Finding Inner Peace Through Practicing Positivity
an essay on the importance of yoga and meditation
Have you ever thought about how your first waking moments impact your day? Most people don’t pay much attention to this, or purely rule it out as insignificant. They simply wake up and immediately compile a long list of tasks they must complete. They get out of bed and within minutes of waking up are immediately absorbed by negative thoughts. These thoughts are a reflection of attitude and impact your mentality throughout the day. This is why it is important to begin your day with positivity. This can be achieved through daily yoga and meditation which will not only help focus your thoughts towards the day to come in a positive manner, but can also help encourage overall mental, physical and social health and well being.
Junior year has been an extremely demanding and trying year for me. I am taking many rigorous courses such as IB Calculus, HL Biology, IB French, AP English and IB Economics as well as several other extracurriculars outside of school. Although I genuinely enjoy many of these courses and activities, with the wrong attitude, they can easily become very stressful and a source of anxiety.
This year, one thing that has helped me tremendously in managing my stress and anxiety is following a daily morning yoga routine. This helps me keep my first thoughts of the day positive rather than negative. Upon waking up, my thoughts immediately turn towards yoga, which instantly improves my attitude in a positive way rather than the negativity that began most of my days before I started my daily yoga routine. I would wake up rushed because I usually overslept, and immediately begin to panic as I compiled a long list of things I had to do throughout the day. I have found that consciously making my first 10–20 mins a positive experience allows me to approach the day with a good attitude and decreases overall stress levels throughout my day. It allows me to focus my energy on personal growth and development, rather than superficial things. For example, making an effort to truly enjoy everything I do (or at least putting a positive spin on it), keeping an open mind, and applying my full effort into what I do. Through practicing daily yoga, I have not only been able to begin my day with a positivity, but also maintain it throughout the day.
The beginnings of yoga can be traced back to the oldest scriptures in the world, the ancient texts of Vedas, originating in Northern India. Vedic yoga consisted of a series of sacrifices and ceremonies. These rituals where seen as a connection to the spirit world and thus considered a way of life. Vedic yoga was taught by Vedic yogis or rishis who were regarded as “‘seers,’ ‘sages’ or saints, who after tapas (intense meditation), realized truths and eternal knowledge, which were then composed into hymns” (Hartmut Scharfe). It wasn’t until 400 CE that there became a systematic presentation of yoga known as Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. This became one of the foundations of the “classical yoga philosophy of Hinduism” (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). The end goal of Pantañjali’s work was to reach Samadhi or enlightenment. Many new aspects were added to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, designed to “prolong life and rejuvenate the body” (yogabasics.com). This is how the physical aspects of yoga came to be. Yoga became a way to explore physical and spiritual connections throughout the body. It was used to “cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence” (yogabasics.com). This revolutionized how we think about yoga today.
The conceptual background of yoga began in ancient Indian philosophy. Today, there is an abundance of different types of yoga, each having it's own unique emphasis on asanas (physical exercises and poses), pranayama (usage of breathing), and positive thinking/meditation (vedanta/dhyana) practices. All four of theses elements are crucial to the practice of yoga.
Hatha yoga simply refers to any type of yoga that puts emphasis on the physical posture of different poses preformed throughout a session. It is by far the most common type of yoga taught in the West.
Vinyasa yoga is a type of yoga that focuses on the synchronization of breath and movement of the body. The sustained postures run together almost forming one continuous movement. An inhale/exhale is done upon transitioning into the next pose. The breath helps progress the postures to form the next.
Ashtanga is a rigorous form of yoga based on ancient yoga teachings. Similarly to vinyasa yoga, it focuses on synchronization between breathing and a series of postures. However unlike vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga’s poses are performed in the same order every time.
Bikram and hot yoga are types of yoga preformed in hot conditions (bikram is usually 105 degrees Fahrenheit), which helps with flexibility.
Iyengar yoga focuses mainly in the body’s alignment. To help achieve such precision in position, many different yoga props, such as chairs, straps, blocks and cushions, are used.
Anusara is a type of yoga that was originally derived from iyengar yoga. Rather than focusing so much on alignment, however, anusara yoga puts more emphasis on “wholeness” or the combination of the physical alignment and spiritual aspects of yoga.
Yoga has been proven to help improve physical aspects of life for almost anyone practicing regularly. There are endless physical benefits yoga can provide. According to the staff of Mayo Clinic “the potential health benefits of yoga include:
Stress reduction — A number of studies have shown that yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.
Improved fitness — Practicing yoga may lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength.
Management of chronic conditions — Yoga can help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga might also help alleviate chronic conditions, such as depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia.”
An article published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine by Alyson Ross and Sue Thomas at the University of Maryland, stated that “yoga interventions appeared to be equal or superior to exercise in nearly every outcome measured except those involving physical fitness. The studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures.”
In addition to helping reduce stress, improving fitness and managing chronic conditions, yoga can help improve proprioception or the ability to sense the body’s equilibrium regarding position and motion. This can be very beneficial to preventative healthcare because it improves balance and flexibility. Because yoga increases awareness of body, it can help facilitate and maintain lifestyle changes such as encouraging regular exercise and implementing a healthier diet, all of which help with overall physical health and wellbeing.
Yoga is as much mental as it is physical. Some skeptics (myself once included) think of yoga as “fancy stretching.” This is simply not true. According to research, preformed by Dr. Chantal Villemure and Dr. Catherine Bushnell both of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Md., “more grey matter — brain cells — were detected in certain brain areas in people who regularly practiced yoga, as compared with control subject,” a finding that “suggests that yoga was a contributing factor of the brain gains,” (Scientific American). Overall, yoga can do a lot to improve not only physical but also psychological or mental wellbeing. As mentioned earlier, there are three aspects that make up yoga: physical, mental and spiritual. The mental side of yoga allows you to test personal limits. Through physical movements (asanas and pranayama), yoga helps focus thoughts and soothe the mind. Eventually leading to the ultimate goal: experiencing the true self by gaining control of the mind and finding inner peace beyond temporary physical anchors. Meditation is a tool that, with practice, can enable you to achieve this goal. Meditation begins when the mind experiences peace, stillness (free of scattered thoughtsand agitation) and a higher level of conciousness is met. It is a way to tap into your internal energy and further develop your positivity, concentration and clarity of the mind and soul.
Ever since I started practicing yoga in the morning, I’ve noticed tremendous changes in myself. I’ve become less stressed, less tired and ultimately more positive and cheerful after waking up. This positivity in the mornings has helped me to maintain an optimistic attitude throughout the day and bring it to all other aspects of my life. For example, yoga helps me after a long, arduous and stressful day filled with changing classes and exams. As soon as I get home, one of the first things I do is roll out my yoga mat, take a few deep breaths, and practice yoga to decompress and recharge. It clears my mind and allows me to focus on the tasks at hand. Although for me there is still progress to be made, I strongly believe that yoga and meditation are great tools to help achieve personal goals while increasing positivity and overall happiness in life.
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