If you go to Amazon and key in ‘personal development’ into the search bar, you get over 100,000 entries. That’s right, there are so many books, DVDs, audios and more that Amazon don’t even give you the exact number, why would you need it?
Personal development and self help are big concerns for 21st Century humans, and no doubt rising every day. Now, the reasons why this is the case would make for an interesting blog post in themselves, but I’m not going to do that right now (note to self – maybe another time, it would be an interesting idea to research!).
What I am going to write about is how Yoga is so much more than a way to get a flexible, toned body, and is a powerful path to personal growth.
The purpose of Yoga
Yoga was never intended to be about the body. The ancient Yogis of India who devised the system of living that is Yoga saw the body as merely a vehicle for the soul. They took care of the body because they wanted to keep it alive for as long as possible in order to achieve the spiritual growth they were seeking.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali only mentions one posture, and that is the seated posture required for meditation. The elaborate postures that we think of today as Yoga are not what is set out in the Yoga texts. While modern humans probably need a lot of those postures to counteract the sedentary lifestyle that most of us lead (by the standards of the ancients, or even many people in other parts of the world, pretty much everyone in the West is sedentary, even those of us who are pretty active!)
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which are the foundation of Hatha Yoga, sets out Yoga as a path to enlightenment and growth. Through following the path he describes for us, we can achieve tremendous personal, emotional and spiritual growth and development.
Growth and development through Yoga
There are many ways that Yoga leads us to personal growth. Here I am going to list out 10 of the most valuable.
Connection to self
Yoga practices help you to take off the mask you wear in daily life, the one that stops you seeing your true self. We wear masks all the time, we are constantly hiding parts of ourselves from others and ourselves, and, conversely, often revealing parts of ourselves without knowing it. Yoga helps us to see the parts we are not aware of, so that we can decide if we want to keep them or change them. It also helps to promote better self esteem.
Awareness of body
Through regular practice of Asana (postures) and Pranayama (breath control) you develop a strong awareness of your body, how it feels, and what it needs. Your posture will improve and you will become more conscious of moments when you are in an uncomfortable position As you become more in tune with your body, you will find that you are able to better respond to its need, recognising the signals it gives you about your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Awareness of emotions
The emotions have a powerful impact on how the body feels (think of how you feel when you are stressed, angry, upset, or feel desire, happiness, excitement, you feel it in your body don’t you?) They also guide most of our actions. When we can recognise our emotions for what they are, we can choose how we are going to respond to them.
Awareness of thoughts
It is said that we have roughly 60,000 thoughts racing through our minds on an average day. Most of these are unheard by the conscious mind, but all absorbed by the subconscious, and go on to create our emotions. If a thought you have every day is ‘I’m not good enough’, even if you aren’t aware of it, it is going to impact how you feel about yourself. Through stillness and self study you can bring those thoughts to your conscious awareness and process them healthily, and transform them into something more helpful.
Awareness of behaviour
Much of our behaviour is based on programming in the subconscious mind, and conditioning from society. Yoga helps us, through the Yamas and Niyamas, to examine how we behave to ourselves and to others, and invites is to look at ways we can live more in line with our values
Stillness in the mind
It is so easy to get overwhelmed with the endless stimulation the world presents us today. If the ancients thought they needed stillness in the mind, imagine what they would have to say about a world in which people are connecting to the world wide web before they have even got out of bed! The mind needs stillness and rest to be healthy. Constant stimulation is not good for us. In a world where depression and stress are leading the cause of death’ top 10, it is more important than ever that we learn to still the mind and be present in the moment.
Connection to spiritual Self
While I am not a religious person, I do truly believe that much of our unhappiness (and maybe one of the reasons for all those personal development books) is that we have lost our connection to our spiritual Self. I know that for me, gaining a language to talk about my spirituality through Yoga helped me in my own recovery, and helped to fill the yawning chasm left when I lost my faith in God as a child, a gap I filled with sex, drugs and rock n roll (and, ironically, thanks to rock n roll, I found it again!) The prime purpose of Yoga at its truest form is to connect us to the Spiritual Self that we are, to connect us to the soul, and to ‘The Divine’ (whatever you interpret that to be – I am still trying to work out what it is to me).
Yoga doesn’t require any religious beliefs, nor will it upset your faith if you do have one, it will connect you deeper to the part of you that is spirit, and deepen your faith if you have one.
Stress management strategies
The practices and concepts of Yoga offer a range of strategies to help to release stress and tension, both on the short term to help you manage a specific situation, and in the longer term to reduce your stress levels and bring your nervous system into balance. I have a whole category on this blog dedicated to stress so I will refer you here if you want to know more
These stress management strategies and practices will increase your resilience to stress and upset so that you will be able to weather the storms of life. Resilience is not about not having any problems, yoga doesn’t give you a ‘get out of jail’ card to excuse you from a difficult life, but it gives you the strength to get through it, and to learn the lessons that each difficulty in life presents us with.
Acceptance and contentment
Part of the reason we are unhappy is that we wish that life was different. While there may be things we can change about the situation we find ourselves in, and if that is the case, we should do it, we have to start from a place of acceptance of where we are right now, to accept that life has led us to this particular point in time, to look for the lessons and the ‘never doing that again’s and be grateful for what we have at this particular point. It might be that the only positive we can see is that we are still breathing and ‘where there is life there is hope’, and that is fine, that is a marvellous thing to be grateful for!
Are you looking for powerful personal growth and transformation?
The 30 Day Practice Makes Progress challenge from Beginners Yoga Club is a gentle way to ease yourself into a daily yoga practice. Over the 30 days you will be guided and supported to develop a simple 15 minute practice which will enable you to see the profound impact that Yoga can have in your life. The challenge starts on July 16, and you can join any time after that. To join me, register below to get access to the videos, printable workbook and private Facebook group that will be your tools for the challenge