Have you ever been in one of those situations where you reacted without even realizing you did it?  For example, some sort of crisis or temptation hits and before you can even take the time to register what happened…you’ve already acted.  Sometimes this seems to fare well, other times we wish we had the chance to relive the scenario so we could change up our reaction.

We beings are still, even in 2012, wired for survival.  Our brain is not only a highly functional, crazy intelligent tool to help us survive, but in other ways it can be rather prehistoric.  (Think caveman running to get away from a predator and be quick on his feet.)  I won’t get into the amazing anatomy of the brain, limbic and nervous system’s wiring and how it affects our every move throughout our day.

But what I do want to talk about are those moments we have the opportunity to potentially override this “amygdala hijack,” a term coined by Joseph E. LeDoux, a neuroscientist who describes the part of the brain that causes these emotional responses as immediate and overwhelming.

Isn’t this basically what we are striving for in yoga?  To have the ability to be aware of and in better control of our reactions to stress?  It is always encouraging to me when what we are practicing is not only in the yoga teachings, but also within scientific evidence.

Yes, we practice this on our yoga mats.  My leg is quivering, I am sweating, and physically I feel I could fall out of this pose…but I will not.  I will breathe.  I will relax the muscles in my face.  I will teach myself to sit and stay with this pose until eventually one day it will be physically less challenging and perhaps even enjoyable.  Does this conversation sound familiar to any of you?

But what about in our daily lives?  Can you do the same?  The first challenge is to recognize when this so-called hijack is about to happen.  This takes practice and patience with oneself.  Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and teacher refers to this hijack as Shenpa or getting hooked.  She encourages us to have the ability to recognize getting hooked with practice, then to sit with and in it.

I am not an expert at this by any means.  I find myself getting hooked more than I would like to admit.  But I also can say I don’t get hooked as much as I used to.   So, how do we sit in such a cloud of strong emotion?  The breath.

Next time you can identify and find yourself in the process of getting hooked, wait.  Don’t react yet.  Make the time to take three or more deep breaths.  Practice ujjayi breathing, in and out of the nose with the mouth closed.  Try to make each breath as slow, deep and calm as possible.  Then reassess the situation.

How do you handle getting hooked?  Or when you have the opportunity to do this exercise, we would love to hear from you!