Neurophysiology of Deep Joy

If you’ve spent time with me over the last couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ve been amused or annoyed by my clumsy attempts to put the RhythmAsana experience into words. There’s something about the Deep Joy of RhythmAsana that transcends the verbal plane. And if it’s hard to describe the “what” of the RhythmAsana experience, it’s even harder to explain “why.” What causes the Deep Joy?

When I heard Dave Stringer talk about the neurophysiology of kirtan a few weeks ago, I wasn’t thinking about RhythmAsana. Like everyone else in the room, I was focused on kirtan—the call-and-response chanting often associated with yoga. But when he described the effects of kirtan on the human nervous system, I suddenly found myself listening to his words on two parallel levels. The kirtan musician in me appreciated his insights into the effect of group chanting on the brain. But my inner RhythmAsanator realized that he might just as easily have been talking about RhythmAsana.

I can’t hope to capture the depth and breadth of Dave’s wonderful presentation in these few paragraphs; if you want the whole story you’ll need to go to the source. But, at the risk of oversimplifying, I will share with you one small part of the talk that seemed particularly relevant to our journey.

As you may know, each of us has two nervous systems: The parasympathic nervous system, which is typically associated with inner peace and rest, and the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with excitement.

In a typical kirtan, the group starts by chanting (and breathing) slowly together. Most people find this experience deeply peaceful, probably because they’re stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. As a chant speeds up and the energy rises, hearts pulse faster and, in all likelihood, sympathetic nervous systems are activated. But because the group is still chanting and breathing together, there’s still a shared sense of inner peace. The end result, according to Dave, is that kirtan is one of the few human activities that activates both nervous systems simultaneously, producing a unique and powerful experience.

This theory may not (yet) be lab-tested and peer-reviewed, but it has a ring of truth to it. And it seems to apply to the RhythmAsana experience, too. We start by breathing and/or singing together; we move through gentle, slightly rhythmic yoga poses into group movements with more of a pulse, then into high-energy dance. Because of the gradual flow from restful to energetic, and because of the shared movements to a common pulse, we maintain a sense of deep peace and comfort while at the same time feeling waves of excitement and bliss. It’s an amazing space to explore together.

I don’t know whether the two-nervous-systems theory truly explains what’s happening here. It might be at least part of the reason we feel so good when we do RhythmAsana—and often, for long periods of time after we’ve moved back into our day-to-day lives.

I do know that there’s something profound about sharing space, time, and movement with others in this way is very special. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do it with you.


RhythmAsana in Motion

RhythmAsana is, at its core, all about movement and music. Movement and music are, by their very nature, kinetic. You can’t have movement without change, and you can’t have music without movement. So it’s no surprise that RhythmAsana today is very different than the original RhythmAsana.

The seeds of RhythmAsana were planted when I stumbled (literately and figuratively) into Angela Grace’s Zumba class. As a drummer and a world-music lover, I was immediately taken by the high-energy beats, the global sounds, the engaging dance moves, and Angela’s joyous energy. I became a class regular, gradually liberating parts of my body, mind, and spirit that had been locked down for decades. When Angela became my yoga teacher at Live Well Studio, I had a new Saturday morning ritual: yoga, dance, bliss. After a few months, I suggested to Angela that this combination was too powerful not to share. She agreed, and RhythmAsana was born.

The early RhythmAsana (which went by a different name) was little more than my Saturday morning routine without the pesky commute from the health club to the yoga studio. It didn’t take long, though, before we were able to refine it into something much more sublime. The changes have come gradually over time, often as imperceptibly as the opening of a flower. Deeper, richer music from around the world; more powerful movement flows; creative community-building moves; fantastic free-form interludes, live drumming; and live music from a world music band. Those who’ve been with us throughout the journey might take these changes for granted, but people who return after being gone a while can’t help but notice that RhythmAsana is on the move.

We love the direction RhythmAsana is heading. We love the response we’re getting from those of you who are traveling with us. And we can hardly wait to see where we’re headed. If we’ve learned nothing else from RhythmAsana, we know that it’s all about moving into deep joy. And the joy just keeps getting deeper.


Moving Beyond Words, Moving Beyond Stories….

After I wrote a few books I got the idea that I was pretty good at translating ideas into paragraphs. But when I try to explain RhythmAsana to the uninitiated, I’m humbled by my inability to communicate with words. Oh, it’s easy to give a thumbnail description: RhythmAsana is unique blend of yoga, guided dance, and world music. But that does nothing to explain how powerful, joyous, and transformative the RhythmAsana experience can be.

In some cases, my lack of clear communication may be a good thing. Case in point: A few months ago I told one of my yoga friends about RhythmAsana and she showed up for that weekend’s RhythmAsana class. Apparently I’d done a really bad job of describing RhythmAsana. When the music was over and we were packing up, she told me three things:
1. She really didn’t know what she was getting into.
2. If she had known, she wouldn’t have come because she doesn’t do “dance things.”
3. She loved it and she’d be back.

She was good for her word. In fact, she’ll be joining us for our Breitenbush retreat next weekend.

Her experience was dramatic, but not unique. I’ve had many people tell me variations of the same story: I didn’t know what to expect, and I was a little intimidated by the possibility that I’d be out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I overcame my resistance because I had a fabulous time.

Dancers tell me that they don’t do yoga. Yogis tell me they don’t dance. Runners, walkers, bikers, gardeners, and couch potatoes tell me they don’t do either. For many of those people, my blizzard of words does little to convince them of the virtues of RhythmAsana. But if they’re willing and able to get past their “I can’t dance” and “I can’t do yoga” scripts, they’re often amazed at how much fun they can pack into 90 minutes. And how good they feel as they go back into their lives. And how much they look forward to the next time they can share the RhythmAsana experience with others.

If you’re living with one of these scripts, take some encouragement from these RhythmAsana converts. Let go of your story and experience the deep joy of RhythmAsana! And bring your friends!