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Three Yoga Philosophies to Adopt for Better Mental Health

by Sierra Vandervort 2 months ago in mental health

Instead of continuing to feed a victim mentality - I suddenly believed that I had the power to change my own life. And that was the start of a whole new world.

After I got dumped, I turned to yoga.

What started as a life raft of “something to do” quickly turned my entire life around. But it wasn’t the fancy poses or the endorphin highs of my yoga asana practice that saved me. It was the philosophies, the beating heart of the yoga practice, that helped me heal. Though the ripple effects of my yoga practice are still growing - these are three lessons from yoga philosophy that have drastically changed my life for the better.

Yoga Philosophy Basics

Writing a section called “yoga philosophy basics” almost feels sacra religious - as there’s hardly anything basic about it. But for the sake of context & brevity - we’ll do our best here. While the yoga practice is deeply rooted in Hindu culture and tradition, it’s not exclusive to the Hindu religion. In fact, now that the practice has evolved for thousands of years there are dozens of different styles and faces of yoga. But through it all there’s one permeating belief that’s iconic in Eastern spirituality - that divinity is innate in every being, and through that divinity, we are all connected.

For someone who was raised in a traditionally Christian household, this was a surprising and empowering idea. Instead of asking a disembodied male figurehead for guidance and salvation, I was instead invited to look within myself. It could be likened to the “Holy Spirit” idea if we’re still running with the God thing, but I prefer to refer to it as the Shakti.

Shakti is the creative force that flows through everything in every moment. It’s feminine in nature - more points to Eastern philosophy for recognizing the divine feminine - and is often conceptualized as a great goddess. There are plenty of necessary male energies & gods in this philosophical narrative also, but we’ll touch more on that duality in a moment. What really drew me into this world of yoga philosophy was this - suddenly I had the power. Instead of continuing to feed a victim mentality - I suddenly believed that I had the power to change my own life. And that was the start of a whole new world.

Book Recommendations

If yoga philosophy is something you’re interested in learning more about, I’d recommend looking into the Yamas and the Niyamas. If yoga had a set of “Ten Commandments,” these would be it. They’re beyond the scope of this article, but they will give you a good look at some of the more granular aspects of yoga philosophy. I recommend Deborah Adele’s book The Yamas and the Niyamas. It’s an easy read with practical exercises and a week-by-week application of the principles.

If you’re more interested in looking deep into the history and the true soul of yoga, then get a copy of The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. There are different translations available depending on your interest levels, but the Sutras are pertinent to the study of yoga philosophy.

Three Yoga Philosophies for Better Mental Health

When I first started coming to my mat religiously, I was in a wildly different space mentally and emotionally. Thinking about those early days, I realize there were a few prominent lessons that I learned from my practice. I’m hoping they can give you some peace of mind as well.

Meet Yourself Where You Are

This is a succinct and beautiful way to encapsulate the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is irrevocable from yoga. It could not exist without it. What I like about this phrase is its versatility. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can always meet yourself where you are. So, what does that even mean? It means you’re not resisting or challenging your current reality. It means yours not rehashing the past or worrying about the future - you’re meeting yourself in the moment that’s right in front of you. On the yoga mat, I offer this phrase to my students to remind them not to push their bodies for a pre-conceived pose of perfection. Instead of straining for what they think they should be doing, or maybe even what they’ve been able to do in the past, they’re not present with where they are in that moment.

Out in the wild, this really comes into play when we’re dealing with shitty situations. What happens when your 6 a.m. flight has been delayed for the fourth time in a row and you just want to go home? It’s undoubtedly a stressful situation, and this practice isn’t about sweeping everything away with a placid chant of “good vibes only.” Instead, meet yourself where you are. If you feel frustrated, allow yourself to feel that way but don’t breed resentment and anger for the situation, because it’s impossible for the situation to be anything other than what it is.

The more you strengthen this practice within yourself, suddenly the less likely you are to get frustrated in the first place. You gradually realize that no matter what’s happening *out there”, you are ok.

Honor the Duality in Everything

This one-dimensional reality we’ve fabricated really sucks sometimes. We’re taught that we always have to be productive and we always have to be progressing. Even in the wellness space, many have fallen to the sunny smiles and floral aesthetic of the “good vibes only” tribe. But none of that is natural - not in the universe and certainly not within ourselves.

Remember Shakti, our goddess of life & creation? She has a cohort - and his name is Shiva. Shiva is the destroyer. Shiva clears away delusion and chains so that Shakti has space to create. You cannot have one without the other. This is echoed in all cycles of the universe, through the phases of the moon and the changing of the seasons.

But somehow we still believe that we’re above it all and exist to be these terminally productive beings. In order to be our best selves and keep ourselves happy and sustainable, we have to prioritize both rest and productivity.

In our yoga practice - we aim for effort and ease in every position. It’s a balance of integrity and softness. We’re always doing our best work, but we’re being mindful of our energy and our bodies while doing it.

Community is Vital

In Buddhism, there are three sanctuaries or “treasures” for a seeker - the Buddha (our divine nature), the Dharma (the teachings), and the sangha, (the community.) You may have noticed this if you find it much easier to focus when attending a yoga class in a studio rather than practicing at home. Having a community of like-minded people helps you to feel seen, understood, and inspired. In traditional ashrams, it’s not a solitary monk who meditates and studies all day. It’s a community of people working together to take care of their space and each other as they’re growing together.

Perhaps you’ve been a total do-it-yourself-er like me for most of my life. It’s empowering, and there are many lessons to be learned while taking care of your own. But at some point, you have to open up to others.

Oftentimes, when we feel called to create a change in our lives our success is connected to those around us. If you're inspired to stop drinking but all your friends are still bingeing every time you hang out, you’re much more likely to cave & reject your resolution in the end. It’s not to say that you can’t do things differently than your friends, but having support and solidarity in a group that shares your values is so crucial to your success.

This has been so transformational for me, enough that it urged me to create my own membership community of women invested in their spirituality & wellness who want to learn more & grow together. If you find it hard to make new friends or you feel uninspired by your current surroundings, online communities like this could be a great place to start.

Application Practices

If you’re ready to start applying some yoga philosophy to your everyday life try some of these application practices.

The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, close your eyes and take three deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Challenge yourself to meet yourself where you are, and see if you can’t soften yourself around the situation.

  • When you’re working, see if you can prioritize both effort and ease
  • When you’re at your computer, let your shoulders relax and soften your jaw.
  • Allow yourself time to unwind (away from screens!) at the end of your day.
  • Prioritize Rest!
  • Start looking for community events that interest you, and put yourself out there by going!
  • If you follow people online who you admire and who are interested in the same things as you, reach out to them and strike up a conversation!
  • If you’re really ready to dive in, look into online wellness communities like the Mystic Member’s Club.

mental health

Sierra Vandervort

Hey, I'm Sierra!

I'm a yoga teacher, writer and music lover living in New Orleans.

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Sierra Vandervort
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