When I first started practicing yoga, I thought it would help me lose weight and become a little more flexible. As I delved deeper into the practice, I saw that those were quite superficial aims and yoga offered much deeper and profound benefits. In this paper, I will focus on emotional balance. I will take a brief look at what yoga is, describe some helpful asanas, pranayama and meditation techniques, and then finish with a touch on nutrition.
What is yoga?
Yoga is derived from the sanskrit word for “union”. While in the West, it is mostly thought of as an exercise or series of stretches that promote a healthy, flexible body, it’s original aim was to unite our physical and mental bodies to the divine consciousness. The asanas in yoga are primarily meant to prepare our body for meditation so that we can have a chance to reach enlightenment and samadhi. On the way to spiritual evolution, however, yoga can have many physical, mental, and emotional benefits. I will focus mainly on how yoga can help us build emotional balance and a distance between us and the problems we think we have.
Yoga has helped me immensely on a personal level, especially in emotional matters. When I first tried yoga, I didn’t think it was for me. Then I tried a different style and fell in love. My favorite style is Ashtanga because of the level of relaxation that can be achieved after the practice. It is a physically demanding flow and matching the breath to the body movements is meditative. You don’t have time to think about your worries and stress. It is a relief from our exhausting mental gymnastics and judgements. Laying down for savasana at the end of class, I found that my body could achieve a deep level of relaxation and relief. That was certainly addictive. And it was so nice to have found a tool to help with overwhelming stress, which is all too common in the West.
Our minds are so busy that the chance to “shut off” and concentrate during yoga, especially Ashtanga, can help us find a way of reaching more emotional freedom. Next, I will explain some especially useful asanas for someone who would like more emotional balance.
Eka Pada Pranamasana (Tree Pose)
In this standing pose, you should place the sole of one foot on the inside thigh of the opposite leg. The standing leg should be straight and strong, with muscles activated. The heel should be placed close to the perineum. However, beginners can place their sole on the calf muscle or ankle if needed, but definitely not the knee.
Hands are in prayer pose and drishti is straight ahead or on the third eye. When balance is achieved, you can raise your hands over your head and gaze up. For an added challenge, you can close your eyes.
This pose is great to strengthen the legs and helps with physical balance. This takes a certain amount of concentration. Learning how to better concentrate to balance our body can affect our mental and emotional state. When our body is balanced, it is easier for our mind and emotions to become balanced
Shashankasana (Child’s Pose)
In this seated pose, you sit on your heels with your knees either together or apart. Inhaling, stretch the arms up and then, exhaling, bend forward so that your abdomen is on your thighs and your forehead and arms are stretched out on the ground. Eyes are closed.
This pose is excellent for the spine as it separates the vertebrae, which can help with backache that results from squeezed discs. It stretches and strengthens the back. It also helps regulate the functioning of the adrenal glands.
This pose should be avoided by people with very high blood pressure or a slipped disc. Emotionally, this pose is excellent for surrender and release. It encourages us to have the humble mind of a child and to let go of our worries. If we are overwhelmed, this is a great comfort pose and it is not too difficult, as well. This promotes emotional balance by helping us realize that some problems just need to be let go and hopefully, we can get some peace of mind as a result.
The Ashtanga Primary Series
This isn’t exactly an asana but instead a series of asanas. I am including this because of my personal experience with Ashtanga and the effect I have felt as a result of my practice.
Ashtanga is a fixed series of asanas that flow in a sequence in conjunction with the breath. The sequence starts with 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A then 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar B followed by standing postures, seated postures, inversions, core, and a cool down with Savasana.
In my experience, the quick flow of the sequence connected to the breath puts me into a meditative state. There is no time to worry about my daily stress. The difficult physical aspect of the sequence also affects the relaxation at the end and makes it a lot deeper than other forms of yoga. This practice can be another tool in our toolbox to reach a meditative and highly relaxed state which assists in our quest for emotional balance.
Along with asanas, pranayama and meditation can also help with emotional balance. For example, if you feel like you need to settle down a bit, you can practice Ujjayi Pranayam (Psychic Breath) which will have the affect of making you go deeper inside yourself. To practice this, sit quietly with eyes closed and back straight. On the inhale, partially close your glottis in your throat and make a sighing sound. You can exhale normally. Continue for a few minutes or as long as is comfortable. This will help you feel centered and calm and is good for extroverted people.
On the other hand, Singh Garjana (Lion Roaring) is a good pranayama practice for introverted people. This will bring energy and confidence when needed. To practice this, sit on your heels with big toes touching and heels apart. Knees are in front of you and you should place your hands on the floor between your knees with palms flat on floor. Fingers should be pointing back toward you, elbows are straight. Take a big inhale and on the exhale, let out a loud roar while sticking out your tongue and rolling eyes from the ceiling to the floor. Repeat a few times as is comfortable.
These 2 practices are examples of how you can take your mental and emotional state into your own hands and make changes as needed.
When our minds are too cluttered with worries, regrets, judgements and the million other things that it concerns itself with, this can also throw us off balance. We learned a short meditation/visualisation technique that can help with this.
Sit with back straight in a comfortable seated position. Imagine that there are greyish fumes coming off of your back and floating down and away by your tailbone. As thoughts come up, send them back and away to float with the vapours. Imagine your body being cleared of all the impressions, pains, thoughts, etc, that are clogging it up and continue sending that greyness and dirtiness back and away. Continue for 5-10 minutes as needed. This practice can deepen over time. This is a useful tool to feel more on top of things emotionally and to help clear our minds. As a result, life can be easier to deal with which leads to more balance.
Nutrition and Ayurveda
Along with asanas, pranayama, and meditation, nutrition is also extremely important to our emotional balance and well-being.
According to ayurveda, we should eat more sattvic foods in order to feel better and more peaceful. Sattvic foods include grains and food that is grown above the ground, like a lot of fruit. We should also eat fresh seasonal foods so that our bodies are aligned with nature. For example, if we eat imported watermelon during the winter, our bodies could get too cold and we could get sick. Living as closely as we can to nature, avoiding processed and too much tamas or rajas food, is the best way. The importance of nutrition to our emotional balance can’t be overstated. When our diet is out of balance, we can be on an emotional rollercoaster, with spikes and crashes. Moderation is key.
For me, emotional balance is one of the biggest benefits that I have experienced through yoga practice. But it is not just asanas we should focus on, but our breath, our mind, our diet working all together to give us a healthy and balanced life full of energy and vitality. When we have that balance, pursuing spiritual enlightenment becomes a much easier path.