These days you may frequently hear about hatha yoga recommended as a answer for whatever bodily concerns you may have. Common issues like lower back and knee problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, nervous tension, and stress—try yoga. We have all heard it before.
Most people assume yoga is a good stretch, a supplement to their existing workout schedule, or a model’s secret for looking toned. You might also hear that yoga is good for the mind–body connection. But what the heck does that mean?
This is the grey area that often eludes the general public, at times even scaring some people away in fear of being called a hippie (gasp!). Initially I found the yoga studio a great place to clear my mind and focus on the present moment, but never in a million years would I have thought of it as a precise diagnostic tool for personal, spiritual growth.
But what if yoga, whatever it is to you, becomes the mirror that reflects what we are already? What if it simply brought to light the traits, habits, and tendencies others may have seen, but we could not admit or see for ourselves? What if yoga simply exposed our ambitions, vulnerabilities, and fears? Is this the mind–body connection that you hear about?
Initially I found the yoga studio a great place to clear my mind and focus on the present moment, but never in a million years would I have thought of it as a precise diagnostic tool for personal, spiritual growth. Never did I think it would be the magical looking glass into one’s true nature and state of being, as a way to work out and analyze emotional issues and thoughts, and to illuminate areas that required attention.
Imagine my surprise when I pursued the yogic road in hopes of increased flexibility and mind–body connection and to become more peaceful, only to realize that I had been cultivating a body of denial.
Unwilling to admit and accept my own discomfort and frustration in challenging postures and with life in general, I became fueled by and obsessed with wanting to be “good.” But in this era of getting ahead, who could blame me? It is so easy to fall prey to the mentality of keeping up with the Joneses. This didn’t feel like the promised land of yoga that I had originally envisioned (except for my much-welcomed savasana pose).
Recognizing these places of discomfort was vital in knowing where and how to rebalance the mind, body, and spirit with attention, patience, breath, and care.
Under the guidance of good teachers, the slow, increasing awareness toward the obvious feelings of tightness, restriction, frustration, and fear brought on by the yoga classes evolved into self-knowledge, self-love, and finally self-acceptance, as the practice echoed similar themes in my life. This was the process through which hidden emotions and memories of body trauma I didn’t know existed started to emerge. Recognizing these places of discomfort was vital in knowing where and how to rebalance the mind, body, and spirit with attention, patience, breath, and care. Yoga was a lot deeper than I had previously assumed.
Of the eight limbs of yoga, asana is the third, but it is usually taught first in the western world—we even use the terms asana and yoga interchangeably. It has been said that the gateway of spirituality is through the body.
The second limb of yoga is Niyamas, yoga’s ethical code of conduct. There are five Niyamas, one of which is Svadhyaya, or self-study. Svadhyaya is about being absolutely present on the mat, noticing any feelings, sensations, and choices that initiate internal dialog with honesty and self-acceptance. The philosophy of Svadhyaya turns your attention inward, where you bear witness to yourself, your tendencies, and your reactions to whatever feelings (whether emotional or physical) and opinions that might surface during the yoga class.
A committed and dedicated yoga asana practice can fine tune the awareness of your behaviors toward encountering difficulties without judgment. With forgiveness, acceptance, and acknowledgement of being, Svadhyaya is a very empowering gift, and encourages self-love. The art of learning how to be more self-nourishing and more self-sufficient in love produces positive effects that will reflect in your life and help you make better more mindful choices. Magically you begin to notice the integrity that you bring to the mat is the same integrity you bring to situations and others in your outside world. Eventually your energy begins to shift for the better.
The local yoga studio is your emotional and psychological testing ground. A safe place for you reacquaint yourself with your true feelings and thoughts.
Mindful yoga practiced with Svadhyaya while maintaining breath with movement not only brings oxygen and prana (energy) to the body, but also centers and grounds us. Knowing all the good and funky bits of ourselves establishes a strong mind–body–spirit connection and brings with it some well-deserved attention to any particular issue we might have missed during the day. This opportunity allows us to feel satisfied and abundant and renewed instead of unfulfilled or depleted.
For all the amazing health benefits that yoga can bring, nothing can be achieved if we don’t first look inside ourselves to see what first really needs to be healed. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and for that we need to explore Svadhyaya with love through our own diagnostic lens. This is our yoga.