How does practicing yoga transform your mind?
The Yoga Sutras start with 2 mantras:
1. Atha Yoga Anushasanam: Now begins the teaching of Yoga
2. Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodha: Yoga calms the variations of the mind
The guy was pretty clear — Yoga calms the activity of the mind. Rings a bell?
Maybe you’ve even already experienced this: you have just spent an hour or so practicing yoga, and the end of the class you find yourself totally relaxed. And even more, you realize you’ve lost track of time and space during that class as if you were just-waking-up from a dream.
So, what happens during the practice of yoga?
Breathing calms your nervous system: it is scientifically proven — breath and mental state are related. The more you calm your breath, the more your nervous system calms down too. By deepening the breath, your nervous system chills.
Breathing opens the body: another cool thing about the body is that the nervous system is linked to our muscles. And so, if through the breath you manage to calm your nervous system, then the nervous system will allow your body to open and stretch. Muscles feel “safe” enough (coz the pilot, Mr. Nervous System, is chill) to go beyond what they usually can do during a typical day.
Movement detoxes the body: through pranayama, you enhance Asana, increasing its benefit on your body. Movement detoxes the body, lubricates joints, stretches muscle fiber, cleans fascia.
Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, who specialized in therapeutic yoga, called it the “squeezing and soaking” of the body. Asanas and movement would squeeze out the lousy stuff off the body and soak it into fresh oxygen and fresh blood, rejuvenating the entire machine.
Focus puts you in a flow. Allowing someone else to be in charge and having only to follow their instructions helps you focus on just one thing: doing what the teacher is asking you to do (to my students — this is the very reason why I wanted to guide you only with words and not by practicing with you).
And if the teacher’s good, the level of challenge is just high enough to keep you challenged but not too high to allow to achieve things. That is precisely the definition of flow — a state where you are challenged but also comfortable enough to achieve things.
Each one of these components, breath, movement, and focus feed each other during the practice:
- Because you are focused, you can push your physical boundaries through movement
- Because you are focused, you can calm the mind and its activity
- Because you are breathing fully and peacefully, you re-program your brain to remain calm and focused, even in challenging postures (hello, triangles without the hands!)
- Because you are breathing, your muscles are able to stretch and contract more than usual
- Because you are moving, your brain is not thinking of anything else but the present moment
- Because you are moving, you channel your energy to deep focus, which preps you, btw, for meditation
The combination of breath, movement, and focus put you in a blissful state:
- You are in the moment: you forget about work, children, dinner or even drinks with friends
- You connect to your emotions: many yogis feel an emotional release during class. I sometimes cry during some classes, and that is also because…
- You shed your shield, open the armor: a good yoga teacher will create a space that is safe enough for practitioners to let go of their armor and be vulnerable and open
- You oxygenate your brain and put your nervous system in the chill zone
- You reflect on higher subjects — love, gratitude, self-acceptance, openness, tolerance, freedom. The list can go forever.
And so, by the end of the class, you’re on a little cloud. They call this Yoga Bliss. Until everyone starts moving frantically, opening windows while you’re still dripping from sweat, and talking loud. Ah, humans…
A frequent practice is the equivalent of a reboot to your mind.
Repetition is key to the creation of new habits.
My Yoga Philosophy teacher, Raghav Ji, told us: our mind is full of patterns, habits. They’re like streams that are well established and strong because they have been flowing for years. It is not easy to create a new habit, but not impossible. All it takes is a consistent practice.
First, you start digging the route to a new stream. It takes a lot of effort, it is not easy, it is new and maybe even weird. That’s you panting in a pose you’ve never done, or you internally shouting to your mind to shut up during class.
You have to dig until your new path is wide and deep enough for the water to leave the usual stream and favor this new, bigger, wider and deeper one. The one you have been working on. The one you’ve been feeding.
Practicing yoga is that. Every time you step on your mat, you are putting your body, mind, and soul into a specific state, sending the same signal to yourself: this is the new stream.
Your mind gets the habit of calming its rumination.
Your body gets the habit of heating-up, opening, working, growing and expanding.
Your soul gets the habit of shining through, expressing itself beyond the boundaries of daily life — boundaries which have been removed by the sacred space created by your teacher.
Your emotions take the habit of showing up as they are, with no judgment.
You learn how to push and take care of yourself at the same time.
You learn how to be present, in the moment, whatever it is (a delicious savasana or a horrible chair pose).
You learn to love your weaknesses and celebrate your strengths.
You learn how to listen to yourself: emotions rising, your body talking to you, and the thoughts coming.
But most of it all, you learn that Yoga is not about walking on your hands, but Uniting with your Higher Self, with the other souls around you and with the Higher Power.
It is about experiencing Samadhi, the bliss of being one with the One, the Ruling Power, the Light we all have within ourselves, our inner Guru.
Yoga allows the practitioner to connect with their Spiritual Intelligence by feeling peacefulness and connexion. A deep connexion arises with consistent practice — to the self (body and spirit), to the other forms of life, and to the Higher Intelligence (which, really, comes back to the Self).
This is how practicing yoga transforms your L I F E.
It will teach you how to be patient. It will teach you how to do crazy poses.
And it will teach you what it is to be a Spiritual being living a Human life.
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Originally published at oumwonders.squarespace.com.