If you’ve practiced yoga for a while, you may have begun to notice how yoga affects the emotional brain. By yoga, I don’t mean just the physical postures, but the whole practice. As one my teachers used to say often, we are always practicing yoga.
The Emotional Brain and Yoga
There are different ways to define yoga, but most of the definitions are about connection in some way. Yoga means “union,” and its purpose is to connect. As yogis, we connect in many ways. We connect to a higher power and to each other. We also practice connecting mind to heart. That is, we learn how to tune into our emotional brain.
In fact, as yogis, we need to focus on connecting mind and heart before we can connect to another person, being or higher power.
Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, explained this in a book he wrote at age 94. In the book, “Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga,” Iyengar takes an in-depth look at Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in a way only Mr. Iyengar could do.
If you’ve practiced yoga for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of the 196 yoga sutras that form the basis of yoga philosophy. The first few sutras prepare students to quiet the mind. In this context, yoga is defined as chitta vritti nirodha, a Sanskrit phrase that means the restraint of mental chatter.
Why do we want to restrain mental chatter? The answer, I think, is so our hearts will come through.
Yoga is Divine Union
By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge, and the known become one. ~B.K.S. Iyengar
The goal of yoga is union with God. You can substitute union with the divine, spiritual union, connection to a higher power, or some other phrase for union with God if you like. The label is not important.
No matter how you name your higher power, the first step in uniting with that power is to quiet the mind. But that alone won’t be enough. To tap into an energy greater than you, you’ll also need to open your heart.
Yoga stills the mind and opens the heart. Once that happens, says Iyengar and other yoga masters, you begin to act from a place of knowing.
“The knower, the knowledge and the known become one,” Patanjali says.
This intuitive place, I think, is the realm of the emotional brain.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians pray, “Thy will be done.” When we connect to the divine through our yoga practice, we begin to understand more clearly how to be in tune with God’s will.
The Emotional Brain and Yoga
Many years ago, long before I knew why I was practicing yoga, I had a conversation with a doctor who suspected some symptoms I was having might be due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. He asked me questions like, “Are you dating? How is your job? Are you sleeping well?”
I was frustrated because no matter what answers I gave—whether they were the answers he was looking for (the job is great, I have a new boyfriend, and I sleep like a baby) or not (I hate my job, I stay home watching TV every night, and I haven’t slept in a week)—they were not the right questions.
Though I accepted something physical or mental was going on, I believed the true cause of my distress was spiritual disconnection.
I told the doctor I had more important questions to answer. He asked what I meant, though it was clear he didn’t like my response. I told him I was more interested in finding union with God.
Not surprisingly, my doctor had no treatment to offer.
Yoga is Spiritual Connection
Eventually, I found treatment. I found yoga, and I learned that connecting mind and heart, connecting heart and spirit, letting go of fear, and living as a divine being are all more powerful than drugs or trying to “think” my way beyond troubles. To create this connection, I had to open to my emotional brain, which is much more adept than my thoughts at gauging how healthy my spirit is.
I’m not saying there’s no place for medication or thinking, but there’s something deeper, and that something is a connection that I believe happens outside of the mind and body.
In short, my yoga practice keeps me sane (or at least saner than I’d be without it). For me, the best way to overcome symptoms like despair and emptiness is to continually practice the connection that is yoga.
Would you like to explore more yoga topics in depth—perhaps with a group of yoga friends? Get your copy of Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community off the Mat. You’ll find lots of topics and activities for living the yoga lifestyle and enjoying time with like-minded yogis! Click here to order!
Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!