Updated: Feb 26, 2019
"It's through the alignment of my body, that I discovered the alignment of my mind" ~ Bks Iyengar
Yoga deepens our understanding of the links between our states of mind and our bodies, and vice versa. Most people who use the phrase "mind-body" seem to mean the way your mind, primarily your thoughts, can influence the functioning of the body. While that notion may have once seemed radical, to the yogi it's pretty obvious. In yoga, however, we learn that this aspect of the mind-body connection is really only part of the story. Not only does the mind affect the body, so much so that it can even have psychosomatic affects, but the body can also influence the mind tremendously.
Practicing yoga cultivates self-awareness and sensitivity toward your body; it isn’t just another set of exercises you do. Yoga fosters subtle observation and awareness of your body’s mechanics and energetics. It gives you experiential insight into the unique form and shape of your individual embodiment. It allows you to understand what is happening as it is happening, and gives you the tools to adjust your practice to constantly fluctuating conditions, moment by moment. It is one thing to have a general conceptual understanding of the anatomy of muscles; it’s something else to be able to locate, sense, and work with the individual muscles in your own body.
"Yoga combines external conceptual knowledge with the internal experiential understanding that only you can access." ~ Leslie Howard
In his classic work the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes yoga as “the progressive quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.” The sage Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras prior to 400 CE. These sutras contain a codified system for developing self awareness. This system is comprised of eight different limbs. Asana is one of these limbs. Through the practice of asanas (yoga postures), the individual develops an evolving capacity to control the body and, via this route, the mind. By disciplining the body, an individual becomes more open and receptive to the mental work and introspection that are integral to the practice of yoga.
"The whole human being from the outermost skin to the innermost being (or soul) is interconnected. For example, if the body is ill, the mind also becomes depressed, lethargic and bad tempered and if the mind is stressed the body becomes tense." Bks Iyengar
Through asana practice we become more conscious and sensitive to our bodies. We become more aware of the bodies tendencies, our conditioning and the habits it forms. We start to then realise that these are a reflection of our internal mental states, as posture usually reflects how we are feeling emotionally. Think of someone with a lot of negative thoughts, their shoulders will usually be hunched and their hearts closed, reinforcing the mental state they are in.
Yoga is empowering. It empowers you to take an active role in your own healing rather than handing over responsibility to a doctor or someone else. It encourages and supports you to see for yourself. After all, it is your body, and you should not blindly give up control. You hold primary authority over your body, and you need to exercise that authority by exploring, observing, and learning about yourself. Yoga helps you shed your self-imposed states and empowers you to emerge, to mature, and to take responsibility for yourself. With regular practice personal growth both physically and mentally become a natural part of our process as we deepen our practice, we will become more aligned: body, mind & self.