As a psychiatrist working with people who struggle with various forms of psychological ailments, I find the age-old teachings of yoga can offer a valuable tool for easing the mind.
Clinical research on yoga is currently underway to investigate whether it might help with medical illnesses, such as diabetes, HIV, and arthritis.
While we are eagerly awaiting the results, people can discover for themselves through direct experience how the practices can promote a more harmonious, relaxed way of being, thereby helping them to deal better with the “dhukka” (Pali word for “suffering” or “dissatisfaction”) of daily life.
Yoga as a way to look inside yourself
I just returned from a month-long Ashtanga yoga teacher intensive training with Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor. I am so grateful for their wisdom and generosity; they are role models in every way. With the long drive to Boulder from California, I developed sacroiliac joint pain.
Though painful and annoying, it gave me an opportunity to slow down and re-examine my external and internal alignment. My ego was reminded to loosen its grip, providing me the opportunity to witness the abiding aspects of the Ashtanga practice – breath, root lock, and gaze.
Through these instruments of the practice, I could appreciate how the moving meditation of yoga provides an embodied path towards waking up to the nature of existence. Just how exactly this happens is one of the wonders of practicing yoga.
Yoga is just 1/8 of the equation
What many refer to in the West as yoga is, in fact, just the third of eight limbs of Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras. The physical postures of the yoga practice are “asana.” The other seven limbs of yoga are:
- Yama (ethical precepts or abstentions)
- Niyama (self-discipline or observances)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal or transcendence)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (oneness with the object of meditation or bliss).
Though the complete yoga system includes all eight limbs, asana does provide a useful vantage point from which to explore all of yoga and heal the mind.
By cultivating one’s attention to what is happening in the body and in the mind throughout and between each posture, and by listening to the breath, relaxing the gaze, and grounding oneself into the earth and the body, the inner workings of yoga can manifest.