Yoga of the Heart: Self-Reflection for Emotional Health

Yoga of the Heart: Self-Reflection

art of self-relectionBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

The ancient practice of self-reflection is traditionally used during a Yoga asana session to help uncover the divinity that lies at the center of the heart. There are many different ways to practice self-reflection, and spiritual traditions throughout the world practice self-reflection in a variety of different ways. Ultimately the goal of most self-reflection exercises is to let go of negative beliefs and thoughts that are not serving one’s own highest good or the good of the world.

In terms of Yoga practice, the internal process of self-reflection that leads to a visceral awareness of the essential divinity that lies within our own beings is similar to the process of peeling back layers of an onion. Many of our thoughts and beliefs are based on fundamental assumptions about ourselves and the world at large. These thoughts and beliefs are typically generated by our own life experiences and the effect that people have had on us through the years.

When we turn our attention inward and practice reflecting on our own beliefs and thoughts during a Yoga asana session, it is much easier to identify the thoughts and beliefs that are limiting and dim our own light. When the light of the heart is covered up by the darkness of ignorance of our own essential nature, our possibilities in the world also become limited. The Sanskrit term for the bundle of beliefs, thoughts, actions, and experiences that underlie our perception of ourselves and the world at large are called “samskaras.”

By utilizing a system of self-reflective questions during a Yoga asana practice, limiting samskaras can be uprooted and replaced with more positive beliefs. By incorporating the internal exercises of self-reflection into a Yoga practice, the effects of the physical practice of the Yoga asanas will become even more profound and transformational. One method of incorporating the awareness of self-reflection into a Yoga practice is to pose a series of questions to yourself when painful emotions, images or thoughts arise during the practice of certain Yoga asanas.

For example, it is not uncommon for “undigested” or unintegrated experiences to arise during the practice of heart opening or hip-opening Yoga postures. When this happens, allow the thought or image to arise in your field of consciousness, and then try to apply the following method of self-reflection to help dispel erroneous and inaccurate beliefs about yourself and/or the world around you.

 A Four Part Self-Reflection Exercise

Steps 1 & 2: This four-step process is based on Byron Katie’s work. She is a woman who hit rock bottom, and pulled herself out of a deep psychological abyss through this self-reflection process. When an upsetting, negative or disturbing thought arises during your Yoga practice, the first question to ask yourself is: “Is this thought true?” Many of our negative thoughts may not actually even be true! For instance, the thought that you may not be making any progress in your Yoga practice may not be accurate at all! The second step is to judge if you can know absolutely for sure that it is, in fact, true.

Step 3: As you begin the process of the internal evaluation of your thoughts and beliefs, the next step in the process is to ask yourself how you react when you believe this thought. I love this step! How often do we subscribe to dimming thoughts or beliefs without even objectively evaluating their veracity, let alone the effect those dimming beliefs or thoughts have on us? So, if you follow the example of believing that you are not making any headway in your Yoga practice, how does that thought make you feel? Do you feel frustrated and demoralized, or inspired and enthusiastic?

Step 4: If you do feel demoralized and frustrated by the thought that you are not improving in your Yoga practice, pause for a moment and consider how would you feel without that thought. What if you practiced the literary flexibility of suspending disbelief and entertained a more uplifting thought, such as: “I show up diligently everyday to practice Yoga and my body is becoming stronger and healthier as a result.”

Do you feel more energized, positive and enthusiastic with that thought? Which thought is more likely to lead to an increased sense of optimism and well-being? When you become aware of the thoughts that are pulling you down through this self-reflective process, you will have the choice to substitute negative thoughts and beliefs with life-affirming thoughts that will uplift and inspire you and also the people around you.

© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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