Why we practice Yoga for our mind more than for our body.
The popular Yoga myth of achieving elasticity in our joints and the ability to flawlessly penetrate our bodies upside-down while balancing on jagged rocks overlooking the a serene and mountain-esque lakeside view has been overly and overtly propagated in social media. As it seems, current newsfeeds are constantly cluttered with bendy, inverted yogis and yoginis wearing tight-white, trendy, and pricey athletic apparel.
The myth: yoga will make you strong. Yoga will make you flexible. Yoga will bring you peace. The challenge: I’m not flexible enough. I’m not calm enough. The reality: Yes, you are; yes, you are.
Flexibility of the body does not come without flexibility of the mind.
Truth is, yoga is more about the mind than the body. Yes, Yoga has multiple physical benefits; flexibility and strength being two primary ones, but it is not the sole intention of the practice. It just so happens that repeatedly engaging our muscular-skeletal systems in a variety of asanas will build up those sought-after “goals”. Often enough, the minute someone realizes they are unable to do a handstand or a fancy balancing pose, self-harm is brought on by way of disappointment in the realms of self-image and self-ability.
What lies deeply beyond the scope of physical engagement is that of the mindful benefits of Yoga. In order to minimize harm caused by unrealistic expectations surrounding the practice, one must be educated on the mental benefits that the Yoga practice has to offer.
Our bodies, being the first responders of external information, will cultivate data from the outer world to stimulate our five senses, which in turn allows for these sensory messages to surge to our minds. The mind will then engage in a processing of this information enabled by our emotional and cognitive systems. This explains why we get down on ourselves when we cannot achieve what physically may be out of reach (i.e.: handstand).
However, the mindful practice facilitated by the physicality of asanas creates the mind-body connection in the present moment. Mindfulness is described by John Kabat-Zinn (1990) as cultivating moment-to-moment awareness, paying attention to what is happening in the here and now on purpose and non-judgementally, and noticing as nonreactively and openheartedly as possible.
Now, what does this actually mean? Noticing what is happening in the body right now and how you are responding to it is the most precise definition of mindful awareness. Are you beating yourself up because you cannot hold a crow-pose for more than one second? Noticing that negative self-talk is a form of mindful awareness. Are you focusing on where you are really feeling your inhales and exhales? Mindful awareness. Are you aware that your mind is wandering during savasana, even though you cannot necessarily bring it back to the present? Mindful awareness.
When our bodies are guided through the series of physical poses and postures, notice where your mind is. Bring yourself out of the yesterdays and the tomorrows, and intentionally focus on where your body is in space: here on your mat, now in the present. Notice how your feet are rooted to the ground. Notice how your arms are suspended by your shoulder muscles. Notice any tension in your body as you lower in chaturanga dandasana. Do not label these noticings, do not judge these noticings, do not react to these noticing – simply, feel. Cultivating mindfulness is simply done by one easy step: noticing.
Being mindful of the body-mind connection is the reason it is called a practice. On your mat, it is easy to establish the relationship between the mind and the body. However, the challenge lies in applying this to real-life situations. As you are patient with your pursuit to handstand, be patient with that which you cannot control. Similar to the way in which you move through asanas, moving through unpleasant events and chaos of unpredictable and everyday life occurrences will allow you to wholly practice mindfulness.
Then, in turn, you will find peace in simply being: being in the face of challenges and hurdles, being in the face of unpleasantry and unpredictability. This act being will build resilience and mental strength by way of patience and acceptance, for you are toying with your limits and edges.
Move through life with an attitude of openness, curiosity, patience, and most importantly,
gratitude. You are in control of your ability to skillfully respond to life and all of its’ ups and downs. Remembering that you are not in control of how others act or react is also a skillful habit, but how you can bring a quality of awareness and attention to your choices will help guide you past it.
Evidently, the media propagates the image of the body, however in order to abate the harmful unrealistic expectations, the intent of the mind ought to be challenged. Be a good-vibes advocate: patience with yourself will facilitate patience in others. Accepting yourself will facilitate others to accept themselves, too.
Now, approaching the myth of yoga: how are you skillfully responding to it?