We often hear that yoga can bring people a greater sense of balance in life, be it through feeling physically fitter, mentally more clear and mindful, or through releasing stress and tension. This feeds into the higher philosophical and more esoteric aims of yoga - a deepening awareness of how all things are interconnected, and that freedom from the endless wheel of suffering and habit is possible. But is this a universal truth and outcome, that yoga will always make you feel more balanced in life? I would say only if the practice is approached in a certain way. Here’s why:
1. Getting back into your body:
We spend a lot of our lives trying to avoid what the body is telling us. We treat the symptoms not the causes. Tired? Caffeinate. Can’t sleep? Sleeping pills. Stressed? Half a bottle of wine. And when we approach physical fitness it’s usually with the attitude of seeing the body as something to overcome. We punish the body, we “destroy” our glutes, we try to “banish” belly fat. We often end up feeling worse in our attempt to feel better.
Yoga, when practiced with awareness and intelligence, however, offers a chance to connect with what’s actually going on in your body - not what you’d like (or like not) to be there. Provided your yoga practice doesn’t fall into that same attitude of overcoming the body and punishing it, we cultivate a better understanding of what we actually need for our wellbeing - enabling us to treat the causes, not the symptoms.
2. Slowing down:
Slowing down and stepping back from the pace of the outside world, career pressures, family, and day to day responsibilities, provides perspective. The hamster wheel of day to day life tends to trap us into unhelpful habits and prioritises the overthinking mind above the feeling, sensing body. We need a healthy, well regulated body to function at our best. Taking time out for yoga practice reminds us that the body is important, and has needs that are just as valid as the external responsibilities in our life.
3. Paying attention to what matters
In practice we’re often instructed to become aware of our breathing and to focus on it, or to fix our gaze on certain point, or indeed to really feel into the sensations of the body. These cues aren’t primarily for physical benefit. They offer touch points for the mind to settle on and become calm and clear. When posture is practiced with this awareness we learn to quieten and calm the mind.
This carries over into day to day life. Get a horrible email? Take a deep breath and feel your feet on the ground. Feeling anxious about an upcoming conversation? Drop into what you feel physically in your stomach, can you breath calmly through it, observing it? These techniques enable you to stay balanced and maintain equanimity throughout your daily life. If you’re practicing yoga 2 or 3 times a week, and cultivating this kind of attention each time, it will quickly add up. In this way we can use the yoga practice in the way we might approach meditation or mindfulness.
To summarise, yoga postures can be a purely physical pursuit, and for sure there are great benefits in this alone. But if this is the only way you approach the practice then you’re cheating yourself of so much depth and richness that can be greatly beneficial to the rest of your life. So yes, yoga can help you find a more balanced life, but only if you allow it to be a practice of awareness and mindful attention, rather than just another form of exercise.
This article was written for us by our awesome Global Brand Warrior, International Yoga & Qigong Teacher and Writer, Soho-based James Rafael. For more information about James, click here