Theorizing Yoga as a Mindfulness Skill

Elena Tsikardoni (Yoga & Pilates teacher)

by Timothy Gordon Faculty of Social Work, Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, N2H 3W8, Canada

Abstract

Yoga and mindfulness both seek to quiet the mind and encourage practitioners to gaze within. In this essay, we’ll look at Yoga practices are examined in relation to their possible involvement in the development of mindfulness skills. A review of the literature will give you a good idea of what’s out there.

Yoga and the philosophy of mindfulness are described, as well as the reduction of negative functioning and improvement of mental health.

Physical well-being and behavioral control Yoga is thought to work as a mindfulness skill through a technique called asana.

Future directions in theoretical advancement are also considered.

1. Introduction

Mindfulness has fascinated doctors for more than two decades due to its potential applicability with mental health client demographics. Since Kabat-Zinn s (1985) The Clinical Use of Mindfulness Meditation for The Self-Regulation of Chronic Pain, mindfulness has been linked to the ability to focus attention on present experience and finding one-mindedness. Although there is a large body of literature on yoga and its healing capabilities, empirically based studies that highlight clinical research outcomes concerning the impact of yoga on mental health client populations have just lately been available. Khumar, Kaur, and Kaur’s (1993) Effectiveness of Shavasana on Depression Among University Students and Mehta and Sharma’s (2010) Yoga as a Complementary Therapy for Clinical Depression are two examples of such studies. Despite the fact that mindfulness and yoga are two separate disciplines, they have intrinsic parallels that overlap when it comes to helping the mental health client group.

The purpose of this article is to accomplish three things. The first purpose is to define and characterize yoga, principally using yogic literature and the growing body of knowledge on the subject. Many readers may be unfamiliar with the notion of yoga or may be hesitant to participate due to Western preconceptions about the now widely practiced physical activity. The second purpose is to situate mindfulness within the context of therapeutic skills training for mental health professionals, as well as to reveal the process through which yoga is theorized as a mindfulness skill. The final purpose of the research is to provide future directions in theoretical growth as well as an operational definition of yoga.

2. Origins of Yoga

Yoga is a Sanskrit term that means “to unite.” Sanskrit is mostly found in popular Indian liturgical contexts such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, where it is written and spoken in restricted numbers. The word yoga has many meanings, but it is most frequently understood to signify “union” (Chopra & Simon, 2004, p. 10). Yoking, which is the act of uniting two people or things in a close relationship, is another term for yoga. Yoga’s definition is frequently supplemented by yogic literature, which declares that the practice of yoga assists practitioners in becoming united with the divine or awakening their knowledge of self. The Yoga Sutras, written in 400 CE by Patanjali, a Sanskrit philosopher and physician, are widely regarded as the authoritative treatise on yoga (Bachman, 2011, p. 1). The Yoga S tras is notable for being primarily consisting of eloquently worded lyrics about yogic philosophy. Furthermore, only around 2% of the Yoga S tras is devoted to the generally identified physical practice (or postures) of yoga (Bachman, 2011; Birdee, et al., 2008). The Yoga Sutras is philosophically compatible with the six basic Indian philosophies, each of which is an interpretation of the Vedas, Hinduism’s ancient texts (Sharma, 1997, p. 149). Yoga is employed in the practice of several religions, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, but it does not need one to subscribe to a religion or to worship a God.

3. The Practice of Yoga

Physically, yoga is most commonly linked with Hatha Yoga, which is the most extensively practiced yoga discipline (Salmon, Lush, Jablonski and Sephton, 2009). Hatha yoga is a traditional yoga form that dates back to medieval India. It has grown from its origins and today includes a variety of postures (yoga poses) as well as deep belly breathing (Broad, 2012). Hatha Yoga is widely valued in the yoga world, with practitioners claiming that it promotes mental calmness and well-being (Stanescu, Nemery, Veriter, and Marechal, 1981, p. 1625). Hatha yoga is a gentle, sometimes restorative form of yoga that can also be rigorously practiced (Broad, 2012). Yoga is usually practiced on a mat, which is normally 182 cm long by 60 cm wide and is intended to keep participants’ hands and feet from slipping. Deep abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, which is prescribed for each action based on inhalations and exhalations, is used to accomplish a series of postures. This linking of breath to body movement is an important part of yoga practice that allows the practitioner to prepare for a meditative state (Salmon, Lush, Jablonski, and Sephton, 2009; Stanescu, Nemery, Veriter, and Marechal, 1981; Salmon, Lush, Jablonski, and Sephton, 2009; Stanescu, Nemery, Veriter, and Marechal, 1981).

4. Yoga in Clinical Research

Since 2005, there has been a surge in interest in using clinical research to verify the health advantages of yoga. Although it is beyond the scope of this work to investigate the scientific literature on this topic in depth, there are several detailed reviews of clinical studies available. Yoga was found to help with anxiety, sadness, sleep issues (including total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep quality), low back pain, headaches, hypertension, and stress, according to one study (Field, 2011). Other analyses, such as Raub’s (2002) Hatha Yoga literature review, Khalsa’s (2004) bibliometric analysis, and Innes and Vincent’s (2006) systematic review, all provide valuable insight into the numerous recent research studying yoga’s efficacy.

5. Clinical Application of Mindfulness

The incorporation of mindfulness into contemporary psychology frequently includes Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (Bishop, et al., 2004). Mindfulness has been implemented successfully into dialectical behavior therapy (Linehan, 1993), a treatment for borderline personality disorder, suicidal behavior, and self-harming behavior. It teaches clients mindfulness practices as a way to improve their affect tolerance. Although dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has its roots in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a different model of mindfulness for cognitive therapy practices. This mixed-methods intervention, which combines mindfulness and cognitive therapy, assists those who have been diagnosed with serious depression, as evidenced by a lower relapse rate (Teasdale et al., 2000). In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Hayes and Feldman (2004) employ mindfulness to help with emotion control and psychological suffering (ACT). The majority of work in mindfulness skill practices, as specified by the above counselling paradigms, necessitates attention to the present moment or current experience (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Bishop and colleagues (2004) agreed on sustained attention as an operationalized definition of mindfulness, in which participants control the focus of their thoughts or attention. Yoga is disregarded in existing mindfulness literature, according to Salmon, Lush, Jablonski, and Sephton (2009) in their large literature assessment, Yoga and Mindfulness: Clinical Aspects of an Ancient Mind/Body Practice.

6. Theorizing Yoga as a Mindfulness Skill

Sat Bir Khalsa (Broad, 2012), a yoga practitioner, described yoga as a form of awareness (p. 102). When comparing Bishop, et al(2004) .’s operationalized definition of mindfulness to the basic philosophy of yoga and its practices of mind-quieting, it’s possible to conclude that the two are closely related, and that yoga and mindfulness skills or exercises can be employed interchangeably.

Meditation and deep attention are used in mindfulness skills to elicit the quieting of the mind by bringing awareness to the present moment (Bishop, et al., 2004; Brown and Ryan, 2003; Hanh, 1976). Yogic philosophy, on the other hand, describes a three-stage approach for achieving mental calm. A yoga practitioner, like a mindfulness practitioner, concentrates their attention in the first stage (Bachman 2011).  A yoga practitioner turns their attention inwards on themselves in the second stage (Bachman, 2011). This is defined as an awareness of what actually happens to us and is us at successive moments of perception through mindfulness (Thera, 1972, p. 5). Full participation (Bachman, 2011, p. 236) is the third stage of yoga, which is similar to mindfulness’ absorption or profound mental involvement (Marcel, 2003). The concentration of such attention is another significant similarity between mindfulness and yoga. Non-judgment is a fundamental of mindfulness practice, according to Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2002). Non-judgment is based on the ability of the practitioner to recognize their thoughts, feelings, and sensations without concentrating on them and allowing them to pass. Yoga, on the other hand, encourages constant focus and resolves distracting thoughts that could divert the yoga practitioner’s attention away from the breath.

Allowing the thoughts to pass, the practitioner would then return their attention to their concentration, the breath (Bachman, 2011). Breathing is another similarity between the two disciplines. It is fundamental to both mindfulness and yoga practices as outlined by Salmon, Lush, Jablonski and Sephton (2009). Kabat-Zinn (1990) defined mindfulness techniques as “mindfulness meditation” in which the practitioner’s primary focus is breathing. While yoga encourages meditation through breathing, it also incorporates movement.

The core of yoga is the synchronization of breath and movement, a technique that yoga practitioners use in a similar way to mindfulness. Yoga uses purposeful movement to focus the practitioner’s attention to their breathing. According to yoga scriptures, the desired objective is the ability to focus or to employ physical movement to quiet the mind.

7. Conclusion

Yoga could be a useful supplement for physicians who already practice mindfulness. Theorizing yoga as a mindfulness skill may show to be a more engrossing activity for client populations who participate in mindfulness’s breathing and watching but do not feel captivated by standard mindfulness skills or exercises. The incorporation of yoga into such clinician mindfulness training could be a viable alternative to the currently popularized practices. Yoga’s movement combined with breathing could give participants a sense of being active, allowing them to more easily divert their attention away from their thoughts. This concept of calming the mind through physical exertion is similar to how yoga techniques were explained earlier in this text. Clinicians could use this new mindfulness skill to make mindfulness’s advantages more accessible to their patients. However, there are some challenges in introducing yoga to clinicians for direct practice; there are many different yoga disciplines, and more research is needed to fully conceptualize the use of yoga in future directions of mindfulness practice and informing a yoga practice that is appropriate for direct practice.

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