We Can Never Go Back to Before

Yes, I just quoted Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics from the Tony-winning musical “Ragtime,” but I found it appropriate for this little ditty.

We’ve all heard the term, “you’re young, you’ll bounce right back,” right? But do we in fact, return to the way we were before? Maybe not.

Last weekend, Iyengar yoga teacher Matthew Sanford and neuroscientist Dr. Barbara Ganzel met at the Rubin Museum to discuss the “mind/body flux.” Sanford found yoga by way of his paraplegia (for more info, click here), and Dr. Ganzel studies the neural embedding of exterior stressors upon trauma victims at Cornell University. Both have brilliant perspectives. Both contributed to an intriguing dialogue.

I assume you’re familiar with yoga’s fabled mind/body relationship. I won’t re-hash that. What many of us may be unfamiliar with are the scientific explanations behind this relationship. Full disclosure: yours truly is not of scientific mindset, so if you are indeed a lab rat, mea maxima culpa.

Sanford and Ganzel talked about on homeostasis and allostasis. Homeostasis is the “process that maintains the stability of the human body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions” (merci Wiki). Basically, it is the belief that we as humans “bounce right back,” comme the aforementioned oldwives’ tale. First coined by French physiologist Claude Bernard in 1865, homeostasis held sway over scientific circles.

That is, until 1988, when Peter Sterling and Joseph Eyer proposed the concept of allostasis, wherein the human body “achieves stability…through physiological or behavioral change” (ibid Wiki). Basically, Sterling and Eyer argued that exterior stressors change us eternally and we morph into new, positive states of existence.

“Homeostasis vs. allostasis” is a controversial topic among scientists, and I can’t help but favor the Sterling/Eyer theory. Apparently, neither can Sanford and Ganzel. Life throws us constant lemons and, whether we’re aware of it or not, we make endless batches of fresh lemonade. While each batch may be different, every new pitcher can still be sweet, if we choose to make it so.

Life constantly fluctuates, nothing stays the same, and the yoga practice prepares us for this change. Contrary to what our attached emotions dictate, change can be a good thing. Sanford is a living example of this. He stated that “someone once asked me: ‘if you could rewind history, would you prevent your accident from ever happening?’ And I said ‘no.’ It’s made me who I am today, and without it, I wouldn’t be here tonight sharing this conversation with you.”

–Michael Laskaris



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