of snake-oil salesmen (“Yoga can cure diabetes and bad posture!”). Among Hindus, both in India and here in the United States, there has been deepening despair that yoga has been cut loose from its historical moorings. In addition, many American yogis have had their eyes opened to the flaws in their one-dimensional vision of yoga as a 2000-year-old, immutable practice that taps into transcendental truths. Continue reading
Since I am on the topic of James Mallinson, I missed a recent showing of Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela on the Smithsonian Channel. But you needn’t worry. It’s coming again on December 2 at 3:00 pm, December 3 at 2:00 pm and December 12 at 1:00 pm:
West meets East when acclaimed actor Dominic West joins his childhood friend on a pilgrimage to Northern India and the biggest religious festival in the world, Kumbh Mela. Here, 100 million Hindus have gathered to wash away their sins in the holy rivers near Allahabad, on the banks of Sangam. It is also where Dominic’s friend Sir James Mallinson will be initiated into a senior role called a mahant. Follow these friends on this incredible two-week journey, and submerge yourself in the sacred waters and culture of this triennial celebration.
Smithsonian Channel trailers
YogaU Online writes about the show.
And YouTube has several videos on the topic of Kumbh Mela.
Hidden away in the Freer-Sackler Gallery website is the following jewel, combining photography, historical watercolor paintings, and archival research:
Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation by James Mallinson:
The earliest textual descriptions of yogic techniques date to the last few centuries BCE and show their practitioners to have been ascetics who had turned their backs on ordinary society. These renouncers have been considered practitioners of yoga par excellence throughout Indian history. While ascetics, including some seated in meditative yoga postures, have been represented in Indian statuary since that early period, the first detailed depictions of Indian ascetics are not found until circa 1560 in paintings produced under the patronage of Mughal Emperor Akbar (reigned 1556 – 1605) and his successors. These wonderfully naturalistic and precise images illuminate not only Mughal manuscripts and albums but also our understanding of the history of yogis and their sects. Scholars have argued for these paintings’ value as historical documents; their usefulness in establishing the history of Indian ascetic orders bears this out. The consistency of their depictions and the astonishing detail they reveal allow us to flesh out — and, sometimes, rewrite — the incomplete and partisan history that can be surmised from Sanskrit and vernacular texts, travelers’ reports, hagiography, and ethnography.