Restraining the Mind Through Ashtanga Yoga Practice

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Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a very dynamic style of asana practice. These fixed sequences of postures have four main areas of attention: Movement, Breath, Bandhas (energetic locks), and Drishti (gazing point).

Along with these, there are Eight Limbs (of Ashtanga Yoga) that we must follow in order to deepen our practice, which involves realizing our old, negative habits and patterns and making way for more positive ones in line with our new physical, mental, and spiritual needs. These 8 Limbs are: Yamas (ethical observation), Niyamas (self-observation), Asana (physical posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (enlightenment).

When the eight limbs are properly applyed and understood you will be able to understand how the mind works. Our minds are always wandering. It moves constantly between the past and the future, rarely staying in the present moment – this is what Patanjali describes as “fluctuations of the mind.” And the main goal or idea of this holistic Ashtanga practice is to restrain these fluctuations.

In order to understand how to restrain the mind, we need to first understand who the mind works. The diagram below will help give you an idea about the mind process:

How the mind works

As you can see, the mind first needs to receive some information from the senses in order for it to start working. Our senses are constantly open to the external world, and to shut them down is almost impossible; however, directing our awareness to certain ingredients (of the Eight Limbs) of the Ashtanga Yoga practice will help you become more aware of all the information that are constantly passing through the senses. Eventually, with practice, you will start to notice when the mind is trying to move away from selected areas of attention.

We have five physical senses: ears (hearing), eyes (sight), nose (smell), skin (touch), and tongue (taste). It is through our eyes and ears that we receive most of our information from our surroundings. While the other senses play an important role, they are more active when under certiain types of stimulation – for example, how your tongue receieves more information when you are having a meal, or how your skin will send you more information according to how hot or cold you may feel because of the temperature around you, and so on.

During our yoga practice, we can be aware of the information that passes through our ears by listening to the sound of our own breath. During the asana practice, mindful breathing will help keep your ears attentive to the subtle sound of the breath, and the sensations that the breathing cycle produces will keep your mind focused.

As we have mentioned, the eyes are another very important organ through which we percieve the outside world. In the asana practice, by keeping the eyes focused in prescribed places in specific postures (Drishti), you will recognize the wandering actions of the mind.

By focusing your eyes and ears in these subtle ingredients of the practice you will be able to cultivate the fith and sixth limbs of Ashtanga Yoga – Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and Dharana (concentration). Keeping your gaze in prescribed places when you hold a posture or when flowing from one posture to the next in synchrony with the breath will shift your focus from the outer world to the internal world where the real transformation can take place

Using this elements while you practice will help you to cultivate:
1. Concentration
2. Awareness
3. Creates better body alignment
4. Reconect with your body
5. Restrains your physical senses, lessening stimulation from your surroundings that are distractions to the practice
6. Avoid injuries
7. By directing your gaze to specfic palces you will have better balance for inversions, arm balances, and standing postures. Proper breathing will help you to feel more stable and focus in the moment whe you practice
8. Bring energy back into your body
9. Guides us to being more still and present and in the moment (both on and off the mat)

With these two vital ingredients – breathing and Drishti – you can restrain the space where the mind can move around. This will allow you to clearly observe the patterns and tendencies of your mind – that is one of the most pricelss things you can get through a constant and commited mindful yoga practice. Apply these in your yoga practice, and feel all the benefits it can give you!

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