Author name: Elliot

34 y/o American


Shiva (the god of Death)

Shiva is the god destroyer, his matted hair and ash smeared face sit silent in meditation or flow eternally in his cosmic dance of death. From his matted hair flows from the Ganges river in India and he often adorns himself with snakes, particularly cobras. He lives far secluded from the other gods in his abode in Mount Kailash, which is a real mountain from which many of the rivers in Asia begin. It is on top of this mountain that the destroyer of ignorance, suffering, illusion, and sadness finds his eternal meditation with his wife Parvati and sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. He is a simple herdsmen and yogi at certain times with his family, and at others he slays demons to protect the equilibrium of the universe. He also wears a garland of skulls, to show his victory over death and holds a three forked trident to represent the meeting of three worlds, immediate, internal, and external.

Shiva is a powerful god that creates change through chaos and destruction. The symbols of Shiva are extremely powerful, they bring a stoic freedom to find peace in each moment knowing that someday the moments will end. He is a part of the Trimurti and makes way for Brahman to create through his destruction. Vishnu preserves the continuous cycle; some claim Vishnu as the primary deity, called Vashnavism, and some claim Shiva as the primary god, called Shaivism. Together, they complete the cosmic cycle of death, rebirth, and life. Shiva is the cosmic dancer, and often slays demons with his trident while playing the damaru. Shiva is also well-known for playing the flute.

The final pose in a yoga asana series or sequence is devoted to Shiva. In Ashtanga in particular, the final meditation is focused on the death of the individual and release from the cycle of Samsara. He is the patron god of yoga and is one of the primary focal points of the philosophical traditions. Death is undoubtedly the primary reason yoga is practiced, whether it is to ensure a long life, to improve health and vitality, or to find meaning in life. Yoga helps us to come to terms with our own mortality and know that one day, we will stop breathing. But in that cessation is the beauty of the unknown and the release from this world that grants freedom that is unequaled.

The next time you are in Shivasana, meditate on your own death. It is very powerful and drops me into a deeper Samadhi every time, minimizing distractions. There are also many powerful chants used before class to destroy obstacles and invoke the presence of the great transformer. If you have different ways of showing love for Shiva, or ways that you know Shiva to be different, let us know!

four lobes of the brain

Yoga and Drugs (part 1: Depression)

Let me ask you a question. Do you think that the drugs out there are more complex than your body? The body is capable of healing itself, yet we are so quick to turn to products and outside assistance to fix us. My hypothesis is that depression cannot be healed by drugs, it can only be healed by the individual’s mind, though drugs can give the mind a bit of a jump-start. I recommend yoga as the best cure for depression, here’s why.

There are neurological reasons why yoga is incredibly good for your psychological functioning. There are four neurotransmitters (transmit nervous information via nerves) and one hormone (transmits chemical information via bloodstream) in particular that can provide us with tremendous insight into the neurological benefits of yoga. Please note that this is theoretical.

Five of the primary molecules of the conscious nervous system:

  1. GABA – primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in vertebrates (the nervous system’s primary function is to inhibit).
  2. Dopamine – very active in conscious behavior such as: motivation, pleasure, cognition, memory, learning, fine motor control, and neuroendocrine control (hormones). This is possibly the most relevant neurotransmitter when we discuss waking consciousness, as dysfunction causes severe psychological illness.
  3. Serotonin – regulation of cellular growth, healing, intestinal regulation, also pertains to mood, appetite, memory and sleep. 90% of our Serotonin is in our alimentary canal or gut. It is commonly targeted by anti-depressants and is popularly associated with happiness.
  4. Epinephrine – both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is activated with fight/flight mechanism. Basically ACTH starts a chain reaction that leads to mass spread of Cortisol and Adrenaline (another name for epinephrine) to activate with the entire sympathetic nervous system for the fight/flight. Adrenaline, though popularly thought to be the sole culprit behind this activation, is simply one piece to the puzzle.
  5. Cortisol – a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, activated in response to stress and increases blood sugar, suppresses the immune system, and aids in high level metabolic activity (breaking down fats, carbs, proteins). This is extremely important in maternal care and landmarks important events in youth and separation from the mother. Is likely key to psychological maturity and ability to cope with stress.

Now let’s talk about real life. Every day, when you wake up, you are actually shutting your brain down. It is more active when you sleep. GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, focuses you to see only what is in front of you, thank goodness. Now you are able to react to the current situation without distraction. But you also have memory and an abstract ability to plan, which is stored in the entirety of your body, not simply the brain. Then there are literally hundreds of thousands of the bodily processes that you are not aware of. Suffice to say that the waking brain is really filtering out a ton of crap for you to be able to react to the moment. This is GABA, inhibiting synapses that are constantly ready to fire, allowing us to get rid of the fuzziness and start to see clearly. Yoga increases the efficiency of this system, it allows for more focus and longer concentration.

Dopamine is your pleasure/reward system. Right answers get awesome candy right? This is the regulation of desire, craving, addiction, fine motor control, and most importantly learning. Yoga allows for vast improvements in learning and in the proprietary motor control system, which are key to the abolition of distractions, cravings, and destructive behaviors.

Serotonin works closely with dopamine, which is really used to regulate mood, memory, appetite, and sleep all of which are inter-related. Dopamine and Serotonin actually follow a very similar passageway in the brain which leads to believe that they are intertwined in the formation of habits, routines, pleasures, dislikes, and overall happiness. Quite literally, quality of life. Dieting and sleeping in a balanced manner will most likely lead to optimization of this system.

Epinephrine and Cortisol belong together. I just wanted to make the point that adrenaline (epinephrine) is just a small piece of ultra-intense consciousness during fight or flight. Epinephrine is one link on a huge chain that sets of throughout the body and ultimately causes a lot of wear and tear, especially if accidentally activated daily. Staying away from chronic stress and general overstimulation of your sympathetic nervous system is extremely important to longevity. Small doses are great and healthy, but all day, every day is too much. That’s why god took the 7th day off.

Overall, yoga vastly increases the efficiency of muscular systems, so it is likely that the entire nervous system is receiving incredible benefit. Replenishing 700 million lung alveoli with vast amounts of oxygen to travel into the bloodstream and throughout the body, cleansing muscles, sweat glands, and inner organs while simultaneously rebalancing hormones, neurotransmitters, and cerebral spinal fluid to bring about a centering of consciousness for reactivity to the present sounds pretty healthy to me. And we do it so that we can take each and every moment as it comes.

Some pharmaceutical drugs and what they do:

alprazolam – xanax – binds and potentiates GABA inhibitors, which causes massive relaxation in muscles and nervous system, which can help deal with panic attacks, but do not improve symptoms, simply masks them.

zolpidem – ambien – potentiates GABA inhibitors for sleep, easily can cause amnesia or hallucinations in overdose

fluoxetine – prozac – blocks serotonin from leaving your brain

sertraline – zoloft – blocks serotonin from leaving your brain

If you want to add to this list then please feel free in the comments. I’m going to jump into more about Serotonin and Dopamine in part two about Hyperactivity/Bi-polarity. Part 3 will be anxiety. What do you think is the neurotransmitter or hormone most responsible for happiness?

The 5 Easiest Ways to lose weight

I am constantly seeing advertisements for “secrets to weight loss”, “fat burning tricks”, “slim down”, or whatever with a supplement. To me all this is pretty silly, because weight loss isn’t really a secret. It takes a little time, discipline, and willingness to just ignore everyone else about it.

Everyone wants to feel secure in the way that they treat their body, workout, etc, so they have their excuses, reasons, and stories and they want to feel validated about what they do. In order to validate themselves, people will often try to bring down what you do, or claim superiority. Get prepared for this, because everyone thinks they are a genius when it comes to working out, losing weight, or trying a new diet. Just listen shake your head, smile, then leave and ignore them.

  1. Fruits and vegetables. Just eat a little more. Especially broccoli. Did you know they make broccoli tips into vitamins? Vitamins are expensive and they have less nutrient density and are harder for your body to completely assimilate. Ya, so eat the broccoli. This might mean a couple smoothies, some grilled veggies, omelets, whatever you need to do to eat less meat. Not eating meat everyday is okay, I swear it! You could go like a few weeks without eating if you had to. If you have to eat meat, eat chicken and just know that pork has about 2x more density, and beef has 3x density. Accordingly, they take more time to digest and can slow down the rest of the process, especially if the meats are packaged and processed because of the chemicals and additives used to store the meat for long periods of time without spoiling. They slow down everything because that is what the chemicals are made to do.
  2. Sleep as much as you need to. For some people this is 4 hours, for some its 9. It oscillates between 6 and 8 for me. This is really important, it replaces neurotransmitters, replenishes hormones, gets some deep tissue rest and REM for the big guy upstairs.
  3. Drink enough water to make your pee almost clear. For me this is about 3 liters, when I don’t practice hot yoga. When I practice, it is 6 or 7. This will allow your body to keep your metabolism and circadian rhythm on a good trajectory, water is used as a primary regulator of heat. I hear people say they don’t drink a lot of water and I start thinking about colon cancer. Seriously.
  4. Be social about it. Don’t workout alone, don’t do everything by yourself, it’s not healthy and can lead to depression. Meeting other people in running groups, yoga classes, workout places, gyms, wherever you are can be fun. If you are just friendly, I can almost guarantee that the other people are capable of being friendly too right? Because they are probably stoked to use their body too. People are nice if you give them opportunities to be nice.
  5. Find ways to be happy using your body. That does not mean that you have to go doing crazy things. Walking is the second most beneficial activity I know of and its pretty awesome. It gives your body a chance to move through its primary functionality, to stand upright and move your hips and shoulders side to side. I think cavemen probably walked and hiked around a lot, so you know it’s good. The most beneficial activity I know of is yoga, it actually purifies the inner organs and gives you a bit more control over the body and mind. But anything that you enjoy, your body enjoys. Unless that’s climbing mount Everest. Your body does not enjoy that.

Be prepared to change your mind and habits according to what you need, but these general guidelines will have you losing weight if you are not already doing them. It’s really simple, it just takes time and effort.

ankle structure

Anatomy of the Ankle

The ankle is the base and primary support structure for the lower body to rest upon. Ankles allow for agile mobility, massive weight support, and the repeated pressure of walking and jogging.

The primary bones and major support structures of the joint are: the tibia, the primary bone that connects the inside of the leg to the ankle and forms the shin; the fibula, the secondary lower leg bone that is on the outside, or is exterior to the tibia; the calcaneus, which forms the back of the heel; and the talus, which is the centerpiece between the calcaneus and the tibia.

The primary tendons and ligaments (ligaments connect bones, tendons connect muscles and bones) of the ankle are the Achilles tendon, connecting the back of the calcaneus to the gastrocnemus, the calve muscle. There are arrays of tendons all along the top and bottom of the foot, with the primary nerve canal running on the inside of the ankle and through the arch of the foot. There is a significant amount of fascial tissue and softer tissue inside of the ankle socket to allow for greater surface area through pressure.

ankle ligaments
Ankle Ligaments
ankle ligaments
Ankle Ligaments

Here is a great video to get an overview of ankle functionality that is really well done and illustrated: Ankle Anatomy

We still have a little detail to add about the arch of the foot and the ankle’s spring like functionality. Here is a good look at the springing action of the ankle. We’ll cover the arch of the foot in our foot anatomy post 🙂

inner ankle
inner ankle

Sitting Still

It’s interesting how hard it is to sit still nowadays. People will almost certainly look at you funny in public, and it seems like people feel weird doing it alone at home.

We are addicted to being busy, or at least seeming to be. People check their cell phone to avoid talking to each other, or to seem important when in a group of people. Its always interesting to put people together and watch them avoid connecting with one another.

Its funny how people think they don’t know how to meditate, almost as if its an ancient mythological practice that isn’t just about sitting, taking relaxed breathes, and trying not to think about anything. Kids should be taught how to do it first thing at school. Imagine if you were in Kindergarten and they taught meditation? That’s the future I see…

Anyways, I taught two classes on Friday, both of which were a blast. I had 7 people in Auburn and 8 in Roseville and we did some cool stuff, lots of warrior 3, lunging, and half moons. Can’t wait for the next time, its interesting how you can kind of sink into a comfortable place when you teach yoga…

2 Days of Yoga with Bryan Kest

I got a chance to practice for a couple of days in Santa Monica while I was down there (from Sacramento) visiting my younger sibling. I was able to sneak in a two-hour class on Sunday and hour and a half class on Monday at Power Yoga. Brian Kest was the teacher.

It was really fun, no music the dude just walked us through a really fast, building flow. It goes into a lunging series from starting in child’s, downdog, then warming up with vinyasa, lots and lots of cobra which was really relaxing, then beginning into the lunging series with standing splits, twists, and lowering onto our forearms. Then we went into warrior 2, reverse warrior 2, prasaritta, hugged each leg and then went into a cool-down series which would cover hamstrings and hips, then go into a nice and deep meditation. He did a gratitude meditation Sunday, talked about church and building relationships and subjects that were really hilarious. He was extremely entertaining, having tons of knowledge about yoga and general exercise and health. That’s why his flow was able to become cardio oriented at first and calisthenic.

We did the splits as the culmination and tons of things for hamstrings, thighs, back, and shoulder, and everything up to this point has been interlaced with vinyasa. Bryan turns freakin’ poetic; he literally rhymes and sings while he talks you through vinyasa and he has perfect meter for the breath. He wasn’t too intent on pushing hard at all, rather taking care of yourself and being gentle so that you can relax into the poses, and eventually into the ending meditation. The meditation was definitely the coolest part, although it was probably the hardest.

Overall extremely enjoyable and I got to meet him afterwards. His classes were extremely rehearsed, but really awesome and insightful into modern life and the complications that each of us face in our lives.

I listened to his tapes while I was in Paris and really enjoyed the rising difficulty in the tape, as I got to know it better (this was after practicing for one summer and I had no personal practice yet). It was extremely enjoyable and challenging. I would highly recommend any beginner to try his classes, they are both challenging and sweet for all levels because he can talk to anyone from a beginner to advanced student through a vigorous vinyasa flow and he does it completely safely!

Here’s his website; it looks like he has an online video library, though I haven’t bought it. I might when I start making money again. I really like his classes occasionally, not every day or every time I practice necessarily though I think his flow is amazing. I do like hand-standing, wheeling, and chairing a bit more sometimes, not to mention triangles and half moons. But hey, I’d have to practice with him all year round to know he didn’t teach that way.

Bryan Kest Power Yoga

Radial Nerve

Shoulder Anatomy and Physiology

Human Shoulder Anatomy

Understanding shoulder anatomy can help to avoid injury, promote rehabilitation, and can assist you in using the joint optimally. Please let me know if you have questions about this article in the comments section at the bottom of the page.shoulder anatomy overall

The human shoulder is a powerful and large anatomical structure. The hinging ball and socket joint allows for vast gains in momentum over short periods of time and is relatively versatile. The shoulder anatomy allows for many types of throwing, fine motor movement down to typing, powerful grasping, hefting objects, climbing, combat, quadruped movement, etc. The shoulder also has a large range of motion; however, this makes the shoulder prone to injury.


Bones of the Shoulder

The shoulder joint is relatively loose. There are three main bones of the shoulder: the collarbone, shoulder-shoulder anatomy bonesblade, and the upper arm bone. These are known as the clavicles, scapula, and humerus, respectively. The shoulder blade also has a bone called the caracoid process which connects to the biceps at the front of the arm and an upwardly angled bone called the acromion that connects to the Clavicle (collarbone) via the CA ligament.

Ligaments of the Shoulder

There are large amounts of ligaments and tendons in the shoulder joint, because of its versatility, stability, and strength. As you can see, the three bones of the joint are combined together with vast arrays and webbings of ligaments that allow for the large range of motion while keep the joint stable. Honestly, the joint is so complex that using words to describe it become somewhat useless. So here’s a huge blown up picture for you to look at in awe of how fucking amazing your shoulders are:


Muscles of the Shoulder

All of the deep ligaments that you see above are supported by muscles tissue. The muscles that make up the rotator cuff are the infraspinatus, shoulder anatomy musclessupraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres. There are also three deltoid muscles on the head of the humerus, the rhomboids that connect the shoulder to the spine and the traps which connect the shoulder and neck, and provide support for the shoulder blades.

The infraspinatus muscle runs along the scapula (shoulder blade), covering the back of it over the teres minor muscle. The teres minor connects the outer arm with the outer lower edge of the shoulder blade. The supraspinatus connects the head of the humerus (arm bone) to the inside edge of the scapula articulating underneath the clavicle (collarbone). The teres major connects the outer clavicle with the back of the humerus; it is more superficial and larger than the teres minor. The subscapularis muscles run on the inside of the shoulder blade, but is not connected to the rib cage which is part of what allows the shoulder blade to have such a broad range of motion. Over all of these muscles are the deltoids, which are the most superficial shoulder muscles. They are separated into anterior, lateral, and posterior sections.

Nerves of the Shoulder

The nerves of the shoulder are also complex; consider that the fine motor function of typing must travel from your spine to your fingertips through the intricacies of the shoulder joint. You also have a very responsive feedback loop between your eyes and hands, which travels within the shoulder and into the forearms and fingers.

There are three primary nerves in the arm that run through the interior of the joint and connect to the digits (fingers).

The radial nerve provides innervation to the dorsal muscles of the arm: triceps, extrinsic extensors of the hands, as well as sensory innervation to the back of the hand, except for the pinky and half of the ring shoulder anatomy nervesfinger. It originates from the brachial plexus, carrying fibers from the ventral roots of spinal nerves C5, C6, C7, C8 & T1.

The ulnar nerve provides innervation to the back of the other three fingers, including the thumb. It also provides the majority of the innervation of the forearm and head of the bicep. The ulnar nerve originates from the C8T1 nerve roots (and occasionally carries C7 fibers) which form part of the medial cord of the brachial plexus, and descends on the posteromedial aspect of the humerus.

The medial nerve provides innervation for the inside of the thumb, pointer, middle, and half of the ring finger. It also innervates the lateral and inferior portions of the forearm. The median nerve originates from the lateral and medial cords of the brachial plexus, and has contributions from ventral roots of C5-C7(lateral cord) and C8 & T1 (medial cord).

Here is a final picture of the brachial plexus to assist in visualizing how the nerves flow down the arms.




This concludes my article on shoulder anatomy; please write any questions below!

The Different States of Consciousness and the Constructive Processes Associated with Human Cognition

The concept of consciousness is extremely elusive, there are no concrete operation definitions and despite the enormous amounts of research on the subject throughout history.  Many aspects of what would be considered conscious perception are constructive; the mind seems to create parts of the environment, just as it perceives the environment.  These constructive processes of the mind are evoked when we dream, during hallucinations whether drug induced or resulting from a psychosis or neuropsychological disorder, and during conscious awareness.  Much can be ascertained about the constructive nature of consciousness from these realms of subjective experience.  Indeed, these three areas of psychology are historically controversial, giving even more weight to a review of their processes in light of the overall tenets of conscious perception.  These areas apply primarily to perception in the visual modality; therefore, the tenets of vision will be a large aspect of the discussion of the creative nature of consciousness.  These facets are but limited sources of information about constructive conscious perception, and the puzzle of consciousness has many pieces to be yet completed. 


REM Sleep and Dreaming

Dreaming is perhaps the most important of the constructive processes that can be used to study the constructive nature of consciousness.  Historically, it has been misunderstood and misinterpreted as symbolic representation of repression within the psyche, as a portal to an alternate dimension, and even as a predictor of future events.  Many viewpoints have been taken on the nature of dreams; however, this process is far different than most early researchers could have realized.  With new technological advances in the realms of neuropsychology, we can uncover some of the basic physiology of REM sleep, in which the majority of dreaming occurs.  Another aspect of dreaming and REM sleep that provide information upon the constructive nature of the mind are the multitudes of sleep disorders and large amounts of clinical research done on the nature of sleep. However, the subject of the importance of dreams is still under debate.  Dreams are constituted of sensations and emotional content, usually perceived as real by the dreamer (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005).  Most dreams are weird, non-linear narratives that are instable in terms of time, places, and people, and are most often forgotten upon waking.  Most of the information that will be used to discuss the tenets of consciousness can be viewed in terms of dreams; hallucinogens and neuropsychological disorders are most aptly depicted as being within a dream, due to the disorganization and erratic functioning of the mind during these conditions.  Dreaming is the first step into the realm of the mind’s active constructive of the environment.  Since dreaming occurs primarily in REM sleep, the physiology of REM sleep is intrinsic to the understanding of dreams.

REM sleep is a highly complex phenomenon.  It is most often associated with vivid dreams and high levels of brain activity (McCarley, 2011).  The first cycle of REM sleep usually takes place around 70 minutes after falling asleep and is defined by fast, low-voltage EEG activity, the suppression of motor movement, and the occurrence of rapid eye movements (McCarley, 2011).  The first REM period of sleep tends to be shorter, with increasingly larger amounts of REM as the sleep cycle persists throughout the night and delta waves (deep sleep) diminish.  REM sleep is present in all mammals and some birds (McCarley, 2011).   This insists of an evolutionary importance of REM sleep, which is the view put forward by this paper.  The size of the animal also seems to be correlated to the necessity of REM sleep, because elephants have the longest cycles of REM stage sleep.  In the uterus, mammals spend approximately 50 to 80% of their time in REM sleep, and animals born prematurely have much higher rates of REM sleep (McCarley, 2011).  As development continues, the percentage of REM sleep declines.  The facts highly support the necessity of REM sleep for nervous system development and many scientists believe that it can predict synaptic density.  REM sleep facilitates brain development by increasing the amount of nervous tissue and promoting the psyiological maturity of the existing tissue (Chiş, 2009). 

The physiology of REM sleep would infer that this process is completely necessary for what can be described as consciousness, because the definition of conscious beings seems to be limited to the groups of animals that experience REM sleep.  J. Allan Hobson (2009) has proposed a two level theory of consciousness that would explain the differences between what has historically been called alternate states of consciousness.  The primary level of consciousness, which animals experience, is emotions and perceptions of the outward environment.  But the second level of consciousness, which is applicable mainly to human beings, is language, reflective self-awareness, abstract thinking, volition, and metacognition.  The dream world that is experienced primarily in REM sleep would be described as a primary consciousness, whereas waking experience for human beings would be the secondary level of consciousness.  But in order to understand how the secondary level of consciousness develops, further study of the mechanisms of REM sleep and dreaming must be examined.  Indeed, the two processes might be physiologically linked.

Despite the general notion that REM sleep is equitable to dreaming, dreaming can occur outside of the REM stage of the sleep cycle.  The REM dream relationship is not concretely linked; dreaming occurs without REM mechanisms and rather depends on the cortical activations of dream states (Takeuchi, 2005).  The solution that Takeuchi (2005) proposes to this dilemma is that the REM mechanisms underlying dreaming can take place outside of REM sleep.   This would indeed support dreamlike states while awakened or with the effects of a neuropsychological disorder or hallucinogenic substance.  During REM sleep, the cortex has highly increased activity and a blood flow rate over 200% higher than in the wakened state (Chiş, 2009).  REM sleep is considered to be an activation of many normally inhibitory brain structures, which is one of the reasons why dreams are so disorganized and lacking in an absolute structure.  REM sleep is regulated by the pontine brainstem, which is an evolutionarily ancient structure (Hobson, 2009).  This would infer that REM sleep is not equitable with dreaming and that although dreaming requires the cortical activations that occur during REM sleep, dreaming is a more complex and intricate phenomenon.

Originally, dreams were thought to carry mystical power from an alternate dimension or from supernatural beings.  Dreams were sent for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were predictive of future events in shamanistic cultures.  The ancient Greeks had an entire religious tradition of oracles and prophets that would use dreams and psychosis-like visions to allow them to see into the future.  Indeed, philosophers such as Heraclitus and Aristotle rejected such claims and suggested that the dreams were subjective and created by the mind.  These traditions continued until empirical evidence on dreaming began to arise in the early 19th century.  Sigmund Freud, the inventor of psychotherapy, proposed that REM sleep and dreaming was meaningful, related to mental functioning, and could be interpreted in terms of conscious awareness (Franklin & Zyphur, 2005).  Many of his theories are almost entirely disregarded by the scientific community.  However, an evolutionary analysis of dreams should not disregarded or considered outside the scope of scientific study (Franklin & Zyphur, 2005).  Many of the popular beliefs of dreaming are also false.  Despite the popular notion that dreaming occurs only in REM sleep, it has been known to occur during other sleep stages, and even during woken consciousness (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005)  REM is the most highly correlated with dreamful states and therefore is the basis upon which the foundation for the functioning of dreaming must be based.

Dreaming is a prevailing facet of conscious experience that is associated with specific brain states and occurs spontaneously for several hours each night (Schartz, Dang-Vu, Ponz, et al., 2005).  The problem with studying dreaming is that it is completely subject and unquantifiable.  This makes it extremely difficult for empirical evidence to be obtained.  However, there are well delineated cognitions, emotions, and perceptions of experience while dreaming which suggests that there are specific and common neural patterns of activity occurring while asleep (Shwartz et al., 2005).  REM is characterized by sustained cerebral activations, high cortical energy and blood flow and activations of certain areas of the brain (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005).  The brain areas that seem to activate during REM are the potine tegmentum, thalamic nuclei, and the limbic and paralimbic structures (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005). Takeuchi (2005) described REM as showing activation of the pontine tegmentum, amygdala, paralimbic cortex, and parietal operculum; and deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, motor output, and sensory input, and a shift towards an internal stimulation source.  He also showed that the serotonin pathways modulate activation of the cholinergic neurons over aminergetic neurons in the pons, which causes the aminergetic system to demodulate and the cholinergic modulation in the basal forebrain and ganglia (Takeuchi, 2005).  These are the physiological states corresponding to dreamlike experiences.  These specific brain areas are highly linked to memory, which may be why traces of awakened memory are active while asleep.

The actual role that dreams play in the states of waking consciousness is not fully understood or explainable with current empirical data.  Some of the more contemporary theories are that dreams are a kind of mental rehearsal, hence why many dreams are constituted of the experiencer escaping from imaginary assailants, forgetting certain things only to remember them upon waking, or social situations that could occur in waking life (Franklin, & Zyphur, 2005).  Basically what these theories state is that the dream states have evolved for the purpose of providing the brain with preparation for mental activity during waking consciousness.  Unfortunately, this data is merely speculative, and no real function can be assigned to the dream-state besides the physiological regulation of neural activity and plasticity.  This is not to say that dreams are not useful, only that these hypotheses are not currently empirically testable, leaving them somewhat useless, however compelling they may be.  The brain functions of the activation and deactivation that dynamically oscillate in REM sleep for waking cognition remain unclear (Braun, 2009).

Using Hubson’s (2009) separation of primary and secondary consciousness, the development of human and animal consciousness can be analyzed.  There is a large amount of REM sleep in early life; in humans REM sleep peaks in the third trimester of gestation and decreases significantly after birth, as time awake and cognitive capabilities increase.  Therefore, the primary consciousness declines and the secondary consciousness grows with the development of cortical functioning and the capacity for prolonged periods of wakefulness (Hubson, 2009).  REM sleep occurs at the earliest stages of development; however, it is likely that dreams do not manifest themselves until brain development has reached a point were narratives of subjectivity become possible; in human beings this is around ages five to eight (Hubson, 2009).  Examination of fetal development will provide further insight into the discussion of conscious experience and how REM sleep relates to dreaming.

In the uterus, the human fetus alternates between states of REM and cortical deactivation (Hubson, 2009).  About fifty to eighty percent of the time in the womb is spent in REM sleep (McCarley, 2011).  It is also believed that this autoexcitation that occurs during REM sleep may provide the framework for what is known as waking consciousness (Hubson, 2009).  Evidence has also been provided that the activity of REM sleep facilitates the development of the visual system, especially in specialized development of the striate cortices (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005). 

During REM sleep, temporo-occipital activations were observed using fMRI imaging techniques; these areas included the inferior temporal cortex and fusiform gyrus; however, the functional relationship between the activation of extrastriate cortex caused the deactivation of the striate cortex (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005).  These activities combined the with paralimbic/limbic brain activations create a system where internal information processing occurs in a closed system, not involved in input from the environment or output to the environment.  It is these primary structures in the cortex that can be associated with the disorganized brain functioning exhibited in dreams and that results in highly charged emotion, visual disorganization, and inability of the brain to recognize that it is asleep. These activations combined with deactivations of the association cortices in the inferior and middle lateral prefrontal, the inferior parietal lobule, and the temporo-parietal regions create the effects of dreaming on the brain (Dang-Vu, et al., 2005).  These are the neural correlates known about the phenomenon of dreaming.

The cortical processes activate what is creates the mental states known as dream.  These are highly creative conscious experiences with enormous amounts of cortical activation that differs greatly from waking perception.  During the past decade, the neuroimaging techniques developed has vastly increased the knowledge of the cortical functioning of REM sleep and dreaming; giving science a fundamental knowledge of why the cortex creates input while simultaneously disallowing output of the cortex (Maquet, et al., 2005).  This realm of subjective experience has implications for the consciousness of all mammals and some birds that fit the category of conscious beings, in the first level that Hobson (2005) describes.  The waking consciousness creating the secondary features of Hobson’s protoconsciousness theories are probably exclusive to humans, because of the highly evolved cortical structure that accompanies our brains.

There are ways of altering consciousness to increase the productivity of the REM sleep received.  It seems that yoga is one of the ways, as well as different types of meditation and breathing techniques.  The practitioners of yoga can experience enhance theta-alpha brainwaves and enhanced REM sleep with regular practice (Sulekha, et al., 2006).  This could be an indication that yoga leads to a type of heightened consciousness, because of the types of brain activity involved with REM sleep, and the increases in the brain activity of yogic practitioners.  This is one way that REM sleep may be improved.  Another known way to increase the amount of REM sleep obtained is exercise and mental activity during the day.  REM sleep is essential to conscious functioning and the secondary aspects of consciousness.  Studies done with rats have shown death due to lack of REM sleep, using the disk-over-water method (Cirelli, & Tononi, 2011).  REM sleep is used to regulate cortical functioning and animal studies have shown marked decreases in the functioning of the cortices of REM sleep deprived rats on a cellular level (Cirelli, & Tononi, 2011).  The reasons that Circelli and Tonomi (2011) provide for this is that the protein synthesis and neural plasticity in synaptic consolidation and downscaling are not able to occur; this also suggests that sleep plays a role in the maintenance of the cortical membrane, including glial cells.  REM sleep is an indispensible aspect of consciousness and is perhaps the most important state for the maintenance of the secondary traits of consciousness that human beings experience.


Neuropsychological Disorders

There are several neuropsychological disorders that can provide insight into conscious experience.  The disorders of particular interest to the realm of cognitive construction of perception are those that are influenced by hallucinations, especially visual hallucinations, because of their similarity to dreaming.  These disorders are important for understanding how the perceiver constructs the environment.  They can provide insight into the nature of the construction consciousness and how it manifests itself.  The disorders that will be examined pertaining to this constructive perception are Guillain-Barré syndrome, schizophrenia, narcolepsy, and insomnia.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an acute psychological disorder with sensory and motor impairments (Cochen, et al., 2005).  Many of the patients with this disorder experience mental status disorders, including personality changes, mental disturbances, hallucinatory experiences and oneiric states, dream-like scenic hallucinations, and psychosis.  This syndrome affects the peripheral nervous system; however, the central nervous system is also largely affected, as evidenced by the mental abnormalities (Cochen, et al., 2005). 

The dreams experienced by a small portion of the patients with mental status abnormalities and the dream state would impede upon their waking consciousness.  Many also experienced hallucinations of objects and highly emotional dreams while asleep, perhaps evidencing abnormalities in the amygdala system and its processing and regulation of dreams.  Many patients would experience body illusory body tilts and some even reported sensations of weightless floating (Cochen, et al., 2005).  Many patients saw small hallucinations of goblins, tiny moving figures of various sizes.  These hallucinations generally occurred when the patients closed their eyes, perhaps having to do with the visual cortex’s inability to inhibit activity.  The quality and amounts of sleep were poor in all groups and was fragmented and unstable.  The REM sleep of patients was extremely abnormal and would impede upon the other sleep stages (Cochen, et al., 2005), as it was probably also impeding upon their woken consciousness.  These sufferers of GBS had altered perceptions of the world, probably a result of the severe impairments of the cortical network underlying REM sleep, which resulted in the hallucinations, and lack of the functionality of secondary features of consciousness described by Hobson (2005).

The second disorder that provides information on the consciousness is Narcolepsy.  This disorder is most often conceptualized as affecting regular sleep patterns, especially on REM sleep.  There seems to be a dramatic decrease of the time interval between the onset of sleep and the first cycle of REM sleep, which would support the increase of pressure of the need for REM upon the mind (Dahmen, et al., 2002).  Hallucinations are often experienced before falling asleep and after waking, decreased muscle ton as a result of impairment of the motor system.  Sleep paralysis and sleep attacks can often occur in the disorder.  This disorder is considered a sleep disorder because during the onset of these symptoms, encephalographic data has shown that REM sleep waveforms are present (Dahmen, et al., 2002). 

Schizophrenic hallucinations have also been linked to the intrusion of REM sleep into the waking consciousness.  This REM sleep intrusion into waking life has also been implicated in Parkinson’s disease, including hallucinations, delusions, and REM sleep intrusions (Diederich, et al., 2007).  Schizophrenia and narcolepsy are often hard to differentiate in clinical diagnoses because of the completely altered sleep patterns and the intrusions of REM sleep into waking consciousness (Dahmen, et al., 2002).  This provides evidence that the cortical network associated with REM sleep are malfunctioning, specifically that they are not inhibited as they usually are during waking consciousness.  This also evidences the idea that REM sleep is the foundation upon which the secondary traits of waking consciousness are supported. 

Insomnia is believed to occur because of the increased activation of the limbic and paralimbic regions of the brain (Desseilles, 2008).  Depression is the most common primary diagnosis in patients suffering from insomnia (Desseilles, 2008).  The hyperarousal associated of the cortical mechanisms with both disorders suggest that the sleep dysfunction is due to malfunction of the cortical sleeping system.  The increased density of REM sleep occurrence also provides evidence for this hypothesis.  Insomnia can be highly debilitating to waking consciousness and inhibits many of the cognitive capacities of the secondary traits of consciousness, providing further evidence for Hobson’s theory of consciousness.

These psychological disorders provide some insight into the importance of dreaming as a cortical framework for consciousness.  These deviations upon what would be considered normal human cortical functioning provide evidence of the structural dependency of the brain upon the cortical system underlying REM sleep, and therefore, the subjective experiences of consciousness.


Hallucinogenic Substances

            There are several hallucinogenic substances that can provide further insight into the realm of consciousness.  Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and psilocybin are the two substances that have historically been used to alter waking consciousness.  These two substances have extraordinary impacts upon functioning and alter the state of consciousness to something that is hardly recognizable as either waking or dreaming states of conscious subjective experience.  Instead, these states can be viewed as a kind of limbo in which the cortical mechanisms are altered to create a pseudo-dreamlike state.

            LSD was used largely in the earlier 20th century as an aid to psychotherapy.  The primary changes that occur when under the influence of this substance are illusions, pseudo-hallucinations, synesthesia, alterations of thinking, and inability to correctly perceive time (Passie, et al., 2008).  During this state, motor functions are impaired and attention and concentration are significantly inhibited.  Some scientists have equated the regression of intellectual function under LSD to that of an ontogenetically younger state of consciousness (Passie, et al., 2008).  However, overdoses of LSD can create persisting hallucinations that the DSM recognizes as Hallucinogen Persisting Perceptual Disorder (Iaria, et al., 2010).  This data is supportive of the idea that LSD creates a pseudo consciousness that is a kind of limbo between the consciousness of dreams and the consciousness of waking, combining features to create an altered state of consciousness.  This is consistent with the previous data on the correlates of consciousness as created by a cortical system; indeed, consciousness is a direct result of brain activity of certain complexes.

            Psilocybin can also provide interesting commentary on the nature of conscious perception.  Many of the effects of psilocybin are consistent with those of schizophrenia, especially patients with acute schizophrenia experiencing different types of hallucinations (Mayfrank, et al., 2002).  This hallucinogen has been found to induce hyperfrontal patterns of activation in cerebral blood flow.  Psychomotor retardation was also observed by decreased reaction times in a spatial cueing task (Mayfrank, et al., 2002).  This decrease in cognitive functioning is evidence that psilocybin is also a drug that can induce a pseudo dream state and that the higher processes of attention and the secondary aspects of consciousness are specific to the complex brain organization of human beings.

            These drugs provide evidence that consciousness is but a result of neural functioning and that the specific brain areas of human beings create what humans know as subjective conscious experience.  These states of limbo allow for an analysis of consciousness that includes almost all aspects of waking and dreaming perceptions and provide insight into why consciousness occurs and how it manifests itself.


Consciousness and Cognition

            Evidence for consciousness being a state supported by brain mechanisms and cortical inhibitions and activations that produce what human beings perceive as subjective consciousness.  It can be said that this does not provide for the amount of power that consciousness provides life, nor the potential of the individual within his/her subjective experience.  Ervin Laszlo (2006) attempts to redefine this paradigm by shifting the concept of reality with what is scientifically known and proven about quantum mechanics.  Much of what we consider to be real is actualized, that is, it occurs in time and space.  However, one of the problems with this view is that potential states are also a part of reality.  What quantum physics denotes as virtual, can actually be considered reality, because the inability to predict future events (at the level of the quark) creates potential states that are sustainable.  Potential states do not need to be considered mind like, transcendent, or mysterious.  These are simply physical events at the level of a quantum wave that are not actualized.  This contributes to a fairly stimulating view of consciousness.

            Virtual states are mind like events associated with the potential to become actualized (Laszlo, 2006).  Instead of viewing these are virtual states, if we were to classify these as unrealized physical events, then the consciousness like events become an intrinsic part of the universe.  This creates a dichotomy for two aspects of the same stuff, instead of two different kinds of stuff, which can mediate the mind-body problem experienced by philosophers and psychologists alike.  Overall, this view of consciousness as intrinsic in the universe provides structuralists with the ability to explain consciousness in terms of highly complex physical events that may or may not be actualized.

            The fundamental tenets of consciousness are the perception and emotional reactivity to the environment.  With this definition, science can solve the consciousness problem in terms of secondary and primary characteristics, involving actualized and potential states that makes up the subjective experience that each human being experiences (if he/she is conscious).  This provides insight into the importance of the knowledge and understanding of cortical mechanisms and brain functionality.  Consciousness will continue to evolve alongside life, with human beings at the forefront of the evolutionary race until the human race evolves yet again into the next stage of the collective subjective experience known as life.


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Sanskrit of the opening Ashtanga salute to Patanjali

The Opening Ashtanga Chant

Chanting is powerful, especially in Sanskrit. But I don’t like chanting without knowing the meaning of the words I am saying. Here is a translation of the opening Ashtanga chant:

I pray to the lotus feet of the supreme guru
Who teaches the good knowledge, showing the way
To knowing the self-awakening great happiness,
Beyond better is the doctor of the jungle, able to remove
The poisoned ignorance of conditioned existence.

In his guise as the divine servant,
With 1,000 white radiant heads,
Human form below the shoulders,
Holding the sword of discrimination,
The fire wheel of time,
and the conch of divine sound,
To the sage Patanjali I prostrate.

Here’s the original chant:

vande gurunam caranaravinde
sandarsitasvatma sukhava bodhe
nih sreyase jangalikayamane
samsara halahalamohasantyai
abahu purusakaram
sankhacakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam
pranamami patanjalim

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