Aesthesie at Brockwood

…we will deal with the awakening of the heart, which is not sentimental, romantic or imaginary, but is of goodness which is born out of affection and love; and with the cultivation of the body, the right kind of food, proper exercise, which will bring about deep sensitivity. When the mind, the heart, and the body are in complete harmony, then the flowering comes naturally, easily and in excellence.

Excerpt from Page 2 of The Whole Movement of Life is Learning: J Krishnamurti’s letters to his schools.

The place of the body in Krishnamurti’s teachings is quite important, although not discussed in as much detail as the work on thought.  Nonetheless, as K writes in the aforementioned quote it is essential to work on the cultivation of the body if we seek to bring our mind, heart, and body into harmony and to flower in goodness (or well-being as we call it in our work at the Anthropedia Foundation www.anthropedia.org).

My colleague Sarah and I spent five days at Brockwood (March 17th to the 22nd) working on some physical exercises termed Aesthesie.   Aesthesie has the same Greek root as the word “aesthetic,” and means: “who has the ability to feel.”  This word was chosen to describe the method because it focuses on the perception we have of our own body, thereby increasing our corporeal awareness and our ability to listen to the body.

So what, you may be asking, does Aesthesie look like? Aesthesie uses coordination exercises, to develop both hemispheres of the brain and create new connections between neurons. It is much more than trying to rub our stomach and pat our head at the same time.  It consists of trying to move our entire body—head, arms, torso, legs, and feet—in coordinated movement.  The goal is to work on dissociating the movements we make with the various parts of our body.  For example, we may work on dissociating movements taking place on the top and bottom of our body, or to likewise dissociate the movement of the left and right side.  So if you can imagine it, the aesthesie may consist of moving your legs, your feet, and your head in different directions simultaneously.  This is one of the ways Aesthesie works to stimulate the brain.  Challenging ourselves to face difficult situations is precisely what promotes the changes to the brain.  Contrary to many physical activities the goal is not to achieve what the teacher shows, but to try and put ourselves in this state of challenge.  By placing ourselves in a challenging situation, one where we cannot follow the model of the teacher perfectly, our brain is provoked to create new connections and this particularly in our prefrontal cortex (the most recently evolved portion of the neo-cortex that is only present in human beings).  The simple fact of working on coordination already stimulates neural development, but here we take it a step further by always adding movements or changing the exercise to raise the level of difficulty and to continue stimulating the brain.  Aesthesie works on such coordination, but also on rhythm, fluidity and grace in movement, and much more.  There are many ways to continually change or modify the quality and kind of exercises to ensure that the brain is always challenged to grow and adapt.  These exercises work to exercise the body and help us to become more aware of the body and it’s capacity for movement.

Such work on the body is quite important in our times.  We are all faced with tremendous changes and crises in our times, whether it be the ecological crisis, the economic troubles, war, poverty, violence, or climate change.  Now more than ever we need to learn how to face challenging situations and to react with fluidity and intelligence instead of rigidity and fear.  To be very brief, we need to learn how to be as flexible and adaptable as possible in the face of such situations.  If we are rigid and follow old recipes or formulas we may react inappropriately to new and difficult experiences,  or worse, we may only react with fear and trepidation.  Like a deer in headlights, we may find ourselves paralyzed and unable to act if we are unprepared.  Needless to say, Krishnamurti shed light on the importance of not bing caught in such traps.  He encouraged us to be free from the formulas and rigidity in thinking from our past.

Aesthesie is one way to work on preparing ourselves for the challenge of change.  By choosing to consciously place ourselves in a position of challenge, of difficulty, our brain is prompted to become more adaptable or as scientists call it, “plastic.”  Neural plasticity is a biological manifestation of mental fluidity.  It is a means for us to work on preparing ourselves, in our bodies, for the challenges we must face in the 21st century.  There are certainly many other aspects of ourselves that we cultivate if we are to face these problems, but we must not neglect the body.  As K had said, “When the mind, the heart, and the body are in complete harmony, then the flowering comes naturally, easily and in excellence.”  By tapping into this natural potential of the body, we will be better able to confront and adapt to the crises of our times, in well-being.

Kevin Cloninger

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