Can yoga change your life? Ask any yoga teacher or person who has a dedicated practice and you’ll hear a resounding ‘yes’.
So what is it about yoga that makes it life changing? Sure it’s nice to have a new hobby and maybe get a bit obsessed with your new hobby, but it seems yoga’s ability to transform lives is what’s so intriguing and differentiates it from other pursuits.
The transformational power of yoga
The transformation I’m talking about is well beyond any physical changes you may notice such as increased strength, flexibilty or weight loss. It also extends beyond improved sleep and reduced anxiety. It seems yoga permeates not just our body but it works its way into our soul. So the question must be asked, ‘how can yoga create happiness and is happiness the ultimate benefit of yoga’?
What we tend to forget when we’re busting out our Warrior 2s is that yoga is a holistic system for body, mind and spirit. It is often referred to as the ‘science of the soul’. The science of yoga is one of self-study and observation of the natural phenomenon that is our self. The experiments are undertaken on the mat and the hypotheses are tested in our day to day life.
Mind, body and spirit
The system of yoga is one that unifies mind, body and spirit and each of the eight limbs of yoga are designed to work on a particular one of these aspects. One of the foundations or tenets of yoga are the Niyamas, a code of ethics and behaviours toward oneself. A key Niyama is the concept of Tapas.
Tapas is heat, energy, light and power. Tapas is like the fire created when two sticks are rubbed together. Tapas is created in our yoga practice when something ignites in us, when we feel our inner fire start to burn. Tapas is derived from the God of Fire, Agni and has the power to transform. Tapas has the ability to take physical energy and transmute it into something more spiritual and sublime. Tapas is also cultivating discipline, self control and restraint. It is about claiming our inner power and not wasting our energies.
Tapas has the ability to burn our samskaras, our negative patterns of behaviour and habits. When tapas ignites in us, it has the power to melt and dissolve our ego and limiting beliefs. This is where the alchemy of yoga takes place, where the ordinary becomes precious, even divine.
Through the physical yoga poses (asanas) we can dissolve negative energy when we build heat, sweat and cook our body in the fire of tapas. Once the body has been prepared, we can turn our attention to our mind. Fanning the flames of tapas through commitment, discipline and self-control will lead to greater energy and more control over the fluctuation of the mind.
Stilling the mind
The end goal of yoga is to ‘still the movements of the mind’. When the mind is still and we become present we can achieve peace of mind and happiness. This is what the yogis wrote 2500 years ago. It just so happens that Harvard University Psychologists have also proven that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind and that humans are happiest when they are present.
“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”
So can yoga make you happy? Well, there are two types of yoga. The first type is when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing, your body, mind and breath are one and you’re stoking your inner fire. The other type is making shapes, without mental discipline and with a complete disconnect between mind and body. These people will look identical, only you will know which type you are by how you feel.
At Cultivate Calm Yoga we want your yoga experience to be holistic, fulfilling and transformational. Feel free to share your experience with us.