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.
8 Reasons Why Yoga Makes You Happier and Healthier
Develop Superpowers With Yoga
Yoga stretches the body, supports circulation, flushes the lymphatic system and stimulates major organs. It also alleviates common ailments and may be considered preventative medicine.
1. Reduce Pain
According to Harvard Health Publications, several studies found that a weekly yoga practice can reduce lower back pain and may be more effective for addressing pain than standard medical care or exercise therapy. Yoga improves the daily function of people struggling with curvature of the spine due to fibromyalgia and osteoporosis-related conditions.
2. Alleviate Anxiety
Anxiety has become one of the most common disorders in the US and studies have shown that yoga may be more effective, and possibly less expensive, than pharmacological treatment in alleviating symptoms, according to a 2007 study published in Evidence-Based and Complementary Alternative Medicine. The study found that a yoga session increased brain Γ-Aminobutyric (GABA) levels by 27 percent in yoga practitioners; anxiety and depression are traditionally associated with low GABA levels.
While yoga may not erase all attachments to a painful past, another study found that it can promote healing for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through peaceful embodiment and an awakened sense of calm.
3. Get Out of the Clouds
Conducting scientific studies to prove that a yoga class has a positive effect on the mood may seem unnecessary to a dedicated yogi but nonetheless, when those who struggle to get out of bed manage to muster the strength to strike a pose and breathe through the low point, the effort is proven to uplift.
Researchers at UCLA, Moscow Research Center of Narcology and University of Bologna, found that, of the 17 subjects that completed the study: 1) all experienced significant reductions in anger, depression, neurotic symptoms and low frequency heart rate variability; and 2) 11 of the 17 subjects achieved remission levels post-intervention. Not only does yoga have the power to reduce depression, but it is potentially a practice that can sustain improved mental health.
4. Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
According to a 2014 study published by the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, adults involved in a yoga practice, compared to those who did not exercise, exhibited improvements to body mass, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, over time. The evidence is promising for cardio-metabolic health.
5. Improve Quality of Life for Cancer Survivors
Many studies explore quality of life impacts, as well as psychosocial and symptom-management benefits, of yoga as an intervention tool, usually with positive findings. For example, a 2012 study published in the journal of Evidence-Based and Complementary Alternative Medicine supported preliminary evidence of the significance of yoga for improving quality of life and symptoms in cancer survivors.
6. Improve Gene Expression
According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital, yoga can improve gene expression, especially in terms of immune function. Experimental sessions of gentle yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation had a significantly greater effect on gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of subjects, compared with the control group protocol of walking in nature and listening to relaxing music.
Nature explains that, “genes encode proteins and proteins dictate cell function.” Gene expression refers to the ability of DNA to replicate, express and repair itself. Improved gene expression may be connected to improved immune function, cellular integrity and adaptability, in the evolutionary sense.
7. Support Smoking Cessation
Yoga may squash cravings in general but it has also been proven to reduce perceived stress and negative affects associated with smoking cessation, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
8. It’s Never Too Late
It is never too late to get started or resume your yoga practice. Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra states “Now begins the practice of yoga.” Remove the limitations that you identify with from the past, as well as your expectations for the future, and just get on your mat.