It is so relaxing after a yoga class but I could never explain why. Sometimes I was quite emotional at the end of the class and I felt so weird. After I become a yoga teacher, I still find it hard to articulate in words how yoga connects body and mind. I can feel the cause and effect but I am not able to put it in words. Recently, I come across the effect of yoga/mindfulness while studying a counseling unit in occupational therapy course. It is great to see yoga/ mindfulness becomes an evidence-based tool for physical and mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression. Research on the effectiveness of yoga/mindfulness to manage mental health is emerging.
Connect to body
First, let me explain how yoga connects to body. Yoga stretches out the muscles and enhance relaxation in the musculoskeletal system. For example, we sit long hours everyday. Hip flexor is tight and muscles are shortening. Lunge pose helps extend hip flexor and lengthen the muscles in this muscle group. This reduces stiffness, tightness and enhances relaxation. We start noticing muscular tension or cohesion in yoga movement. For example, many yoga students experience tightness in hamstrings, or discover legs and arms coordination.
Connect to mind through body awareness
Then, it comes to connect to the mind through body awareness. This refers to body relations to different parts of the body (left and right, front and back, top and bottom) and body relations to the environment (gravity and anti-gravity). For example, in downward facing dog, your palms and feet give you sensory feedback to adjust and fine-tune the body posture. If your wrist is tiring, you press down the fingers onto the mat to distribute the body weight. Your wrists then feel better. Body awareness is essential for body and mind connection. In many yoga postures, it requires your awareness of anatomic alignment of pelvis, spine and trunk to hold the posture. These holding postures require your self-discipline, concentration and motivation.
Once you walk through the first few sessions (a bit of struggle) alive, you start feeling the flow of inner energy awareness of the yoga movement. This allows you to understand yourself and your experiences. The continuous self-adjustments create a pattern and help you respond to certain situations on the mat as well as off the mat. For example, in a difficult situation, breath…...Body-mind connection is important because our mind have unlimited thoughts and feelings. We constantly want to do a lot. However, our body is muscles and bones. We can only do that much at a time. We need to find the balance. Pace yourself.
Practicing yoga requires you to concentrate, stay at the present and let go of other thoughts in order to hold the posture. Yoga is one of the mindfulness practices. Mindfulness refers to watching your current emotions and body sensations without judgment. This self-regulation ability allows us not to think about the past (rumination) and the future (worries). Yoga/mindfulness improve our personal resources by directing attention to reduce negativity and draining activity. Instead, we can improve our cognitive resources for daily tasks.
Yoga is a psychological process, from body sensation to body awareness to self and environment, from body awareness to self-understanding, from self-understanding to non-judgmental. The ultimate goal is to experience inner peace and inner strength.
Rachel is the founder of VAI YOGA and an occupational therapist. Her yoga teaching focuses on blending two powerful healings, yoga and occupational therapy solutions, to help people face practical aspects of life.