Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Patanjali explained Yoga to be a way of life in his famous Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali yoga includes many ethical values and attitudes that form a person or change a person to become more self-aware or self-realised both concepts that are often discussed in psychology. Self-realisation is a concept most seen in Humanism given by Carl Rogers as well as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where it is referred to as self-actualisation. All these concepts refer to the person reaching their fullest potential and not needing the world (prakriti) to provide them any kinds of pleasures.
Yoga then involves following values and attitudes (yama, niyama), prayers, doing postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama), concentrating the mind (dharana) and meditation (Dhyana) all of which if practiced daily would lead to samadhi or liberation from the need for pleasures from the world. In other words, a person would become self-actualised. Yoga then is intertwined with psychology in many ways and gives a path through which a person can achieve a better self.
A lot of us see professionals practising yoga and doing many arm balances or poses that look extremely attractive, but are of course not easy to do. Don’t let yourself down because of that! No one is born as a perfect yogi – they all begin from the most basic poses, trying to build strength, balance and flexibility along with a calm and sustained mind. You too need to start with such basic poses like vinyasas or the most common being surya namaskar. The main thing to keep in mind is to be patient. You don’t become a master in the practice of yoga in just one week or one month. Many famous Yogis are ones who have been practising yoga for years on, and many still have not perfected every pose, while others are still seeking samadhi. Some basic types of yoga that can help in starting off your yogi dream and help you gain experience in meditation, strength, balance and flexibility include the following:
Vinyasa Flow: this is the most common type and is taught in most gyms and studios. This is where most people start. It involves fluid movements along with breathing and some pleasant music.
Ashtanga Yoga: It encompasses 8 limbs and a yogic lifestyle and is considered to be the closest to traditional Indian yoga. This too involves breathing through various postures that activate your 8 limbs.
Iyengar Yoga: This practice emphasises on alignment and breath control through pranayama and using props like blocks or straps. This helps to bring depth into movement and postures.
Jivamukti Yoga: This goes one step forward from just doing asanas and breathing to Sanskrit chanting and each practice usually has a theme. It blends spiritual with physical.
Power Yoga: This is one of the most active approaches to yoga and is considered to be advanced. Both Ashtangana and Vinyasa yoga can be practiced here but faster along with some more exercises for the core and upper body.
Sivananda Yoga: It is soft practice of the same 12 postures everytime which is done in silence and includes sun salutations along with savasana.
Yin Yoga: This is a more passive form of yoga and involves getting comfortable in each pose (strength). It is meant to compliment muscle-forming yoga practices.
Yoga doesn’t just help you become a self-actualised person, that is one of its ultimate goals. Practising yoga daily has many physical as well as mental health benefits. It is a soothing practice and the flow helps you achieve calm and peace. Yoga has been used as a therapy in pain related disability and as a supportive adjunct treatment as part of self-care behavioural treatment, life-long behavioural skill, enhancing self-efficacy and self-confidence and is also found to be associated with additional positive side effects (Michaelson et. al, 2012). Apart from the basic physical benefits of yoga like improving flexibility, strength, balance, maintaining weight, regulating cardio and circulatory health, improved athletic performance and improved moods some more of its deeper benefits include:
Depression and anxiety: Yoga helps a person become aware of their thoughts and the bodily reactions to depression and anxiety because of the continuous breathing through movement. Once a person becomes aware of such thoughts and behaviours, the person can move on to try to be comfortable with such thoughts by breathing through them so they stop being a distraction. Soon, such thoughts stop being a problem for the individual as they accept them and learn to live with them.
Stress reduction: Yoga as said is a soothing practice and helps tame the nervous system in a stressful situation and quiets it down. In a Harvard study on pain tolerance, it was found that when pain was induced to participants the yoga practitioners had the highest tolerance to pain and lowest pain related brain activity thus showing better stress regulation.
Many specific asanas are said to help with various physical and mental health problems. For example, Anjaneyasana which helps to improve blood flow and calm the mind. Another example is Garundasana which is said to prevent anxiety attacks as it is a balance pose which increases your focus. Natarajasana helps in mood balancing and is quite useful for people with anxiety or depression. Vajrasana which helps with digestion and Chakrasana which helps improve your focus and keeps anxiety and depression at bay.
These are only a few examples of poses and benefits of yoga all of which together help in the growth of a person. These not only help people suffering from any mental or physical problems but strengthen those who are already healthy. Keep in mind to set smaller achievable goals and you will one day be able to do all the poses you want and have a strong mind along with it. Start with the basic poses like vinyasas, ashtangana, Iyengar or bikram poses before moving on to the more advanced poses which include handstands or headstands or splits. Remember to feel good about yourself every time you complete one goal. Yoga is a slow process but extremely beneficial. Always breathe and concentrate and you will be a better version of yourself in no time.
By – Tanya Chandra Feature image by – Manu Sahu