Psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that humans no longer have instincts because we have the ability to override them in certain situations. We’ve learned in the last few hundred years how to outsmart our inherit inclinations that have helped us survive ever since our appearance about 300,000 years ago. We’re so smart, we’re dumb — in some cases at least.
Take the practice of recovery: In the last year, I’ve looked into the deep, layered history of yoga, and I’m discovering that though the Hindu of India supposedly show the first recorded evidence of yoga arguably six to seven thousand years ago, many ancient cultures from all corners of the world practiced their own version of poses, meditation, spiritual practices, and even mudras, which is the Hindi word for hand positions commonly used in yoga and meditation, and are believed to affect the flow of energy in the body. All of these practices balance a demanding life, promote recovery, and higher understanding.
There are many who believe that Kemetic movements, breathing practices, and mind-body discovery from Egypt, which are illustrated in hieroglyphics and pyramid drawings, predate yogic practices from India. There are arguments that the West African Yoruba practice of ríró, — which means “elasticity” and is a practice of meditative stretch postures to awaken spirituality — came even before that.
Four-thousand-year old evidence shows that the Pre-Classic Mayan of Mexico and Central America exercised their own version of these practices including meditation, moving poses, and studying nature. There are theories that the Mayan might have traveled two, vast oceans to get to India to adopt yogic practices to bring them all the way back home, but I think Mesoamerican civilizations also tapped into their own instincts and developed practices that promoted optimal health and wellbeing linked to breath, recovery, and spirituality.
I am not a historian and I’m not in a position to argue which came first, but I do want to acknowledge that many ancient, original cultures had a form of “yoga”, which leads me to believe that our instinct as humans was to consciously and consistently relax and recover from our rigorous daily life. It was an important physical and spiritual practice. It is as important as any other practice in life.
Personally, I’m enjoying awakening this particular human instinct in myself and reintroducing it to others. While doing so, it’s important to honor all the ancient cultures who easily understood these things thousands of years ago.