It’s not just about posing on the mat, stretching out like a cat, and burning body fat. Yoga is a holistic pursuit of physical, mental, and spiritual evolution. We’re familiar with the physical wellbeing that comes with practising yoga. But we’re yet to open our minds to the mental wellbeing this ancient practice has to offer. There’s a reason yoga is so closely associated with spirituality–it not only brings about bodily awareness but also controls the mind. In fact, the Bhagavad Gita talks about the concept of yoga. It contains several verses wherein Krishna explains to Arjun that the practice of yoga enables an individual to maintain a healthy body, mind, and soul.
The concept of connection between the body and the mind is nothing new. In Sanskrit, the term yogi is used for both a practitioner of yoga and a practitioner of meditation. Meditation, as we know, helps take control of the mind. The root of the word yogi–yuj–means to unite. By the virtue of its own name, yoga has a deep connection with mental wellbeing, as it unites physicality and psychology. In fact, expert yoga practitioners are highly aware of this connection and often use it for their own betterment. Yogis have discovered that backward-bending postures stimulate the mind and make a person more extroverted, while inward-bending postures induce an introverted and introspective state.
Today, yoga might be popular as a physical fitness regimen. But according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, it’s more of a tool for exercising the mind. The ancient text states ‘Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.’ Translated, it means ‘Yoga is the regulation of various states of mind’. It’s not just the ancient texts that say the practice of yoga is beneficial for mental wellbeing. Recent studies have established the positive results in using yoga as a therapy for mental disorders and illnesses.
In 2005, a study was conducted on patients suffering from bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital, to test the effects of a single yoga class. It was found that the tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue levels dropped considerably after the class.
In 2013, Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) conducted a study to gauge the effectiveness of yoga as a therapeutic tool in treating patients of depression and schizophrenia. The results were positively in favour of yoga as a therapy for patients of mental illnesses.
Yoga does not treat body parts in isolation, but rather as chakras or regions. Perhaps, it’s this overall approach that helps fix imbalances in the body, mind and soul.