With the popularity of shows like Weeds and the prevalence of drug addiction in our world, both prescribed and unprescribed, its safe to say that people are looking for a way to get “high.” In fact, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of HHS have sponsored several national surveys to track drug use trends and found that in the past decade drug use from the age of twelve onward has increased by over 12%. You read that right, prepubescent girls and boys are looking for a way to cope with this crazy world we live in, and often choose drugs to do it. There is, fortunately, a method of raising our energy, feeling “high” without the residual downside of most drugs, and without the addiction that accompanies most pharmaceutical and street remedies alike. Put simply, its yoga.
Yoga may seem like an odd solution, but it has a remarkable effect on our bodies and minds. Many of us look to get “high”, to escape the drudgery of every day life, to run from the gapping hole we feel as we become disenchanted with reality or forget the nature of our true Self. This Self, often referred to as the Soul, houses an infinite amount of natural energy because it is connected to a larger, universal source. Some call it God. But let’s put that word aside for now, and just look at this psychological need for elevation from a purely physical perspective.
We all have an innate desire to feel good, and to avoid pain. We long for a taste of ecstasy and we go after it using food, sex, drink, drugs or any substance we think will help us arrive at a pleasurable state. Let’s look at one substance, for example, marijuana, to understand its effects on the brain and body. The active ingredient in Marijuana, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabino), affects the brain on several levels. Though many users experience different reactions to Marijuana, it has a relatively universal effect on the brain. THC binds with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, causing reactions through the body. The distribution of the receptors, which react to THC in each person, is relatively uneven, so some people experience a massive loss of function while others are less affected. Regardless, most people report a sensation of feeling happy, or at the bare minimum, unaffected by life’s usual discomforts.
Before we continue, let me assure you this is not an article written either for or against any drug, whether legal, illegal, pharmaceutical or natural. Many drugs have a positive use in our society, but they also have some unpleasant side effects. THC for example, will bring its most profound short-term effects to its user within ten minutes and wear off within about three hours, however, however, it tends to linger on within the body. THC is a fat-soluble substance and will accumulate in fatty tissues in the liver, lungs, testes, and other organs. Two days after smoking marijuana, one-quarter of the THC content may still be retained. It will show up in urine tests three days after use, and traces may be picked up by sensitive blood tests two to four weeks later. Why is this a problem? THC affects memory and learning ability. It limits the capacity of the brain to absorb and retain information. Further, Chronic marijuana smokers are prey to chest colds, bronchitis, emphysema, and bronchial asthma, and marijuana can also delay the onset of puberty in young men and reduce sperm production. When pregnant women smoke pot, they run the risk of having a baby with reduced birth weight and some studies point to developmental delays in children of marijuana users. With all the positive feelings that marijuana produces, there are a bevy of side effects which one might deem undesirable, including:
• Diminished short-term memory
• Impaired perception
• Loss of concentration and coordination
• Impaired judgment
• Increased risk of accidents
• Loss of motivation
• Diminished inhibitions
• Increased heart rate
• Anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia
• Damage to the respiratory, reproductive, and immune systems
• Increased risk of cancer
• Psychological dependency
Without going into a similar discussion of other drugs commonly used, including alcohol, and their residual effects after the “high” has worn off, let us continue our inquiry into the human need to get “high.”
Abraham Maslow discussed the human need for self-actualization in great depth. His is a theory of psychology based on a paper written in 1943 called A Theory of Motivation. Briefly, people broke down our needs into basic or what he called “deficiency needs” which must be met before we develop the will to fulfill needs at a secondary or higher level. Once our deficiency needs are met, we strive for constant betterment. Maslow described physiological needs, which are the literal necessities for our survival such as air, water, food, clothing and shelter. Next come our safety needs, which include a predictable, orderly world in which perceived unfairness and inconsistency are in control. Most of the world is still struggling to meet needs at the most basic level. If you are living on two dollars a day and don’t have any shelter, you aren’t worried about having a savings account, job security, or an insurance policy.
Our next set of needs is based on love and belonging. This includes friendship, intimacy, and family. All our social connections provide fulfillment (or a lack thereof) of our need to belong and feel loved. Loneliness, and depression are often the result of not having this level of need met.
Following love and belonging is the need to be respected and have self-respect. Maslow calls this the need for Esteem. Finally, Maslow describes Self-actualization. This is the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything one is capable of becoming.
Later, Claire Graves expanded on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by describing Spiral Dynamics. The underlying idea of Spiral Dynamics is that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by circumstances, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems. An important property of these models is that each new one includes and extends all previous models. These conceptual models are organized around vMemes: systems of core values or collective intelligences, applicable to both individuals and entire cultures. The term vMeme is used in spiral dynamics for a core value system, acting as an organizing principle.
In the modern world, structured as it is, there is ample opportunity for a human being to be denied one or more of her basic needs. This leads to a grasping for an artificial substance to fill the perceived gap. A need is temporarily perceived as filled while using a drug, but often the absence of whatever true missing aspect of life is exaggerated when the drug wears off. Yoga practice is one of the few systems that address a need without the accompanying side effects.
To be more specific, sustaining poses such as sarvangasana (shoulder stand) stimulates the release of hormones in the thyroid and parathyroid. A natural squeezing of the glands occurs as the blood pressure builds and the glands produce more of their hormone. This results in increased cell metabolism.
The physical body depends on these chemical reactions, such as creating energy from the consumption of glucose, in order to operate. When the posture is done there are increased levels of hormones such as thyroxine and calcitonin, to name a few, released in the blood stream. Therefore, we are providing the body with the needed chemical nutrients essential to sustaining a working internal environment. These hormones are normally released due to the managing eye of the hypothalamus or the ingestion of food. With the posture, you have a hand in this otherwise subconscious process. Just this one asana (posture) leads to increased feelings of well-being and homeostasis in the body. Every posture in yoga has a correlative effect on the endocrine glands and their proper functioning.
This does not eliminate the necessity for what Maslow calls “deficiency needs.” We still need food and water and air and shelter. What yoga does provide; however, is a way to feel the higher states of need-fulfillment without resorting to illicit substance. It may be assumed that every human being has a tendency to actualize himself – to become his potentialities. This need is so strong, in fact, that even when we are missing some of the lower rungs on Maslow’s ladder of need fulfillment, we try to fulfill our desire, fumbling horribly along the way. The use of alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. that do not lead to the originally sought-after goal of self-actualization, are just fruitless attempts at bandaging the wound of the human psyche.
To attempt to self-actualize with poor choices and substances that do not really address our true needs is also human. It is a groping in the dark for something to stop the pain, but yoga provides an actual remedy. It is not an hyperbolic statement. Yoga is a means to actualize the Self. Adepts and sages called this Enlightenment. Modern psychology calls it something else, but it is the Universal need to feel connected to all others, to feel a sense of Oneness and Individuality simultaneously. It is our need to be “high.”
Christina Sarich http://www.yogaforthenewworld.blogspot.com