May 11, 2015 Union Yoga

Metamorphosis: How to Reach Peace of Mind through Yoga

Metamorphosis, NOUN 
(in an insect or amphibian) the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.

The Bhagavad-Gita implies that one can reach peace of the mind, the body and the soul by practicing yoga. In the 700-verse Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, such freedom is celebrated throughout the text in a memorable exchange between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna about Spiritual enlightenment. I want to explore how one might reach peace of mind through yoga from the perspective of my own journey.

When I first started practicing yoga about 13 years ago, I was intrigued by the promise to reach peace of mind. For years I struggled with stress, anxiety, depression and low mood. There was no peace of mind. In fact, it was the opposite of peace. Noise. And it was noise that wasn’t serving me.

There are various ways that I attempted to treat my noisy symptoms—I saw doctors and therapists, and I took medication. I studied neuroscience and worked in a psych hospital. It wasn’t until I stepped into my very first yoga class that I began to understand the significant affects that yoga has on the mind and, therefore, the body.

I would call what happened over the following few years a metamorphosis of cognition and behavior. The biggest thing for me was that with each class, I focused on my breath. Slowly, I began to treat my symptoms—the things that were causing me the greatest suffering in my life—with yoga.

It didn’t happen over night.  When we look at the definition of the word metamorphosis, it means marked by a change in appearance, character, condition, or function overtime; a transformation.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) work as a pair to help us respond to and cope with daily life. The PNS is the “rest and digest” system. The SNS is the “fight or flight” mechanism in your body. For many people, daily life brings a whole host of stresses that activate the SNS. This could be anything from sudden loud noises, bright or flashing lights, and crying babies to negative and frustrating thoughts, to-do lists, long lines, and traffic.

It may be helpful to think of the PNS and the SNS as a seesaw; when one goes up, the other one goes down.

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is generally very high with people who experience a lot of stress and anxiety. By practicing yoga, we are able to find a state of “rest and digest” more easily.

If you perceive many things in your life as stressful, your SNS is constantly activated as a result. If not addressed, these daily experiences will tend to create an imbalance in your body. This was happening to me.

The restorative powers of the PNS work to bring balance to the body. Fortunately, my yoga practice activated my PNS, which ultimately strengthened its circuitry and brought balance to the seesaw. It brought balance to my life.

Many yoga practice styles include gentle breath-based sequences and diaphragmatic breathing which all activates the PNS. Parasympathetic activation is the base state of our bodies, brains and minds. PNS activation reduces blood pressure and slows the heart and breathing rates after a stressful event. This is the science behind why yoga feels so good.

“The mind is restless and difficult to restrain, but it is subdued by practice.” The Bhagavad-Gita

With the metamorphosis from practicing yoga, I am now aware of and respond differently to stress-inducing thoughts and experiences. I’ve noticed over the years that yoga not only helps strengthen my PNS, it reduces my body’s tendency to activate the SNS. Since I am in a practice of reducing my stress levels through yoga, I am managing my levels of cortisol. I can clearly see these as two distinctive states.

Begin and add to your metamorphosis journey. Check out the Union Yoga schedule online for all the class and workshop offerings. And we will see you on the mat!

Nkechi Njaka