Welcome to my upgraded newsletter
Wherein I contemplate the human predicament through yoga and science
I am upgrading my casual Yoga Studies email to this more shareable format on Substack. This newsletter will give me a place to elaborate the ideas in my weekly live yoga classes, and generally contemplate the human predicament through the lenses of yoga and science. It will be a record of my evolving understanding of life, the universe and everything rather than definitive statements of how-it-is (vs. the current Internet writing style of performative certainty.)
I am calling it Within Us & Without Us, a nod to George Harrison and the Beatles1, who exhort us to
Try to realise it's all within yourself
No one else can make you change
And to see you're really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you
Yet we’re also really big compared to microbes!
How remarkable that we humans have awoken to find ourselves in between such vast scales of existence - from quarks, viruses and honeybees through global supply chains, plate tectonics, exoplanets and galactic superclusters.
Just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a galaxy, and an orchid is the universe in the form of a flower, we are the universe in the form of a human.
And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting on itself.
And this changes everything.
Brian Swimme & Mary Tucker, Journey of the Universe
Knowing more about our micro- and macrocosmic situation seems quite relevant to the yogic quest of discovering who we truly are. Science has so much to offer in this vein, especially when put into dialogue with our embodied experience. I hope to spin out some of these synergies through this newsletter and my ongoing teaching. You can read more of my intentions here.
Fall Quarter - Moon Studies
I organize my classes around quarterly themes. Each fall, our focus turns to that slippery phenomenon we call “the mind”2, sometimes coded as the Moon in tantric symbology. Last year we toured the Yoga Sutra. This time around, I’d like to explore an approach called embodied cognition that is gaining popularity in cognitive science and has big implications for what we’re doing in yoga.
It was first clearly articulated by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch in their book The Embodied Mind:
The basic idea of the enactive approach is that the living body is a self-producing and self-maintaining system that enacts or brings forth relevance, and that cognitive processes belong to the relational domain of the living body coupled to its environment.
Those words might feel a bit slippery if you’re not oriented to the jargon. The basic sense is this: what we call “our mind” is really an ongoing conversation between our organism and the environment, and therefore cannot be located in our heads or even our bodies.
As Evan Thompson puts it in this excellent podcast, “the mind cannot be said to be in the brain anymore than we can say flight is in the wing of a bird.” Birds need wings for flight, but also an appropriately thick atmosphere, oxygen, a certain bone density, neural patterning, etc. Flight arises from the exquisite coordination of many factors inside and outside a bird, as do mental phenomena such as focus, insight and compassion.
So if we are setting out to study our mind - and perhaps even transform it beneficially - we must consider our bodies, our environment and our whole history (personal, ancestral, evolutionary). The field of study relevant to the yoga process is much larger than anatomy, scripture and philosophy.
From the embodied mind perspective, the mystical claim that “it’s all within yourself” is not a grandiose statement of cosmic ego, but rather an acknowledgment that our experience of “myself” arises interdependently with “all of it”. There is no generic self-aware human mind, only yours, living inside of this exact Earth and this specific body with its particular history.
At the same time, the embodied approach to cognition would add the important corollary that anything we perceive “out there” in inescapably conditioned by our particular self. We see ourselves everywhere. The world is indeed a mirror, as what we see “out there” in inescapably tinted by our unique bodymind.
My first idea for integrating this perspective into yoga practice, which I’ll be leading in my classes this week, is to experiment with shifting focus back and forth between the body, our thoughts, and the world.
What happens when we include sights, spatial relations and sounds in our awareness of what’s happening “in the pose”.
Can we allow the room, the mat, and the humidity of the air to become part of the pose?
What kind of thoughts can we think when we allow the body and world to contribute their intelligence to the proceedings?
This is experimental territory for me and feels a bit risky, though also necessary and exciting. Your interest in my ventures makes them much more possible - thanks for reading!
Mondays 10-11:30a on Zoom - lecture and practice
Thursdays 9:30-110:45a in studio/Zoom - mostly practice
Saturdays 12-1:30p in studio/Zoom - lecture and practice
As a reminder, if you can’t make my live class times on Zoom, you can always register and request a link.
Earth Study Class Collection
I have selected the 11 best classes I taught this summer, all devoted to a detailed study of the marvelous human body. This collection covers all the major anatomical features of the body that are relevant to yoga. These classes will teach you all kinds of stuff you never knew about your body, both intellectually and experientially. It’s equivalent to what you might learn at a yoga teacher training, but designed for students rather than teachers.
I would like to gauge interest to see if anyone is interested in purchasing access to this collection for $88. (By the way, Sustaining Members of Grateful Yoga have access to all these classes included as part of their membership).
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and we can arrange payment.
And my mother Terry Beem, an original Beatlemaniac, who would have loved that I picked this title.