What have ethics in yoga got to do with mental health?

What have ethics in yoga got to do with mental health?

“Authentic yoga has always had its focus on the high ideal of mental health and spiritual realisations….The foundation of all genuine yoga practice, like any other spiritual discipline in the world, lies in the realm of moral behaviour.” (Georg Feuerstein, 2007, Yoga Morality)

In the previous post for Mental Health Week I shared a guided relaxation. When it comes to mental health, relaxation is one of the most commonly recognised benefits of yoga. The other is of course physical activity. (Finding Yoga has been invited by St John of God Murdoch to run a yoga clinic for Mental Health Week. The theme is that being active is good for your mental health.)

Lesser known, but perhaps more powerful for helping us understand our place in the world, are yoga’s ethical teachings. And in case you think “ethical teachings” and “morality” are a bit daggy, they do appear as conversation starters in hip modern places like philosopher Alain de Botton’s The School of Life and in social enterprises started by The Thought Collective in Singapore.

Yoga Teacher Trainer Donna Farhi might frame the question as “Is my yoga practice really making a difference?”

From the Yamas and the Niyamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which describe how we should be with ourselves and others, to Karma Yoga, which invites us to participate in actions that are true and just, this integral component to our yoga practice opens us up to a conversation about what it means, simply, to be a good human being.

My asana practice (yoga postures) have made me fit and strong. Relaxation has made me calmer, meditation has focussed my mind. And now?

I see time and time again that when people come to yoga for (say) pain, they need more than “less pain” as their deeper motivation for the practice to be effective. They have to be open to engaging in a conversation with themselves about what is meaningful to them. That is, a clarity about how they want to live.

Without that inquiry, the pain – and with it, the anxiety of being alive – return.

With that inquiry into who they are and how they wish to be, their practice and they way they use their body aligns with the way they feel the world can be. That is an immensely healthy place to be.

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