So many aspects of our human system’s mental health are innately tied into how our brain functions. We have learned over the past few decades that there are few hard-and-fast “emotional” vs “logical” divisions in our brain. Our “heart” and “mind” are in fact one. Even more than that, our entire body is an integrated whole. The way in which we breathe impacts our adrenaline levels. The foods we feed to our digestive microbiome impact the way in which we react to stressful situations.
We are, each of us, comprised of one complex, cohesive system.
Yoga helps us find a baseline for all that we do. Yoga coordinates our breathing, our motion, and our digestive system to then impact every other step we take. Our breaths can become even and slow, which draws our body out of its fight-or-flight reaction. Our microbiomes can become soothed and relaxed, encouraging them to fully digest and process the nutrients we ingest.
Progress comes step by step.
We might even consider something like “pain” to be a constant. Surely if group A is forced to encounter a painful experience their reactions will be exactly the same as group B. However, study after study finds that the intersection of a person and pain is highly subjective. How we handle pain relates to how much sleep we get, how many other stressors we are juggling, and numerous other facts. Even perhaps more importantly, if we can reduce the pain levels we feel, that then impacts how much sleep we can get and how much wear-and-tear we experience. That then influences how we begin the next day, and indeed how much our life deteriorates after that point.
We can either cascade into despair or we can build strength. The actual input of “pain” matters little in this scenario. What matters is our reaction to it. Our ability to move forward.
The better we can deal with the challenge, the more fully we can live our life.
Yoga and Brain Changes
It used to be that we viewed the brain as set in stone. Carved in granite. When the brain emerged from the toddler state, it was unchangeable. Hopeless. Determined.
We now know far better than that. We realize the brain hasn’t even finished growing until its late twenties. There’s a reason teenagers often make poor decisions. Their brains simply aren’t finished forming yet. Sure, teenagers think that they are wholly set in the world. But objectively, they aren’t even close. Just as a toddler who tells you, “I need chocolate ice cream for dinner” isn’t necessarily speaking from a position of full understanding.
Yoga helps us to come to terms with our ongoing progress in the path of life. None of us have quite reached the end of our path. We are still negotiating the travails along the way. We need to navigate those twists and turns. We need to become comfortable with the thought that we do not yet know everything. We do not yet have a lock on where we are meant to be.
There is still a distance ahead of us.
Yoga and Anxiety
Our world often seems inundated with stress. People in cities denigrate those in rural areas. People of one religion bash on others. Political parties routinely crash up against each other. How can any person navigate a path clear of stress?
A key part of what yoga teaches us is that this, too, shall pass. The political issues we find so critical are mirrored neatly in issues faced by our world a few decades ago. The religious conflicts could pale compared with what our ancestors faced a number of centuries ago. It can be easy to forget what people in the past endured. It can seem simple to assume we should have “moved past” these issues.
And yet, somehow, they continue to rear up their heads.
Yoga helps us to come to terms with how our individual stone impacts the river of life. How our position in the world impacts those who are around us. Anxiety often comes from an impression that we can change others. That we can affect the flow of that river. Peace comes from releasing that concern. Serenity comes with realizing that the world will continue to do what it will do around us. We are not all-powerful. We do not maintain absolute control over all things in the universe. There are many things which will simply do what they will do, no matter what our own personal desires.
We need to acknowledge that. We need to understand that.
Yes, we can do the very best we can in areas over which we have influence. But to exert our stress and concern in areas over which we have zero effect makes little sense. There is more than enough for us to do, with our limited hours of a day, in areas where we do have an impact. To waste our energy and time on tasks where we can have no impact at all seems wasteful. It is mis-spent energy.
Evaluate. Consider. Plan.
Then implement a path where your time is spent in a way which best serves your goals. Choose tasks where you have some influence. Choose activities which lift you toward your dreams.
Make that progress, moment by moment, day by day.
Bring your satisfaction and serenity into a more complete state with every passing day. Find a way to celebrate those steps and to keep yourself moving toward along your chosen path.