There are some obvious benefits of yoga that everyone in today’s modern and urbanized world certainly needs to survive. These benefits fall into three main categories: physical, emotional/mental and spiritual.
by Sandra Shama Kaur
In last month’s column, I talked about the five main physical benefits of yoga, which were reduction of pain, posture and alignment, strength and flexibility, balance and coordination and purifying the body with an inner heat.
In this month’s column, I will go into the four mental benefits. First is emotional balance. If you have ever been to a yoga class, you will probably recognize the word ‘pranayam,’ which literally means the science of breath control. You have also probably done weird things like breathing in and out through one nostril, holding your breath, breathing through your tongue or pursed lips and panting like a dog. Well ladies and gents, these techniques embody ancient wisdom that allows you to bring your emotions into balance instantly so you can make better decisions and feel more relaxed and calm or energized and analytical.
Second is focus and concentration. Known as the sixth limb of yoga, dharana is a skill we acquire as we practice yoga and meditation. It is acquired through various exercises known as drishti or eye focus, which trains the practitioner to focus the eye on one object. For example, it is common for the teacher to say focus on the tip of the nose. This trains your eyes to focus. Pretty soon you notice that when you focus your eyes on an object, the mind becomes still. Moreover, you gain the experience of focusing on the breath and stilling the mind from excessive thinking and worrying.
Third is mental clarity. Can you imagine how many thoughts you think during the wink of any eye? Going to a yoga class is like going to a movie featuring the story of your own life. It is a unique opportunity to witness all your thoughts, worries, concerns, plans and fantasies that dance around you like clouds in the sky. Going back to the breath, you remind yourself that ‘I am not my thoughts, I am not my mind, I am not going to use my mind to solve any problems right now.’ Suddenly the mind becomes clear of excessive thinking and worrying, and you are able to let go and surrender your thoughts to a higher power.
Fourth is emotional transformation. Sure we feel anger, sadness and fear. It’s part of being human. But how can we transform these emotions without overthinking, over-analyzing and over-rationalizing and obsessing about what’s right from wrong and what’s good from bad? Do yoga! You will often hear your teacher saying how a posture opens the heart center, which brings trust and an all-embracing feeling and courage, or how a posture stimulates the liver and the kidneys, which also works to relieve anger and fear. Going beyond the pose itself has emotional transformative benefits by playing on the inner organs and chakras.
Sandra Shama Kaur is a Kundalini yoga teacher and founder of Yalla Yoga.