Yoga & Personal Development
People are overall greatly interested in personal growth. It is one of the keywords that gets searched often on the Internet, and there are many different approaches which have been created and developed to fulfil that need. Personal growth and development can happen naturally in a way, but there are things you can do to create a conscious accelerated process. Among these things, is yoga. Other ones are approaches that focus on things like self-inquiry, psychotherapy, coaching etc. These can go hand in hand with yoga too. This article addresses how yoga and personal development go hand in hand, and the role of awareness in that process.
The original aim of yoga was not about the physical body. Yoga means union in Sanskrit, and the point of it was (and ultimately still is) to create union between our being (I, spirit) and the Absolute (Spirit) on all levels. The ancient Yogis of India considered the human physical body to be the soul’s vehicle. The idea of taking good care of it came out of a motivation for wanting to keep it healthy for as long as possible in order for them to grow spiritually (while living in the body).
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the foundation of Hatha Yoga, which is presented as a path towards growth and samadhi (enlightenment). By walking the path of yoga, we increase our manifesting potential of developing on all levels of our being: physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual. This makes it a very holistic form of personal development. If you read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you will notice that only one yoga asana (posture) is mentioned, which is a meditation one. Having said this, we can connect the dots and realize asana is only an aspect of yoga, but not what it’s about at its core.
Practicing yoga makes us connect with our true selves, our true spiritual self, peeling off the layers of our ego and teaching us about parts of us we may not even have been aware of before. We notice we are getting in touch with this part when we start asking questions like “who am I really? and “what is the point of all of this?” A disconnection from this true spiritual self is part of what causes many people to internally suffer and act in disharmonious ways. Yoga practice is known to help many people who suffer from depression and anxiety. While every case is unique and complex, often depression comes from a disconnection from self, and anxiety from a lack of presence with the present moment (i.e., stressing about the past or the future). Often the first step to transformation is having awareness of something (and then being willing to do something about it if it is not serving us). You can consider all the personal developments and improvements that happen with the practice of yoga to be a byproduct of having gained a more refined sense of awareness. Body awareness is something that gets particularly refined through the practice of yoga. When we can be attuned to our bodies, it is easier to keep it healthy, because at the slightest perception of something off balance, we can address it instead of letting it be and allowing it to turn into disease. Hatha Yoga keeps your body toned, flexible and healthy, including glands which are responsible for your hormones, which are in turn responsible for your emotions and not only the way you feel but also for many crucial bodily processes! Hormonal imbalance is the cause of many diseases and practicing yoga increases hormonal balance. Also, because our posture naturally improves with yoga practice, we walk around in healthier alignment that is beneficial for the way our body functions overall and prevents injuries. Moreover, through this refined awareness we are also better able to recognize and work through our emotions, which at times can be heavy and have a negative impact on the body when left unaddressed. In the same way, the power of our thoughts is immense, and yoga helps us to also become more aware of the nature of our thoughts.
The mind can be our best friend, or our worst enemy. It is all relative. We learn in yoga that the mind is a tool, that we are not the mind. The mind is a part of us, and when we are not enslaved by its tricky ways of the ego, we can navigate through life in more constructive ways that serve both our spiritual evolution as well as the greater good. When we get to know our mind and emotions better, we begin to understand some of the driving forces behind our actions better. We can adapt our behavior for the better. The meditative aspect of yoga teaches us to still the mind. A healthy mind, just like a healthy body, requires relaxation. We all know stress is not good for you and it is considered the modern world’s #1 disease and it for a large part stems from a lack of relaxation. Yoga helps us to deal with and diminish stress in more constructive ways.
The philosophical aspect of yoga teaches us life values that help us live healthier, happier, more balanced and purposeful lives. When you look at the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (don’t restraints) we can see how they are like a wonderful interconnected formula for holistic personal development which is at the same time very much considering others in the process. It is a system that is whole and all inclusive, not a competitive ego trip (although it’s easy to fall into one of those, yoga teachers are not immune to this human characteristic). Why not practice yoga when it gifts you with so many things that make your life better by increasing mindfulness, helping you to connect with your true self and disidentify with the ego?
Let’s make a fun little list (which could definitely be made much longer!) of all the levels on which yoga cultivates your personal development. Physically, yoga increases your flexibility, muscle strength & tone, your respiration, vitality and energy. You become more athletic. It improves your circulatory health and metabolism and balances your hormone levels. Energetically, blocks are removed, you get more energy (prana = life force), you learn to explore energy and develop a refined awareness of it. Emotionally, you become more balanced as you learn to recognize and navigate through your emotions and also hormonal balance leads to emotional balance. Mentally, you become calmer, more peaceful and you gain awareness of the way your mind works. Overall, you are more relaxed, less stressful/anxious, more aware, and more connected. Spiritually, you learn to connect with your true self, and to disidentify with other ego parts of you – which are a part of the whole of your being but not WHO you are in ESSENCE (an infinite being!).
Now that we have roughly covered the ways in which yoga practice helps you to be healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally, let’s look at another aspect that yoga can bring to your life in a way that will help you in your path of personal development—the social aspect. Practising yoga can be done alone or in groups. Both have benefits. When you practice on your own, you practice time to connect with self, work on your discipline, feel your own energies and so forth. When you practice in groups, often it is in a setting of a yoga community or studio, where you meet others you can often connect with at a different level. It is an opportunity to meet like-minded people, and relate about things you may have up until that point you were all alone in. You can support each other in the sangha (spiritual community).
Is yoga suited for everybody? Yes and no. Yes, there are many different types of yoga and usually after some time of exploration people find something that suits them. No, some types of yoga are not suited for all, for example an advanced Ashtanga Yoga class might not be the best idea for someone to participate in who is recovering from severe injuries. If you are not interested in yoga, this doesn’t make you a bad person and it does not mean you are not interested in personal development. Yoga is not the only way to personally develop. However if you are here reading this, you probably are interested in yoga and you know that we as Saktiisha Yoga Academy do what we do because we believe that yoga is the best path to personal development J
Yoga is not about asana, yoga teaches how to live life with purpose. With yoga, we go from imbalance, weakness and stiffness to balance, strength, flexibility and stability. With yoga you empower yourself, learn to be patient and make wiser choices in life. Life becomes more meaningful. Yoga is something to make a lifelong practice out of. Yoga is both the means and the ends. There may be no end to personal growth, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk the path just because we don’t see its exact end point! The effort you invest in yoga is proportional to what you get out of it, like anything in life. The awesome thing about it is that nowadays there is so much yoga available, that all you need is you acting on your willingness to get started!
Excited? Check out the Saktiisha Yoga Academy trajectory you can follow under the trainings section on our website, and find there a complete path towards your personal development.
Thank you for tuning in, and until next time friends!