I.2 Yogas(h)-c(h)itta-vritti-nirodahah: Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.
A healthy mind is at the heart of yoga. The originators of the practice of yoga wanted to alleviate suffering in humans. A healthy mind-body connection is an essential component to alleviating suffering! There have been many studies linking healthy thoughts to a healthy body. The two are intertwined on all levels of the human condition. For example, when you are nervous about something, you don’t just think about it. You FEEL IT. You may have butterflies in your stomach or feel as though you can’t take a deep breath. You may even have a racing heart if your nervousness is really intense. The following information was extracted from a study that explained one example of how our thinking actually impacts the way our body acts and reacts:
The analysis of heart rhythms provides a powerful, noninvasive measure of neurocardiac function that reflects heart-brain interactions and autonomic nervous system dynamics, which are particularly sensitive to changes in emotional states…..we (McCraty, Atkinson and Tomasino) have found that during the experience of negative emotions such as anger, frustration, or anxiety, heart rhythms become more erratic and disordered, indicating less synchronization in the reciprocal action that ensues between the parasympathetic and sympathetic (fight or flight) branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In contrast, sustained positive emotions, such as appreciation, love, or compassion, are associated with highly ordered or coherent patterns in the heart rhythms, reflecting greater synchronization between the two branches of the ANS. (excerpt from MODULATION OF DNA CONFORMATION BY HEART-FOCUSED INTENTION study - http://www.aipro.info/drive/File/224.pdf)
Our thoughts manifest themselves in our physical beings. The original yogis realized this and were interested in how to positively affect the human condition by educating their students about the mind-body connection. The body will always give us signs as to what is going on in our mind and heart. We just have to listen. A large portion of my teaching to students is this concept...listening to our bodies so we know what our mind is doing. I know this may sound very foreign! Of course we know what our mind is doing! We are receiving and reviewing thoughts all day long after all. But I am proposing that we have the capability of changing our thoughts and controlling our thoughts to a much greater extent. Rather than being a slave to our endless mind racing, we can alter our consciousness so we are no longer harassed. The idea is to slow down,to be mindful in all moments, to really live in the present. A personalized yoga practice gives us the space and opportunity to practice all of these concepts. One of the biggest complaints I hear from new students is how difficult it is to slow down - to actually practice the asanas and the breathing rather than just zipping through them. As adults, many of us have lost the ability to be in ourselves. Most people “pilot” their minds and bodies from some distant, detached portal. When their practice has them re-enter the vessel they once inhabited, it can be difficult! In my opinion, that is the first and most profound step. We are born with this vessel. We are with it always and forever until our last breath. So, living in it, treating it with love and respect and being fully present in each moment is truly beauty at work!
Studies have looked at the brain matter in people who meditate or practice mindful, pranayama based yoga. The common theme in these studies is that there is an increased amount of grey matter in the parts of the brain responsible for executive decision-making, sensory input and working memory. What does that mean? It means your fuse is longer, your reasoning is sharper and your reality is clearer when you are in a mindful, present state. In other words, the racing, out of control feeling we often associate with being “stressed” goes away. Health is a choice. Being present inside one’s mind and body is also a choice. My hope is that all who read this choose to still the changing states of the mind. Namaste.