A while back I wrote a blog called, ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy,’ and in this write up I spoke about the power yoga has to help us emotionally through raising levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid; but there are several other benefits that yoga offers us for emotional healing included in this post. Although these benefits are not always quantifiable, as in measuring the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid in the body, they deserve consideration.
The emphasis on breath control and quality of breathing is the cornerstone of yoga practice. I believe yoga breathing techniques should be taught chronologically in the same manner yoga postures should be taught in logical progression. Yoga improves poor breathing habits, calming the nervous system. When beginner students are taught to stick with a relatively deep breathing pattern, in an abdominal-diaphragmatic style set in an elliptical rhythm, they can re-pattern anomalous breathing that causes negative emotions to a relaxed emotional state.
With many distractions in our modern world the ability to concentrate has declined for many and this can lead to mental agitation. Yoga helps to focus concentrated effort. Each yoga pose performed is a matrix of information that requires attentiveness. As attention is drawn to the body while performing postures there is development of an awareness of self, which can reveal truth in regards to our internal dialogue.
Yoga helps to transcend the ego resulting in mental clarity. This can only be accomplished when the philosophy of yoga is embraced while practicing physical yoga postures. It’s easy to fall into the trap of accomplishment when practicing yoga, checking off a list of poses we desire to master. This context ignores the whole philosophy behind yoga. Through practicing yoga without the expectation of accomplishment, and instead cultivating an acceptance of yoga practice without desires, clarity of thought can be achieved.
Through the practice of concentrated effort and detachment from desires a profound awareness will be nurtured. Yoga improves awareness. This awareness begins with recognition of the inner self and learning to change negative patterns called Samskaras. Samskaras are subconscious imprints. They represent repetitive behaviors that continue to hold us back from emotional maturity. Heightened awareness developed through yoga can reverse repetitive negative behavior.
To be expressed as fully human we can’t reside in our brains without an awareness of ourselves as a whole. The truth is that many of us actually perceive ourselves only through the mind. The emphasis on mental accomplishment in our modern world has dismissed the need to embrace emotional or spiritual health, and sometimes even physical health. Yoga connects body, mind, and spirit. We can become whole through the practice of yoga with its emphasis on addressing all parts of our humanity.
Once we can become aware of ourselves as fully expressed, a deep empathy for others will arise. The transcendence of ego offers clarity of thought; awareness enables negative repetitive behavior to be recognized and changed; expressing ourselves in terms of body mind and spirit allows us to become whole; and all of this nurtures empathy. Yoga helps to manifest compassion. Compassion for others is needed for a healthy society, but also self-compassion is necessary for personal mental health.
I have studied the system of the Chakras but would never pretend to be an expert. I’ve read a number of good books on the subject including my favorite, ‘Eastern Body, Western Mind,’ by Anodea Judith. It has come to my attention that the Chakras are psycho-spiritual vortices in the body. When you are harmed emotionally energy will not move well in a particular chakra causing blockages of life force, known in yoga as Prana. Each Chakra corresponds to a certain period of growth in our lives. The practice of yoga can help to clear blockages in Chakras. Yoga helps to revisit earlier developmental stages of life. We can resolve some of our old conditional behaviors we wish to change and heal emotional wounds through the practice of yoga.
Some of these topics may appear esoteric and intangible. I have found them all to be quite real when practicing yoga, although I probably would not have admitted as much when I was first doing yoga three decades ago. With measurable data there is no question yoga practice has the ability to raise levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, however, this appears to be the more superficial albeit tangible positive result. When we embrace yoga philosophy alongside the physical practice of yoga the full effect of yoga’s positive impact on our emotions can be felt.