How Yoga Brings Inner Peace

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Asana for Ease of Mind

The path toward inner stillness begins with asana work (yoga postures).  Asanas help us reconnect with our body and start to quiet verbal chatter. They supply just the right combination of physical engagement and internal feedback to hold our attention. When our energies are collected and focused on posture work, the intensity of mental distractions is naturally diminished.

Postures create a subtle shift in the mind. No longer drawn from thought to thought by an unfocused chain of associations, asana sessions replace noisy thinking with the relatively silent work of stretching, strengthening, lengthening, aligning, and integrating. Like a musician completely absorbed in the sound of his music, asana work focuses the mind thoroughly, so that other levels of experience do not intrude.

Reconnecting the Body and Breath

The quieting influence of asana work is deepened when postures are linked to breathing. Lift your arms to the side and then overhead. You will probably find yourself inhaling. Bend forward even a little and most likely you’ll exhale. These and many other movements naturally coordinate with breathing. When awareness of breathing and movement are combined, distracting thoughts become less intrusive.

Breath awareness transcends awareness of the body alone. It acts like a thread that runs through every phase of posture work, quieting the nervous system and mind.

The process of observing the breath makes us aware of the subtle differences between involuntary breathing, voluntary breathing, and non-voluntary breathing. Involuntary breathing is breathing that is generally out of our awareness. It flows automatically. Voluntary breathing is the result of conscious control. We use it to speak, to hold the breath, or to whistle. Breathing impacted by pain, emotion, and stress is sometimes called non-voluntary breathing. Simple examples include the forced breathing resulting from anger and the tense breathing often caused by stress.

Breath work leads the nervous system and mind toward silence. Fortunately, the deep effects of stress and emotional reactivity on breathing can be quieted. When you encounter stress in your breathing you can modify it—restoring calm, even breathing. In other words, you can reduce sensations of anxiety and pain by breathing deeply and smoothly. This is how breath work leads the nervous system and mind toward silence.

Transcending the Body

When you are performing postures, your efforts to coordinate body and breath contribute to a natural refinement of your mental focus and a deepening of inner quietude. During periods of relaxation and meditation, breath awareness transcends body work altogether. Metabolism slows and physical demands are minimized. Then, awareness of the body becomes transparent (the body barely intrudes our awareness at all), and the mind is filled almost exclusively with sensations of breathing. It is then that you will learn the art of effortless breathing.

Breathing flows involuntarily most of the time. But by becoming aware of the breath, shaping it, and then returning it to a relaxed and effortless flow, you can become the calm witness of your breath. This helps to quiet your mind even further.

During relaxation and meditation, outer distractions and physical discomforts are greatly diminished. The mind’s quiet is disrupted instead by memories, wants, wishes, and cravings arising from within. A steady, relaxed breath makes it possible to reduce the energy we give to these forces—and to remain less reactive in their presence.

Adapted from an informative longer article from Yoga International: 
5 Simple Yoga Practices to Bring You Lasting Peace of Mind By Rolf Sovik