By Dr. Rita Khanna
To live in peace and harmony, without being thrown out of balance by the ups and downs of life is really not so hard and yet not so easy though it is the aim of every living being. From a Yogic perspective this means to live life fully, to flow with life and to accept whatever life brings, rather than fighting against life and the circumstances that we live in. Yoga, as an age-old system, has always been a practical science of living which teaches us the tools for a balanced, harmonious life. It is a system which explains the functioning of the human mind and the various levels of consciousness with the aim of unfolding the dormant potential in everyone. It offers practical ways of mastering the mind and evolving the consciousness from the gross to the subtle or super consciousness.
Yoga psychology is the oldest and broadest body of knowledge about human psychology. It is as valid today as it was 5,000 years ago, encompassing self-management as well as the management of relationships, and dealing with all issues of life so that one may live harmoniously. How can we manage ourselves? How can we overcome conflict, and have peaceful and co-operative relationships with others? How can Yoga help? Before trying to answer these questions, we first examine the Yogic understanding of human nature. The true nature of every human being is love and joy (ananda). But due to pain and suffering the individual forgets about his/her true nature and feels an emptiness inside. Because there is no peace, no harmony, no stability inside, we search these outside- in people, drugs, media, consumerism, power, money. A child expresses love and feelings freely in a natural way because he is yet to be exposed to the world.
THE VALUE OF YOGA
Regular practice of Yoga over an extended period of time can help us to get in touch with our inner core. For example, the physical postures (asanas) harmonize the body and balance the nervous system. The breathing practices (pranayama) calm and balance body and mind. The relaxation practices (yoga nidra) release tensions at various levels of the body and mind and lead to an inner sense of harmony. Other practices such as selfless service (karma yoga), truthful self enquiry (swadhyaya), seeking the company of the wise or reading inspiring books (satsang), doing good and developing compassion (seva), chanting sacred sounds (mantra), singing devotional songs (kirtan) and having an intensity of purpose (sankalpa) are to open the protective shield that hides our true nature.
DEMONSTRATION OF YOGA PSYCHOLOGY AND MODERN PSYCHOTHERAPY
It is interesting to note that some schools of modern psychology have a worldview and a view of personality development quite compatible with the Yogic perspective.
To become master of oneself – in the sense of disciplining the mind including one’s thoughts, actions and speech – is an ideal aspired for by schools of philosophy and spiritual traditions alike. As the saying goes, “The journey across the world starts with one step.” So the first step is to practice mastery of oneself in daily life. This can be a complete practice in itself and lead to perfection. Self-management relates to the ability to deal with one’s emotions, to cope with conflict, pain (physical/psychological), illness, losses/separations, to manage one’s needs, desires, ambitions, to fully do one’s allotted duties with a stable mind and a strong and healthy body.
Awareness is the key:
Awareness is a key principle underlying all Yogic practices and the key to unlocking the door to our true nature. Awareness is also the foundation for managing one’s emotions and relationships, for achieving excellence in one’s work and activities, and for acceptance of oneself – for any skilful action. The practice of awareness during the day is an important practice in itself (and an essential part of Karma Yoga). You may find that practicing awareness during the day has multiple benefits, such as: heightened concentration, a relaxed and focused mind, gaining control over one’s actions, changing from being driven to setting one’s own pace and choosing the most appropriate action.
Practicing awareness during the day:
Take ‘time out’ at regular intervals or whenever certain signals occur such as when the telephone rings, before meals, walking up the stairs, washing your hands, looking at your watch, or whenever you remember. Witnessing the breath and breathing rhythm, the surroundings (sounds, colours, smells), witnessing one’s thoughts and feelings – and becoming aware of how you automatically slow down by being aware.
The management of emotions:
To be able to handle one’s emotions is the foundation of inner and outer harmony. Witnessing emotions as they arise, and ‘embracing’ the emotions with awareness and an attitude of acceptance and kindness, will help to transform unwholesome emotions e.g outbursts of anger into wholesome emotions e.g compassion. If anger arises, witness the fact that anger has arisen and embrace your anger like a loving mother embraces her little child. If you feel depressed, notice that there is depression and witness the feelings with compassion and understanding. It is very important not to criticize, blame or condemn yourself for unwanted feelings, but rather to witness the emotions arising with compassion and understanding.
Remember that feelings, emotions – and thoughts for that matter – usually come without being asked for. Often, they take us by surprise. With regular practice of awareness, it will become easier to remain stable in any situation that arises and to regain clarity of mind. This gives you the freedom to act as you wish and not as you feel compelled by your emotions and compulsive thoughts. It is important to distinguish between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. The key is to bring ’Head, Heart and Hands’ into harmony.
Attitudes of kindness, understanding and fearlessness:
As beginners in Yoga, we often only realize what happened (witness) after we have shattered the porcelain – when things have got out of hand. This gives you the opportunity to practice patience with yourself. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the same chance that a child is given when learning to walk. The child that is learning to keep balance while walking on two feet will stumble and fall many times – and we would not chastise the child for every fall.
The only cure for the ‘wounds’ of the past is the attitude of acceptance and kindness. Suppression, on the other hand, or fighting against the emotions makes sure that they will express themselves at a later time with additional force. Deep inside each of us is a little child sitting in a corner and crying. And no one is there to take care of it. I am the child who suffers and I am the one who takes care of that little child. In addition to kindness and understanding, the ‘fearless attitude of a hero is required, in order to become master of one’s emotions.
Breathing and the management of emotions:
There is a close connection between breathing patterns and emotions. With some experience in breathing techniques we can influence our emoti