Yoga dates back 5,000 years. It evolved in India as a practice to achieve self-understanding, personal freedom, and an end to the suffering that comes with life. It was designed to join, or “Yoke” mind-body-and-God as one. For this purpose the Yogi/Yogin engages in training the body and mind to attain unity with both.
These lofty spiritual goals of Yoga would surprise the casual Yoga practitioner attending the typical Yoga class at the Health Club. In its modern manifestation Yoga has become a way to get physically fit, learn to relax, improve your balance, improve posture, and other aesthetic benefits. In this article we will not discuss these aesthetic benefits, we will instead focus on 2 mental-spiritual Yoga practices that are connected with our work in psychotherapy: the development of mindfulness, and the development of acceptance.
Mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of yourself in the present moment —where you are and what you are doing— in order to experience life fully. When your attention is in the present, you escape the regrets of the past, and the fears of the future. When you are engaged —fully— in the experience that you are in, e.g. really tasting the sandwich that you are eating, fully feeling the touch of your partner…
When a person is not in touch with their experience and their desires, they fall into an internal state of void that usually gets filled with adopting another’s experiences and desires in order to find direction in life. This “dependency” on others for direction results in anxiety, depression, and “chemical dependency”—commonly known as drug addiction. Increasing mindfulness can put you in touch with true desires, restore self-direction, and put an end to the anxiety and fear depending on others for direction and validation.
Acceptance is the ability to accept whatever is happening in the present moment —in spite of your fantasies and desires to be somewhere else— or be doing something else. People who lack the capacity for acceptance are cursed with dissatisfaction and future regret. In psychology we use the term “hedonistic habituation” to refer to a constant state of dissatisfaction that sets a person up to live in constant anxiety, and envy. As an example consider the typical process that follows buying the car of our dreams. The first few days, and even weeks, we are filled with joy, satisfaction, and feelings of pride and accomplishment. Then, by the time that the “new car smell” wears off, the car has become our normal, everyday car, and we begin to eye cars —at the higher price range— that we now want. You can substitute the car in this example for anything in your life— your partner, your house, your clothes— and the process will be the same. As a result, we live unsatisfied lives, only appreciating the things that we have after we lose them. Instead—through the practice of acceptance—we can enjoy these same things when we have them, and enjoy them to the fullest before they are gone.
You may have noticed that these 2 goals are connected. That mastering acceptance arises out of mindfulness e.g. by living mindful of our present we can clearly see our reality, and accepting our reality—and the people and things in it—we can value their worth. Then we can enjoy them while we have them, and not have to regret not having done so when they pass.
Mindfulness and Acceptance have been principles pointing the way to human happiness since antiquity. Their development have been at the core of spiritual, philosophical, and psychological practices from thousands of years ago to our present. Yoga is one of those ancient systems, available to you today. It serves our clients as an excellent practice to enhance their change into a new way of experiencing themselves and their lives. I hope that it may serve you in your journey.