As more and more doctors are recommending yoga for a variety of health conditions, the physically therapeutic benefits have become indisputable. However, Yoga can also be approached from a spiritual rather than physical standpoint, addressing holistic needs in mind and soul as well as body.
Through the spiritual approach, the entire science of yoga as written about in the Yoga Sutras is employed, not just the physically restorative postures. All practices undertaken, from postures to pranayama to meditation, are for the purpose of liberating consciousness from the limited identification of self as strictly human, to a more expansive one of the Divine Self having a human experience. It is natural to connect first through the physical body, as it is the vehicle we operate on a daily basis. And certainly if we have an injury or suffer from chronic pain, the body must be addressed. Similar to physical therapy, yoga movements can significantly decrease pain and suffering, and help one regain vital energy and at the same time that we are doing so, we can begin to change our perception from being the body to being in the body.
Once the body’s demands have been reached, yoga’s mental practices help us deal with internal struggles such as emotional change, loss, indecision and anxiety. Correlating to a branch of psychology called psycho-neuroimmunology, that studies the interaction between the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, we see how the body reflects our internal state of thought and feeling. The application of yogic techniques to affect specific changes in vital functions of the body’s organs and systems allows us to shift from unconscious response to a chosen response in tense circumstances. For example, if we experience anxiety or panic attacks, we can utilize balancing breath exercises (Pranayama) to reset the nervous system’s fight or flight response and gain a more mental equilibrium.
Physical issues are often symptomatic of underlying beliefs or emotions trying to get our attention as well. It is said that our ‘biography becomes our biology.’ From small discomforts to chronic pain, the body calls us to awakening, to look inward to feelings from the past that keep us from full capacity living in the present. Our physical and mental aspects are inseparable, so to be holistic Yoga Therapy must address both.
When the body’s natural wisdom is accessed, emotional release occurs and healing begins at a deeper level than just the physical. Combining postures with talk therapy as emotions are released helps to both rejuvenate the body and relieve the heart. Soon we feel more ease and joy, and understand that we are more than just physical beings.
According to the Yoga Sutras, the final aspect of Yoga Therapy is the true point of it all – The exploration of our spiritual nature. Classical sacred texts from many traditions acknowledge that human beings have a Divine energy within. The Yoga Sutras declare it is because of our ignorance of this truth that most of our problems in life occur. Eastern forms of medicine such as acupuncture and ayerveda attribute illness to the energy blockage that occurs when we live in this state of un-knowing.
By promoting the flow of vital life force energy, yoga eliminates blockages, restoring one’s natural physical and mental health. After this, the tools to gain awareness of our spiritual essence can be employed. We become acquainted with the Spirit within and engage change at a more profound level. We start to recognize how our consciousness connects to Universal Consciousness and how we can actually live our spiritual lives within our material bodies.
The spiritual approach to Yoga does not ignore the physical. It layers the techniques that promote calmness and stability in the body, with introspection and meditation that lead to transcendence in the mind and soul, promoting integration and freedom
Written by Jennie Lee for the Yoga Times