Updated: Apr 22, 2022
Is it any surprise that yoga brings mental health benefits as it strengthen your brain and plays a key role in memory, thought, attention, awareness, and even language? Yoga with meditation is the form of exercise which focuses on breathwork, that helps calm and center the mind, reduced anxiety and depression.
The Calming of The Mind Has an Antidepressant Effect
Exercising can improve your mood by lowering stress hormones, increasing the production of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, and bringing more oxygenated blood to your brain.
It can affect mood by elevating levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with better mood and decreased anxiety.
Yoga may have additional benefits beyond other exercise routines
To Remedy Suffering, many seek origins in yoga Sutras
Though Yogic Philosophy is vast and prolific, there are a few key aspects to this sacred yet highly intellectual discipline that are worth knowing and reflecting on. The Holy Grail of Yogic Philosophy is Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, which were inscribed before 400 CE and are a collection of aphorisms on the theory and practice of Yoga.
In 196 meditative phrases, Patanjali made known the ways in which we can return to the truth of who we really are. Yoga is to bring one back into “yolk,” or union, as a fully integrated and embodied being. Yoga is synonymous with harmony.
Through the study of the mind, we learn to control the mind and to ideally dissolute the mind of suffering. Extreme attachment to form and external circumstances causes deep suffering in the mind. To have suffering in the mind, in our thoughts, is to have great suffering in our body as the two are not at all separate. Our minds circularly influence our brains which influence our mind which influences our body. It is an intertwined being, that of human existence.
In Yoga, it is believed if we are to get to the “root cause” of suffering: our distorted and irrational thoughts -- then and only then can we have complete ease and unification. By changing our beliefs, we can change our feelings, therefore our behavior.
By changing our beliefs, we can change our feelings, therefore our behavior
By changing our beliefs, we can change the chemistry of our body by achieving a sense of equilibrium in our nervous system, our endocrine system, our immune system – all of which are directly influenced by stress, anxiety, depression and a slew of other troublesome responses to an untamed mind.
Anxiety and Other Negative Thoughts
It is not the way of Yoga to bypass challenging emotions, to ignore negative thoughts or try to fix ourselves by “only being positive.” It is rather to tame our mind by bearing witness to all that it “believes” as true. It is to have a clear enough head to have awareness of what distortions we give our energy and power to on a daily basis. It is to become embodied in our experiences, to feel and to be aware of the body, as much as we are of the head.
I believe Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16 hold within them the core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests. It is through the cultivation of Practice (Abhyasa) and Non-Attachment (Vairagya) that the other practices evolve. Balancing these two components is key to a healthy mind, a spiritually enriched life and an aware existence. Practice and Non-Attachment in this Sutra hold two slightly different energies, of which I will explain below.
Everlasting Change is The Intent of Yoga and Meditation
Primarily, Practice means the discipline and study through an uninterrupted mind -- with devotion and faith -- for a long period of time. This Practice leads you in the right direction and strokes the chords of positive results by maintaining a sense of easeful effort. Practice in this sense can be applied to anything we do in our life, or any way we act towards ourselves and others. There is not a quick-fix in Yoga, as it is meant for everlasting change and not the band-aid effect of ignoring, suppressing or bypassing that which we do not want to address or look at out of fear or shame.
Secondly, the idea of Practice also asks us to cultivate, nourish and replenish the positive in our life. Again, not by ignoring the challenging, but by putting an intentional focus on that which is deeply GOOD, and by doing more of that.
Cultivate, Nourish and Replenish Your Inner Life
By having the challenging, honest conversations, by applying movement and breathwork to our daily routine, by eating the wholesome and balanced diet, by having ample time to rest and spend in nature. All of these are examples of practice that lead to greater tranquility of the mind and body.
Same as Practice, the idea of Non-Attachment has two different, yet unified ways of being understood. Primarily, Non-Attachment to that which brings us aversions, fears, addictions, false identities, selfish desires or anything that clouds the true Self is crucial to the inner journey of Yoga. These external forces or unhealthy mind tricks side track us from the path of union and integration and presence, of which Yoga leads us towards.
Non-Attachment uplifts and amplifies Practice by diminishing that which does not serve our highest, greatest good.
To add to this, in complimenting the idea of Practicing the GOOD; the elimination, or detachment of the BAD is another way to look at Non-Attachment. For example, the idea is that if we nourish the positive, healthful, unifying practices first, the BAD will become irrelevant and obsolete after time. Starting the positive first will shed light on that which may be weighing and heavy.
For example, if we want to take up a Yoga practice, possibly our habit of over-drinking or smoking would, suddenly not feel so good or desirable anymore. Or, for example, if we vow to be more kind in our actions and speech towards self and others, gossiping might not give us such a rush of energy anymore but may actually begin to feel gross and harmful.
Yoga is merely a system (a damn good one), and a path that was divinely created-- meant for anyone and everyone to walk on in their own choosing. There is no achievement of perfection in Yoga as we are all divinely created as already perfect. Yoga’s philosophy helps us peel back the layers we have piled on though societal and familial conditionings. Yoga is meant to guide us back in towards ourselves, away from external forces that distract us from the truth of who we are: sacred, whole and complete Beings who are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.