top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnanda

Neurogenesis Through Conscious Movement: A Step Forward in Evolution - Part I

Updated: Feb 3

We've gone so far from ourselves - thinking one thing while feeling something else, and doing yet another thing. There is an epidemic of separation in our culture today, and the source of that is the division within our individual selves. In spirituality today, one might hear that we are divided between our mind and heart, or that we should find a balance between soul, body, and mind. As much as these notions have been popularized to the point of becoming clichés, they point to a very real experience that most of us are going through right now. Our minds have been colonized by influences outside of ourselves, and we've lost the pathway back. Our relationship with emotions are either of repressing or expressing unconsciously, and we've lost connection to our bodies, declaring it inferior to our intellect, while there is a vast wisdom in our cellular structure. Post- modernism, following Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation of 'God is dead', has translated in to a cynicism towards spirituality due to the massive failure of religion in the West, rather than it's original meaning of taking responsibility over our own spiritual growth instead of projecting unto an omniscient and perfect being.    

In response to this human phenomena, George Gurdjieff, as part of his broader teaching known as the Fourth Way, created the Movements, or sacred dances - a psychosomatic technique of conscious movement which addresses our very human difficulty of staying present, or as Gurdjieff puts it, “remembering ourselves, therefore becoming susceptible to external pathological influences. This scientific approach towards ameditative state is based on the science of conscious movement and also specifically addresses the disconnection between our intellectual, emotional, and physical centers.

The Movements can be seen and experienced from a mystical, devotional, and artistic perspective, but they are also a rational, physiological, and scientific technique of expanding attention span and forming new neural synapses in general, and between the left and right brain hemispheres, what we can also call neurogenesis, and this is what I would like to focus on in this essay.

The Oxford Dictionary defines neurogenesis as the growth and development of nervous tissue. So, what is the function of this nervous tissue? Forging new pathways in our brain, can translate practically in to shifting our perspective of reality, a sharper mental capacity, and forming new patterns of behavior. But beware, it's not so easy, and certainly the aim is not replacing one program with another, for Gurdjieff's teaching is based on the reality that automatism, or acting mechanically, is a human's greatest enemy, depriving them of their very soul and evolution. Thus, the Movements are designed in such a way to actually create the possibility for greater consciousness. And for greater consciousness we must be able to stay present. So, it is in this process of engaging the mind in something (ie. the Movements) which intrinsically stretches our attention, that the climate for neurogenesis is created- and it's actually just a by-product! But more on that later...

In order to duly lay out the process of neurogenesis within the Movements, I must provide context in the form of an example of a Movement, but by no means will it be reflective of the whole repertoire of Movements and Sacred Dances, and their different archetypes and intentions on the body and mind. Later on, I will recommend the best moment for you to watch a video in order to gain a visual understanding.

In many of the Movements, there are important elements of body coordination and counter-intuitive body movements. The music plays an immense role in the Movements and sacred dances; each one has it's own piece of music, for which it was made, or vice versa. In one Movement you might have a base rhythm to which you are moving the feet; after that is understood, within the original rhythm you can find another rhythm, and to that, you are moving your arms, but, say, each one at different tempos. Then, once the feet and arms are integrated, at a certain point in the structure of the music, you might tilt your head from one side to the other.

Let's stop here - we have intentional music and three different elements, the feet, the arms, and the head, which, in a class, we would gradually work towards incorporating simultaneously. It is actually in the "working gradually towards'' that the neurogenesis happens, not in the final product of performing the sacred dance. So, continuing with the example, when we are moving our feet to the base rhythm and we try to incorporate the simultaneous movement of one arm to a different rhythm, one must keep the attention in the feet while moving the arm. Yet, this attention in the feet is not a mental awareness of "I see or know my feet are there", but actually a sensation of which we are aware (notice I say, ‘attention in the feet’, and not, ‘on the feet’), and still have the mental space to include other actions or impressions consciously. Here, we tap into a bodily awareness not of the associative mind, which can only have one thought at a time; for example, if you were trying to switch back and forth between thinking about your feet and your arms, then you wouldn't be able to do the Movement continuously. That is the first thing: being able to relax into a sensory awareness that is more basic than the thinking mind; that is the very beginning of neurogenesis, because now their is the capability of focusing the mind on something, without losing sensation of the body- so the brain is connected to the body in a different way. And believe me, it doesn't happen on the first try!

Now we go further in to the Movement - once we've been able to incorporate the movement of the feet and one arm, we add the other arm, but moving it in a slower tempo than the first. This will require, again, the same primordial sensation in both the feet and the first arm, in order not to lose the already established movement, so that now I can give more focus to the second arm, while dividing my attention between the two arms – if they are each doing something different, I must sense and see both of them as two separate and independent limbs, while feeling the resistance of doing something counter intuitive. It is in this moment that time stops and one can gaze in to the huge gaps of our mental structure. This moment is also an infinitesimal taste of No Mind as taught in Zen. And just like that, bam! Neurogenesis - the bridging of one neuron to another, which were not previously. Invariably, a shift in perspective ensues, the physiology has changed, the structure, the form, is different, therefore, the content within the form, our vision, has a new vantage point. But this is just the beginning, because, each connection relates to all connections. So, for example, there was neurogenesis, albeit small, in just catching the rhythm of the feet, then another neurogenesis in the integration of the feet and one arm, then between the feet and the other arm, another between one arm and the other, and yet another between all three - the feet and the two arms - the parts and the whole. And, as we know, the whole keeps expanding, so when we add the head tilt, there will be neurogenesis between the feet and the head, one arm and the head, the other arm and the head, both arms and the head, and finally all of the parts moving simultaneously to different rhythms.

Previously I mentioned how neurogenesis also happens between the left and right brain hemispheres. There are two aspects to this connection that I will mention here. The first one has already happened in the relationality of the individual parts and the whole. This is correlated to the relation between the two hemispheres because there is both awareness on an individual part, the specific and detailed quality of the left-brain, the logical part, and a general awareness of the whole, which produces a feeling and is related to the intuitive, right side of the brain. The other aspect can be found in the group and the space. We are not only aware of our individual parts of the body, and the body as a whole, but also, that which is outside of the body. So there is another micro-to-macro cosmic shift in perspective: first, from the parts of the body to the whole of the body, and then from our individual body as a part to the group as a whole. Here another neurogenesis occurs when one is meticulously aware of their own sensations and movement (left brain), while being aware of the people and space around one’s self (right brain).

When engaging in a Movement or Sacred Dance, even the empty space has a presence – when we are dancing, we try to embody a quality of stillness and silence, and, in that stillness, we can sense the density of even the finest impressions. To be aware of the space, as one is aware of one’s self, is to experience merging in to the whole- no entheogens necessary! The level of complexity can vary, perhaps everyone is doing the exact same Movement throughout, so the right-brain awareness of space is around one's self and being synchronized with the others. It could also be the case that there is a chorographical pattern based on sacred geometry in which individuals or groups of individuals are situated specifically in space and have different timings and movements. Then, one has to be aware of everyone’s placement in space, and the timing to which one has to move in relation to the others.

Now that you have an idea of how the Movements work, it is a good moment to watch the video located at the bottom of this page. These meditators exemplify, in a beautiful embodiment of stillness, the elements of bodily coordination, multiple rhythms, and synchronization. This video is from the Gurdjieff Foundation film 1984, performed by a group taught by Mme. De Salzmann, one of main disciples and an important teacher of the Movements and Sacred Dances after Gurdjieff's death.

Thus far we’ve seen how neurogenesis works by creating new neural connections through counter-intuitive and complex simultaneous movements of the different body parts, as well as new neural connections linking the left and right brain hemispheres through simultaneous micro and macro awareness, with an understanding of the relationality of the parts and the whole. Undoubtedly, you must be wondering, but what effect does neurogenesis actually have? To dive in to this subject matter is probably the most challenging, personal, and universal aspect of the Gurdjieff Movements and Sacred Dances, and I would do so at my own and the reader’s peril, for this is where we begin to explore the nature of consciousness and the consequences of expanding it. It is in fact a perilous endeavor because to present, we have not proven any limitations on consciousness, therefore, if I do not choose my worlds carefully, I run the risk of the reader misconstruing my observations and experiences as all being linear cause and effect, or, as authoritative, objective statements on a constitutionally subjective experience – the human experience. Nevertheless, I feel called to share my experience, as it is has been a major alchemical and transformational experience for me, which points to the potential for others to experience, as well as an existential phenomena relating to the very foundation of our existence – awareness, and its function within consciousness. Consequently, in part two of this commentary, I will address the effects that I’ve experienced from neurogenesis within the Gurdjieff Movements, specifically relating to emotions, behavioral patterns and my relationship with the past, present, and future. Additionally, I’ll explore how neurogenesis can occur within other conscious movement techniques, but also how it occurs, and can occur, in our daily lives without necessarily employing any technique other than awareness. Finally, I will explain why I believe that neurogenesis is an intrinsic part of a path towards aligning ourselves with the destiny our soul longs to fulfill, and how conscious neurogenesis can be a part of a paradigm in which humanity unites itself in an effort to become a compassionate collective – ultimately the only rational step forward in our evolution.

In a nutshell, this whole process, not just of the Gurdjieff Movements, but of bringing awareness to parts and the whole, and realizing that the whole is always a part in something bigger, expands our consciousness. In life, it can be complex and challenging to experience so many different parts, on the other hand, there is the beauty and simplicity of having our full awareness on a single movement. The point is to focus on each one individually, and all simultaneously. I can move my right arm with my full attention on and in it, aware of the simplicity of this single action, while sensing the universe of movement within it, the blood coursing through my veins, the weight of my bones and muscle, the flexibility of my fingers, the pliability of my skin, and the sensitivity of the nerve endings on the tip of my fingers. Perhaps, then, a feeling arises - from the simplicity of the action I might feel simplicity itself - an innocence and lightness of being. Or from the universe of sensations I might feel the grandeur of my arm, with its multiple, tiny, involuntary processes which allow it to carry out it’s multiple functions, all occurring within a body which has universes of other involuntary processes and functions, and on to the immensity of the world as a body itself. A world with infinite body parts connected in infinite ways, forming all sorts of ecosystems and pathways. Perhaps by learning how to form new, more intelligent neuron connections in our own bodies, we will be able to do the same in our world.

By Ananda Ricardo Zambrano

Note Value, 1984, Gurdjieff Foundation

225 views0 comments


bottom of page