The lizard brain is the primitive part of our brain responsible for fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up and fornication. For many of us, it rears its pointed little head every January.
While there are good reasons to be grateful for our lizard brain, being afraid and frozen can add up to a level of resistance to change that makes it impossible for us to move forwards. At this time of year, when the changes we want to make to our lives usually involve becoming healthier or more creatively fulfilled, our resisting lizard brain often causes incredible frustration. So much so that we simply give up, which makes us even more disappointed in ourselves.
I've lost count of how many times I lost the battle with my lizard brain. Even now, I don't want to think about the writing projects I abandoned because my level of internal resistance was so strong it was impossible to see a way forwards. But when I took up yoga I found out how to use the power of my lizard brain for good.
Practice and resistance
Incorporating any practice, mental or physical, into our lives is all about making it a matter of habit. Every time I unroll my mat or sit down to write I'm reinforcing habitual behaviour. Now it's worse for me if I don't practice yoga or write. The fear that I might never do two of the things that give me the most satisfaction in the world ever again - and become a monstrously fat brain-dead moron - far outweighs any resistance.
When I learned to treat yoga and writing as simply part of my everyday life, rather than something I was doing with an end point, an outcome somehow separate from who I was, I found a way to manage my lizard brain.
In yoga, our edge is the point where we're able to practice while remaining calm and in control of our minds and bodies. If we go beyond this we become so physically and mentally uncomfortable our practice suffers.
For me, the edge is where I engage with my fear. If I build up to a pose like headstand that makes me nervous step by step, moving my edge a little onwards every time, I'm able to fill my conscious mind with sweet little reasons why I needn't be afraid. But it's the fear oozing from my lizard brain that drives me to understand myself.
If I wasn't afraid I wouldn't get anywhere.
It's the same with my writing. If I want to be the writer I believe I have the potential to be, I have to push my edge constantly, do stuff that make me nervous. Writing about something that's particularly painful or attempting a form I'm not convinced I'll ever master, let's say.
Without the fear I wouldn't have anything to master.
It sounds corny but to truly enjoy either yoga or writing, the practice has to be its own reward.
Simply because no matter how adept you become at yoga, there will always be something you struggle with that someone else does effortlessly. You can sculpt your body to perfection but you won't get taller.
It's highly unlikely that anything you write purely to make money will be as satisfying as the work that you do for pleasure. Even if you become a bestselling author.
We all have a natural appetite for fulfilment and we know it doesn't come from gorging ourselves on the sweet stuff or settling for going through the motions in our yoga or writing. By offering us fear and resistance our lizard brain makes us realise that a goal is worth pursuing and we can achieve it if we manage how we change.
So embrace your inner lizard in 2017. Actually, you don't have much choice.
Introducing yoga for writers
My online Introduction to Yoga for Writers course which starts on 16 January is designed to help you discover how to integrate and balance your body, mind and consciousness for true creative fulfilment.
Find out how you can join me here.