Of course yoga can help us to feel as if we’ve grown in the physical sense. certain yoga poses will stretch the body and help straighten and realign the spine, which corrects our posture. We can root down through the feet and broaden the chest, giving us a feeling of being one or two inches taller!
But as we already know, Yoga is much more than just a physical practice with a physical outcome.
So I’m not really talking about growth in the physical sense here.
I’m talking about personal growth. The mental, emotional, and perhaps spiritual kind. This growth might even be tangible for you, as you take a look around to see how far you’ve come, or maybe what it is you need to do next in order to grow just that little bit more.
Personal growth and self help are big concerns for us modern humans, and no doubt rising all the time. We have a stress and anxiety epidemic on our hands, and most of us are continuously looking for ways to cope with life a little better, and live in a more peaceful, contented way.
Yoga is one of those things that can open up a space for self-reflection, understanding and healing, therefore paving the way for personal development and growth.
The ancient yogic texts were all about spiritual growth, not about being able to stand on our hands! Thus, there are many ways that Yoga leads to personal growth.
Each time we set an intention for our practice, the idea is that it enables us to grow in some way.
Here are a few examples:
1) Yoga for Connection to the Self:
Yoga gets us to strip back the layers of our being, taking off the multiple masks we wear, to reveal and observe parts of ourselves that perhaps we’ve been hiding from . When we can see the parts we were not even aware of, we can decide if we want to keep them or change them.
This fosters a knowledge of who we truly are, which promotes better self-esteem, and enables us to grow and live in alignment with our true self.
2) Yoga for Awareness of the Body:
The practice of Asana (postures) and Pranayama (breath work) provides us with the ability to develop a strong awareness of our body, how it feels, and what it needs.
As we become more conscious of when something doesn’t feel right for us during our practice, we improve our posture, and become more deeply in-tune with our bodies.
From here we are able to better respond to its needs, recognising the signals it gives us about our physical and emotional wellbeing.
We can then make decisions based on this information, enabling further growth.
3) Yoga for Regulating Emotions:
Our emotions have a powerful impact on how the body feels. When we feel stressed, angry, upset, or happy and excited, these emotions can be felt sensations in the body.
They also guide most of our actions.
Our yoga practice gives us a space to recognise our emotions for what they are, allowing us to choose how we are going to respond to them.
Understanding how we can respond in a more positive or effective way towards our emotions is fundamental to personal growth.
4) Yoga for Awareness of Thoughts:
We have roughly 60,000 thoughts racing through our minds on an average day. Most of these go unnoticed by the conscious mind, but are all absorbed by the subconscious.
Our thoughts go on to create our emotions.
If a thought you have every day is ‘I’m not good enough’, even if you aren’t aware of it, it is going to impact how you feel about yourself.
Through practicing stillness and reflection, we can bring those thoughts to our conscious awareness. Here they can be processed healthily, and transformed into something more helpful to facilitate positive growth.
5) Yoga for Awareness of Behaviour
Much of our behaviour is based on programming in the subconscious mind, and conditioning from society. Yoga helps us to bring to light and examine how we behave towards ourselves and others, inviting us to look at ways we can live more in line with our values.
When we are living more in line with our values, we are able to grow and flourish in more successful ways.
6) Yoga for Stillness in the Mind:
It is so easy to get overwhelmed with the endless stimulation the world presents us with today. The ancient Yogis mission for spiritual growth, experiencing Ultimate Reality, and moving towards Self-realisation, was achieved through “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha” - the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. Imagine what they would have to say about a world in which people are logging on to the world wide web before they have even got out of bed!
The mind need stillness and rest to be healthy. Constant stimulation is not good for us. In a world where depression and stress are prevalent, it is more important than ever that we learn to still the mind and be present in the moment.
The stilling of the mind gives us more clarity, which helps us realise what it is we need to grow!
7) Yoga for Connection to the Spiritual Self:
While I am not a religious person, I do believe that much of our unhappiness (and maybe one of the reasons for all those personal development books) is that we have lost our connection to our spiritual Self.
We are not connected to our soul, and to ‘The Divine’ (whatever you interpret that to be – I call it ‘the Universe’).
This is the ultimate goal of yoga in its purest form. Yoga means to yolk, or bind - to bring together in alignment our bodies, minds, and souls. We spend so much time in our heads in our modern world, that we have forgotten how to live as One with nature and the cosmos.
Whilst our Yoga practice doesn’t require any religious beliefs, nor will it upset your faith if you do have one, it will connect you deeper to the part of you that is spirit, and deepen your faith if you have one.
When we feel more connected in this way, we can grow more organically by working with the pulse of everything that surrounds us.
8) Yoga for Stress Management:
When we feel less stressed and overwhelmed, the physiological response in the body is a lower heart rate, slower breathing, and a sense of calm. Here, we are in the parasympathetic nervous system, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system.
Being in the parasympathetic nervous system means that we can think, feel and behave more rationally. We can make decisions that come more from our intuition or gut instinct as we are able to listen more intently to our heart’s desires, as opposed to coming from a place of fear that the sympathetic nervous system puts us in.
Unfortunately, a lot of us spend most of our time in the stressed out, sympathetic nervous system. But luckily, the practices and concepts of Yoga offer a range of strategies to help to release this stress and tension. This can be short term to help you manage a specific situation, and longer term to reduce your overall stress levels and bring your nervous system into balance.
When we are less stressed, personal growth comes much more easily to us.
9) Yoga for Resilience:
The stress management strategies and practices through Yoga will also increase our resilience to stress and upset so that we will be able to weather the storms of life.
Resilience is not about wandering through life without any problems or not allowing anything to affect you, but it gives you the strength to get through it.
Each time we come out of a difficult situation, we find that we have grown in some way, through the lessons we have learnt along the way.
10) Yoga for Acceptance and Contentment:
Buddha says our suffering comes from going through life grasping at or clinging to what we think will gratify us, and avoiding what we dislike.
This attachment will only lead to disappointment when we inevitably find ourselves in a situation or circumstance that is not what we want.
Our yoga practice helps us to start from a place of acceptance - of where we are right now, and accept that life has led us to this particular point in time.
We can then look for the lessons we have learnt along the way, and examine the choices that we made to see if they worked or not (there’s never any way of knowing for sure, until we do it!).
That’s the magic of life - we have a choice! Whilst our personal growth might be restricted by financial, cultural or social restraints, ultimately, we do have the capacity to make the changes we deem necessary to grow in the way we desire.
Happy Growing Yogis!