Yoga and Emotional Intelligence
Recently, in one of my journals, I read an article by a psychologist who had stumbled across an obscure research project involving emotional intelligence. I had first been exposed to the concept of emotional intelligence when I was working on my master’s degree back in the nineties. As a yoga teacher, emotional intelligence as a basis for a balanced life seemed intuitive.
The premise of the research is basically that our emotional intelligence is as important, if not more important, than our intellectual IQ. Without a strong emotional foundation, intelligence alone was not enough to create a successful and balanced life.
There are four components to emotional intelligence. The first is self-awareness or knowing what you are feeling and why. The second is self-management or the ability to use your self-awareness to get better at handling your impulses and disruptive emotions. The third component is empathy or the ability to sense how others are feeling; and the fourth component is being skilled at establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.
Without self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relationship skills, even the most intelligent person would find it difficult to live a healthy and stable life. That is because we are all dependent upon each other and emotions and feelings are a major part of human existence.
In yoga emotional turmoil is often referred to as “monkey mind.” This is an expression used to describe the jumping and scattering of our mind due to emotional instability. In life, it is all too easy for us to lose our emotional balance and end up leaping from one emotion to another.
Who doesn’t get pulled into drama and emotions or caught up in games, competition and fighting? How about sadness and fear? We call this being tossed around in the world. In the ideal, we are in the world, but not of the world. That means we are aware of our presence while being in control of our thoughts, words and actions. We have compassion for all of life and we relate to others with a sense of complete understanding. We appear in the world, but are not perturbed or thrown off balance by the events of life. Once this is achieved an individual is said to be liberated or free of the monkey mind.
Now, it is not that a person must go away and live the life of a hermit in order to achieve liberation. It means to live fully in the world, while maintaining a sense of emotional balance. It’s about control and reaction. If you learn to control your mind, you control everything. This is yoga intelligence. How do we achieve this? Practice; nothing in life is achieved without practice.
Sometimes people try to run away and hide and even renounce life to be free of life’s turmoil. But you can never run away. Without emotional intellectual we can remove ourselves physically, but the mind – its thoughts and emotions – go with us forever.
As the saying goes, “you take it with you wherever you go.”
Intellect in yoga is really mental attitude. “As the mind, so the person.” It is not about changing the outside world. It is about changing your attitude towards things. If you gain control over your emotions you will never be tossed about by the outside world. Emotional intelligence reminds us that there is nothing wrong with the world; the problems begin and end within our own minds.
We can try to measure the quality of life with a high IQ, but without awareness, control, empathy and the ability to relate the mathematical equation that measures our intellect, we miss the mark. The prize does not always go to the smartest, but it does more times than not, go to the one who has the ability to keep a focus; and keeping a focus requires the application of the four components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relating.
Therefore, with all things in life, be aware and fully understand their nature. Manage them with empathy and understanding, and then rise above the turmoil and be at peace. With awareness you begin to understand yourself. When you understand yourself you free yourself from the entanglement of worldly emotions. In this you will find a sense of balance and you will achieve the pinnacle of yoga and emotional intelligence: peace.
Mind Yoga: Master Your Mind, Master Your Life
Everyone is faced with challenges and obstacles throughout their lives and on their path to fulfillment, happiness and success. It’s not what happens to us in life that determines our outcomes, but rather how we respond to what happens to us. Having a knee-jerk emotional reaction to the challenges in life can create disappointing results. When we take a moment to process these challenges, and “choose” an appropriate response, we are more likely to make a wise decision.
In the human brain, when we have stress and experience the emotion of fear, our body sends out a massive amount of adrenaline into our system. This actually shuts down our logical thinking frontal lobe. Therefore, when fear rises, intelligence plummets. When you look back, can you match some of your worst decisions with a highly emotional state?
Meditation is a practice where you learn to “observe” your thoughts and emotions. As you do this, you can slowly begin to detach and analyze them so that you can slow down and make better decisions. The longer you meditate, the more that you’ll realize that while you can “have” emotions, you don’t need to “be” your emotions. This is a powerful distinction that builds your emotional intelligence.
We practice emotional intelligence when we allow ourselves to feel an emotion and then choose how we want to process and respond to that emotion. This allows us to create a more proactive response. The quality of our life depends on the quality of our perspective. When we are open-minded and willing to put our ego to one side, we can change the way we look at our life’s challenges. Meditation gives you the flexibility to change your perspective on life’s events.
A small adjustment in perspective may give you the power to make a dramatic and positive change in your life’s experiences.
Achieve Mental Strength
We are constantly bombarded with negative messages from the world. If we let these messages control and affect our own thoughts, then we too are letting the outside world control our thoughts. We end up having thoughts which are not actually ours. They are the thoughts of our culture, our society and of our environment. If you have any contact whatsoever with the daily news, internet news, newspapers of any kind or radio, you will be continually attacked with messages of negativity and fear. One would think that the world was always coming to an end! Unfortunately, disaster and bad news sells.
Creative and successful people have learned to monitor, control and choose their thoughts. This requires mental strength and mental discipline. They choose thoughts that support their visions and their dreams. They discard thoughts that are fear-based, negative and unproductive. This makes them original thinkers, innovators and leaders. Meditation is an effective practice for learning mental discipline.
It always amazes me how many people have discipline in so many areas of their life (their diet, their fitness and their schedule); however, few people practice any form of mental discipline – which is what really determines the outcomes and results that we have. The quality of your thoughts, determines the quality of your life.
Master your mind and you master your life! Successful, happy and balanced people have mental discipline, mental flexibility and mental strength. Just as your yoga practice helps you to create physical strength and flexibility, meditation assists you in developing mental flexibility and strength. When practiced with patience and persistence, meditation is the tool that will help you to master these areas as well.