I have written before that the point of yoga is to calm the mind. Yoga practitioners are perfectly aware that the mind likes to run and run and run until we might feel a little tired of ourselves. In yoga, we call that sensation the monkey mind.
What non-yoga practitioners might not know is that we can intentionally calm the monkey mind with a few tricks of the trade. Well over 2,000 years ago, Patanjali pointed out these tricks in the Yoga Sutras.
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. Or, that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.” Yoga Sutras 1:33-34
“OK, great, so what does that mean?”, you might be thinking. Well, it means two things. First, Patanjali stated that by feeling lovingly toward those who posses positive characteristics, and by feeling indifference toward those who act in a negative manner, the mind can remain calm. Essentially, Patanjali was proclaiming to be solid in your own mind and your own thoughts, instead of letting other people’s negative actions affect you. Revere those who act positively and disregard those who do not.
Second, Patanjali claimed that the mind can be calmed by the control of the breath. In yoga, this is called Pranayama. The physical practice of yoga connects the body to the mind using the breath. We also intentionally slow down our inhales and our exhales to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the physiological system responsible for resting and digesting.
In our society, we constantly live under a great deal of stress. Stress, as we are all aware, is not good for the body or the mind. Living under pressure stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which is called the fight or flight response. When the fight or flight response is continuously triggered, it affects our ability to properly digest our food, it causes shallow, rapid breaths, and it over taxes our glandular system by stimulating too many stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Furthermore, we are constantly on guard, looking for the enemy, preparing to fight. Ever notice that when someone is stressed that they can be testy? This is why! Their body is a pressure cooker of stress hormones.
We are actively able to stimulate relaxation by slowing down the breath. When I see people who are stressed out, the first thing I tell them to do is to take a few slow deep breaths. Deep breathing slows down the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, and it calms the mind to allow us to think more clearly.
So, when you notice yourself feeling stressed out at work, in traffic, or in an argument, try taking a few moments to collect your thoughts. Try calming the mind and the body with a few long, deep, slow breaths.
When you see someone happy, feel a sense of friendliness towards them. When you run into someone who is unhappy, compassion is a healthy response. Expressing delight in a virtuous person will allow you to feel joyous, and disregarding a wicked person allow the mind to feel undisturbed.
You have the power to control your perceptions of reality. You can react to people, or you can act lovingly toward the good and disregard the bad. You can allow stress to control you, or you can control stress. How will you choose to live today?
With calm, loving breath,