The Must-Read Book Club

Randi Cerini: During my yoga teacher training, we were assigned to present any book that was related to yoga. I did some Google searching and some verbal research with other yogis and teachers. I landed on this title, and had to know more.

YCNYC: Favorite quote?​

RC: "“Self-awareness is a trait that not only makes us human but also paradoxically makes us want to be more than merely human. As I said in my BBC Reith Lectures, ‘Science tells us we are merely beasts, but we don’t feel like that. We feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, forever craving transcendence’. That’s the essential human predicament in a nutshell” (291).

In yoga philosophy, we study Patajanli’s Yoga Sutras which tell us that in order to transcend our human, physical, animal-like selves, we need to be disciplined, keep a daily yoga practice, meditate regularly, and generally be kind to ourselves and all other living things. When I read this quote, my first thought was, Patanjali has the answer to how humans become angels through the practice of yoga ☺. But, it’s not so simple. Yoga is a lifelong practice (or you could even call it a lifelong struggle) to be better, more disciplined, physically stronger, mentally focused, and kinder to everything and everyone that surrounds us. In order to do that, we need to be highly self-aware, and according to Ramachandran, only humans have the ability to be self-aware. For me, this part was like: BAM! This is why we do yoga!

YCNYC: What one person would you recommend this book to?

RC: I would recommend this book, and I believe I already have, to my boss and friend, Nick Velkov. He is always interested in learning more about the science and benefits of meditation and yoga. This book is chock-full of topics I could imagine him using as a dharma talk during class while his students stand in tadasana. I would also recommend this book to dancers, yogis, athletes, movers or anyone interested in the inner workings of the human brain.

YCNC: What moment or part resonates with you the most?

RC: The section where Ramachandran talks about physical self-awareness and language resonates with me most. A concept often discussed in yoga is proprioception, or “the body’s ability to sense itself…Proprioception is guided by receptors in the body (skin, muscles, joints) that connect with the brain through the nervous system so that even without sight, a person knows what his or her body is doing” (brainbalancecenters.com).

As a dancer, yogi and yoga teacher, being aware of my own body in space is the only way to perform, move through a vinyasa sequence or teach someone how to move his/her body with grace. While other animals have this ability, human awareness of one’s body moving in space has been fine-tuned. In addition, only we can be taught through verbal language to move in specific ways and be aware of the fact that we are creating movement or art such as dance or vinyasa flow. Ramachandran explains that specific sections of the human brain (in this case, the parietal lobes) have expanded so much through evolution that we have this vivid mental awareness of our body’s configuration and movement in space.

You can purchase The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest For What Makes Us Human here.

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