“If the mind acts as the storehouse and the hand acts as the manifested expression, then with focused attention harmony can exist between right and left hemisphere of the brain to create a feeling of well-being.” – Sunflower Be
When I think about my youth, it seems everything I did was evaluated by the quality and quantity of manifested work done by my hands. The Baby Boomers, of our generation “had” to make their beds, do household chores, write in cursive and use good penmanship. Art, music, and home economics were part of our educational curriculum. Our crafts were functional as well as beautiful using mediums such as wood, pottery, and fabrics. Parents, schools, and community centers taught a basic understanding of know-how; from using a sewing machine to changing a car’s oil or flat tire. Before outsourcing, the practice was to use one’s hands first.
We had aphorisms to support the value of using our hands, like: Proverbs 20:4, “If you are too lazy to plow, don’t expect a harvest”, or “It is good for our soul to create with our hands”, and most commonly quoted, “Your life is in your hands”.
When I was ten, I recall looking in the back cover of our public phonebook to see how old I’d be in the year 2000. “Thirty-five? Thirty-five!” The future was going to be an exciting time because computers were coming and would perform all my mathematical calculations. “Life is going to be easy in the future!” I remember thinking.
The future is here now! We carry computers in our back pockets, around our wrist, and even have a whole wall dedicated to them in our homes. Just about any and everything we wish to know or virtually experience is within reach of our fingertips. We’ve gotten so relaxed as the observer, we relegate our creativity to others. In the workplace, the “mental” jobs are most valued while working with one’s hands is valued least, especially if one is a laborer. When people are using their hands, it’s usually to hold their rectangular devices as their thumbs move rapidly to communicate, play, and create on their personal computer. Narcissism, anxieties, phobias and psychosis are on the rise while penmanship, creativity, focus-discipline, and know-how are on the decline.
The Homunculus Yoga Project is a creative project of using our hands and a smile as a way to strengthen and balance the brain to induce more focused concentration and joyful living.
The Latin word “homunculus” or “little man” was first used in the late 1500s as a theory of thought of gestation that each man carried a complete little man inside himself. Over the centuries other theorists believed that housed in the brain and mind was a little man or internal observer; and each internal observer had a subsequent observer, giving rise to an infinity of internal observers. Although this theory has its flaws, modern psychiatry and neurology have expanded the concept.
BEFORE MRI THERE WAS THE CORTICAL HOMUNCULUS MAP
Prior to the innovative computing device of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), neuroscientists and surgeons worked by hand through trial and error to scan which part of the body was associated with a particular area of the brain. Many animals, including humans, were used in live studies to observe neurotopography patterns. Most notable observations came in the 1930s when researcher and surgeon, Wilder Penfield, studied the brains of his epileptic patients under local anesthesia using an electrical device to probe the cerebral cortex.
For example, when the upper portion of the brain was stimulated, a patient’s finger, hand, or arm, may move or experience a feeling sensation. If the electrical probe was moved some distance away; a toe, leg, mouth, tongue, or eye may invoke a reactionary response. Also if an area had trauma or was lesioned, there was no response. Over time, Dr. Penfield was able to observe a one-way electrical pathway that sent a sensory response to the central nervous system (CNS) and a motor response that carried the response away. In 1937, he published his work: “Somatic Motor and Sensory Representation in the Cerebral Cortex of Man as Studied by Electrical Stimulation”. He and his co-contributors, Edwin Boldrey and Theodore Rasmussen would map the cerebral cortex known today as the sensory and motor homunculi.
FROM “LITTLE MAN” TO EXPANSIVE SELF
The distorted figure of Little Man and the neurological map of his cortical homunculus, pictured below (Figure 1 & 2) is an exaggerated representation of how the brain sees the body. If this is true, more neural circuitry is required at the face and hands. Therefore, it is my hypothesis that working with our hands could amplify the greatest neural connectivity as we enjoy learning new tasks.
Of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, this paper will focus on the frontal and parietal lobes, located adjacent each other (Picture 2, in shaded strips of Somatosensory & Motor of the Homunculus).
The frontal lobe houses the precentral gyrus and has a motor strip anterior to the parietal lobe which houses the postcentral gyrus and somatosensory strip. The precentral gyrus is responsible for all voluntary movement, whereas the postcentral gyrus is responsible for sensory, such as pressure and temperature.
On a micro level, one electrical impulse is happening in nanoseconds. Shown in Picture three, this one-way-pathway senses a stimulus and moves a current along the afferent nerve to the CNS of the spinal cord and brain where an interneuron receives, coordinates, and communicates the interaction; then relays a current away from CNS along the efferent nerve to create a motor response.
I like to think of the space between the afferent and efferent pathway as a triangulation resulting in a meaningful experience, happening over and over again at a fraction of a second. The most common experience and example is touching a hot stove and then moving one’s hand from the stimuli.
The Homunculus Project: An Exercise in Neuroplasticity
If the cortical homunculus model is correct, I propose we could amplify our state of being with a smile and finger gesturing to accentuate neural plasticity.
Yoga for hands or Mudra is an ancient finger practice of hand placement. It can be seen in ancient stone and written text throughout the world, particularly in Asia. In Sanskrit or ancient language, Mudra means to “seal”. The hasta mudra or hand gesture amplifies the flow of energy in the body. Mudra hand gestures are also used to heal physical ailments, emotional problems, aid in hand therapies and have been shown to improve cognition in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
These hand placements can be performed standing, seated, and laying down and can be used with meditation and controlling the breath, called pranayama. The key component is to be relaxed, in the body, with an elongated spine for optimal energy flow. Practice can last anywhere from three to sixty minutes; using a focus of breath, intention, visualization, or chant to enhance the mudra gesture for the time set. Mudras can also be done to music like a hand dance and chant, or to color visualization.
There are at least six categories to practice; such as Ayurveda, Chakra, Acupressure, Reflexology, Meridian points, and Planetary. The thumb and four fingers of each hand take on the same meaning for each left and right hand, pertaining to the elements of the practiced category. For example, the Five elements, 5 major plexuses, ailments or conditions, reflex zones, and organ system, respectively.
The Reflexology example, pictured below is a vast system of healing. This essay focuses at the fingertips of the left and right hand (seen in magenta) which has the greatest effect on the brain.
SMILE, WE’RE DOING YOGA IN A CHAIR!
Gentle yoga has a warming and restorative effect on the body and mind. Slow gentle movement allow the practitioner time to feel the subtle effects of the practice. A chair practice is accessible to everybody. Postures done in a chair lessen anxiety and boost confidence for beginners. (Picture 5)
Done to music, the movements are guided, yet intuitive following one’s own beat. Seated Mountain, acts as the starting and ending point to sequences. Tuning in to gentle joint rotations, warm the connective tissue from the cervical spine down to the toes. Following gentle flowing movements, all categories of body postures are performed, such as Twist, Lateral, Front & Back Body opening, Leg Extensions (Warrior), Seated Inversion, Relaxation and Meditation to awaken and calm the body. Lastly, the Inner Smile technique is used to uplift the individual through the simple, yet complex neural pathway. Daily smiling practice is optimal for the instant state of being transformed.
For instance, the act of smiling releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin that induce more pleasure and wellbeing in the mind and body. The smiling act can generate the same level of brain stimulation as 2,000 bars of chocolate. Smiling is also contagious and has the ability to lower blood pressure and increase immunity.
NAAD YOGA & MANTRA FOR ELEVATED STATE
For thousands of years ancient cultures have come together communally (Kirtan) to sing, chant, and play a variety of musical instruments to induce meditative states for unity consciousness. Instruments used are drums, chimes, flutes, crystal singing bowls, one’s own voice, hand cymbals, and more.
Quantum physics states that everything vibrates as sound. Tapping into a communal vibratory beat can synchronize and harmonize the group to oneness. For example, in Picture 6, brain wave patterns come in five categories: Gamma is associated with focused concentration, high IQ, peak performance, learning, and memory. Additionally, greater Gamma activity in meditations is associated with greater empathy and compassion. It covers the largest range of brainwave activity while awake. Beta is associated with normal wake states and the worldly associations and identifications that can be driven by ego programming. Alpha is associated with relaxation, super learning, relaxed focus, light trance, early stages of dream sleep; and greater activity here and can boost the immune system. Theta is associated with dream REM sleep and potential changes in behavior can happen through access in the unconscious mind; whereas Delta is associated with deep sleep and where the waves of the mind slow down.
The Homunculus Yoga Project uses finger-hand cymbals beats and vocal repetition to create a harmonious sound current to restore alpha and beta brain wave patterns in the individual. A galloping pattern of 1, 2, 3 or R, L, R on the finger cymbal brings the rhythm, harmony, and communion of oneness with the group.
PRANAYAMA FOR CONCENTRATION
The hands and voice act as an instrument, the breath as time-keeper. All movements are synchronized to the breath. As a result, there is no room for mind-wandering, and thoughts are washed away as the mind turns away from the external to focus, body, and mind, on the task at hand. Adjusting the breath, for example, moves the life force deep into the abdominal cavity, to heat up, cleanse and release pent-up energy trapped in connective tissue joints. Breaths are used from easy to intermediate such as Cleansing Breath, Deep Abdominal Breath, Bellows Breath, kriyas, and calming ujjayi breath. The picture below is a very special pranayama breath called Alternating Nostril Breathing which uses the fingers to close off one nostril at a time as one inhales and exhales. It has the most beneficial qualities to focus the mind and change one’s state of being almost instantly. It does this by alleviating many mental disturbances.
RELAXATION & MEDITATION FOR INTEGRATION
Creating a space for just sitting, and doing nothing acts on the brain significantly. It takes one from identifying with the world to experiencing it as a neutral observer. Adding the psychospirituality components to meditation, following the series of techniques is the best way to integrate and amplify the different components to get the healthiest brain possible.
The Homunculus Yoga Project also utilizes the “Inner Eye” or Eye of Ra gazing technique to focus at the brow center with closed eyes. Here, one drops back from the infinite expressions of form and boundedness to nothingness and expansion. This psycho-spiritual component will cleanse the nervous system between the lower part of the brain stem and upper neocortex to create the potentiality for higher states of awareness; resulting in understanding, wisdom, and maturity.
“Written in stone, our ancestors have always known.” Sunflower Be.
Little Man serves as a valuable model to make changes in one’s life. The surface area of neural pathways it takes to smile and use hand gestures can boost new pathways and make the brain plyable. I look forward to furthering the idea of The Homunculus Yoga Project to incorporate neuroplasticity by allowing the brain to make changes; thereby, improving focus, lowering blood pressure, improve fingering and playing concentration, and produce higher states of joy.
Questioning my ideas has led me to see that the brain is the birthplace of creation, for everything manifested begins with an idea. The space between the frontal and parietal lobes at the pre and postcentral gyrus, I believe, acts as a reservoir to coordinate our idea into manifested expression. Here we create with our hands the world in which we live.