By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
What is the connection between Yoga and positive psychology? Positive psychology is a relatively new field in the study of the internal dynamics of human consciousness. It is a psychological field of study that emphasizes how and why our lives go right, instead of what goes wrong. Incorporating an understanding of positive psychology into teaching and practicing Yoga will support you in the process of creating a life filled with meaning, purpose, and joyful celebration. Positive psychology does not deny the negative; it simply helps you to focus in equal measure on what does work for you and why. A positive psychology mentor (whether this person is a counselor, personal mentor, or a Yoga teacher), will help to nurture the talents and innate intelligence of each of his or her students. The awareness of what makes you and/or your students happy, and thrive, will support you in cultivating a deeper and more permeating sense of well-being, on all levels.
Becoming mindfully aware of the present moment, without anxiety or expectation, is one of the hallmark ways for an individual to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and even chronic pain “on and off the mat.” Mindfulness is an ancient spiritual practice that has been integrated into the techniques of Yoga and positive psychology. Mindfulness meditation practices are found in many traditions and philosophies. The goal of mindfulness is simply to be in the present moment. The challenge of mindfulness is to be truly present, without attaching a story to the simplicity of the moment at hand. In Yoga practice, mindfulness helps both the teacher and the student to be fully present in “what is,” instead of ” what should be.” This allows the practice of Yoga to be fluid, respectful and non-violent, as it nurtures well-being in the practitioner.
Flow is another aspect of positive psychology that has a direct application to Yoga practice. A state of flow is characterized by an intense absorption in the activity, in which one is engaged, a sense that time is flying by, a loss of the sense of an individual self, and the feeling that one is perfectly matched to the challenge at hand. This is an important point in positive psychology: the challenge of the moment must match an individual’s abilities in order to net the most positive result. For example, if a beginning Yoga student signs up for a class that is well beyond his or her current ability level, the end result will be frustration, possibly injury, and a deflated sense of self-esteem. As a Hatha Yoga teacher, it is important to make sure that your students are in the correct class for their level of practice, and that you incorporate poses, sequences, meditation, and pranayama techniques, which provide a substantial challenge, without exceeding the students’ abilities.
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