by: Margaret Berger, LCSW, RYT
In the last twenty years yoga has become very very popular in the US as a form of exercise, for the most part. Exercise is great. It keeps our muscles toned, helps us release tension and control many of the symptoms of aging like high blood pressure, slowing metabolism and loss of flexibility, to name a few. Even though exercise is a key component to maintaining the health of our body and mind, the classical practice of Hatha yoga offers a rather extensive science of managing body, mind and spirit in a way that is often not expanded upon in your average yoga class. Most people are exposed to the a practice of yoga postures called “asanas”, which means postures or to take a seat. We move through a guided sequence of asanas and rest at the end to calm the central nervous system. The rest at the end being one of the most difficult postures as we are confronted with the ramblings of our constantly moving and planning mind. The depth of the yoga science and the benefits of studying all 8 limbs of the yoga path are often given cursory focus. In other words most western yoga focuses only on ⅛ of the yogic path.
Exploring the other limbs of yoga (Yamas-the disciplines, Niyamas-restraints, breath control-pranayama, sense withdrawal-pratyahara, concentration-dharana, meditation-dhyana, ecstasy-samadhi, will lead to a place that has far reaching benefits for your mental health as well. Within the tradition of Hatha yoga exists the philosophy and practices of Tantra, (which means to weave together many elements to create a life of fulfillment). Hatha Tantric practices use breathwork and guided practices as well as asana to help break deeply ingrained patterns of thinking which create obstacles to our fulfillment of our own personal potential and desires. Using mantra (sounds which may or may not have meaning) can help shift our very busy minds to a calmer and more centered state where we can discern the difference between busy negative thoughts and perceive a clear inner voice which rises above all the negative chatter. Balm for mental and physical health yoga has layers to explore. Contemporary clinical research proves that yoga asana and meditation can heal many forms of trauma, including symptoms of PTSD, Anxiety, Panic and Depression. Seek a teacher that has ventured on the path and find the richness of the yoga.