by Morgan Webert
I found myself in tears of joy and inspiration listening to the lecture of a Harvard brain scientist this week as she recounted the experience of having a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Her “stroke of insight” as she calls it, gave her the rare opportunity to study her topic matter, the brain, from the inside out. Even more astounding, she experienced cognition solely through the right hemisphere, recovered fully enough to speak eloquently and scientifically about her experience, and shares with the world what we as a human race can learn from her experience.
The right side of the brain processes the here-and-now, it takes in all the sensory in-put of the world around us and creates a collage of the present moment. This side of our brain experiences emotions and intuition. It thinks subjectively and learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. This side of the brain sees the big pictures and connections in the world. As Dr. Taylor put it “I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere.”
The left side of the brain, on the other hand, deals with thinking linearly, objectively and logically. It processes sequentially and picks the details out of the present moment, categorizes and organizes all of those details, associates them to past experiences and projects them into the future as possibilities. The left is the language processing center responsible for all of our brain chatter. Most notably as Dr. Taylor said, “it is the little voice that says, ‘I am’ and as soon as the left hemisphere does that it causes us to feel separate.”
Ancient yogi sages understood the differences between the right and left brain in a system called Swara Yoga. These ancient sages observed that at some moments the right nostril dominated, and at other moments the left nostril. They noticed regular patterns of alternation between left and right nostrils, and began to understand mental and physical qualities associated to nostril dominance. Take a moment right now, can you feel which nostril you are breathing through?
Modern scientists call this the nasal cycle and describe it as a physiological congestion of the nasal concha due to selective activation of one half of the autonomic nervous system by the hypothalamus.
If that was all too scientific for you, no fear, it’s really quite simple. The left nostril (physiologically connected to the right brain) associates with the Ida Nadi representing the moon, feminine energy, emotions, relaxation and is deemed as virtuous by these yogi sages. The right nostril (connected to the left brain) associates with the Pingala Nadi representing the sun, masculine energy, logic, action and has been deemed as non-virtuous.
Dr. Taylor learned from her experience that, “we are the life-force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds, and we have the power to choose moment by moment who and how we want to be in the world.” She then says with ferocious conviction, “I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be.”
This is the exact same conclusion yogi sages came to over 2000 years ago, and the yoga practices suggested by these sages teaches us to activate this “inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres.” Through slowing down, observing our body and deepening our breath we relax, switch on the parasympathetic nervous system, the Ida Nadi, and chose as Dr. Taylor suggests we can, who and how we want to be in the world.