Mental Health & Yoga

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity”. More recently, mental health has been defined as “a state of balance between the individual and the surrounding world, a state of harmony between oneself and others, coexistence between the realities of the self and that of other people and that of the environment”.

We have achieved great advances in terms of science and technology which has made our lifestyle more convenient in the last century. All these had led us to be more competitive and productive, at the same time is laying significant stress and pressure on our lifestyles. These changes in our lifestyles has led to incredible increase in the incidence of mental disorders like anxiety neurosis, depression, schizophrenia, phobic disorders, multiple personality disorders, sleep disorders, eating disorders, addictions and several others.

Today, mental health has become more relevant than ever. Yoga is an ancient Indian science which offers a balanced solution. Yoga not only addresses the problems of our body, but also the mind.
According to yoga philosophy, every human being has three qualities. They are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is the quality of faith, honesty, self-control, modesty and truthfulness. Rajas is the quality of passion and agitation, love and hate, fear and desire. Tamas is the quality of dullness, inertia, heaviness, emotional clinging and stagnation. No human being is devoid of these three qualities, each one of the qualities would predominate at different times. Whenever there is an imbalance in these qualities, it leads us to disharmony.

Yogic techniques which include asanas, pranayamas, meditation, kriyas (cleansing techniques), and mudras is of great help to tackle and control these imbalances when applied appropriately.

According to Patanjali’s Asthanga yoga, there are eight limbs in yoga. They are

  •  Yama – These are principles of social behavior. They are nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), mastery over sexual energy (brahmacharya), non-stealing (asteya) and non-clinging (anabhinivesha). These establish right interaction with our environment and other human beings.
  • Niyama – These are principles of personal behavior. They are contentment (santosha), purity (shaucha), self-study (svadhyaya), self-discipline (tapas), and surrender to God.
  • Asanas –Asanas are physical postures where in one experiences stability and comfort defined as “Sthiram sukham aasanam”.
  • Pranayamas – The science of breathing. Literally means “Mastery of breath”. They help to regulate our breath – prana (life force).
  • Pratyahara – Generally translated as “Withdrawal of senses”. It is gaining mastery of senses organs. Prathyahara techniques involve using our senses with attention rather than distraction.
  • Dharana – It is nothing but “Mastery of the mind”, directing towards right attention. It involves concentration on particular objects.
  •  Dhyana – This is meditation. Prathyahara and dharana are the preparatory practices for dhyana. Dhyana is actually a state of awareness rather than a process. All the previous steps aim to reach this state of mind from gross to subtle.
  •  Samadhi – This is a state of absorption. It is the capacity to become one with the object of our perception.

The above practices when done regularly with proper guidance helps us to achieve a state of balance in all three gunas namely sattva, rajas and tamas. This in turn would bring in mental health.

EFFECTS OF YOGIC PRACTICES

  1. Yamas and Niyamas help us to bring in discipline into our lives. This would help us to overcome all kinds of negative emotions like anger, frustration, jealously, hatred etc.
  2.  Asanas which are of different kinds namely forward bending asanas, backward bending asanas, spinal twisting asanas, inverted asanas, balancing asanas, meditative asanas, relaxation asanas done in different positions (Sitting, Standing, Prone and Supine). These practices help us to achieve muscular flexibility, relieve stress and tension, calm the nerves, regulate metabolism which would help to counteract depression, anxiety neurosis, eating disorders, and mood disorders.
  3. Pranayamas are breathing techniques which include several varieties, some of which are alternate nostril breathing (Nadishuddhi pranayama), right nostril breathing (Suryanadi pranayama), left nostril breathing (Chandranadi pranayama), folded tongue breathing (Seethali pranayama), beak breathing (Seethakari pranayama), bellow breathing (Bhastrika pranayama), sounds breathing (Bramari pranayama) etc. These practices helps us to regulate breathing, deepens our breath and its awareness, counteracts stress and tension, awakens the mind, improves the alertness of and calms the mind. These practices help to handle anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, schizophrenia.
  4. Prathyahara methods consists of gaining mastery over the sense organs by practicing relaxation techniques which puts our motor organs to rest which indirectly reduces the overload on our senses. This could be achieved by progressive muscular relaxation, autosuggestions, and biofeedback mechanisms.
  5. . Dharana and Dhyana which are nothing but concentration and meditation aim at managing the mind.

All the above mentioned practices will help us to achieve deeper knowledge about ourselves, identify our weaknesses and to overcome. It also helps to know our potential and gives us the hope about the situation and counteract effectively.

Dr H K Gurudatta, BNYS.

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