Yoga is immensely popular partly because it offers many benefits, such as increased focus, core strength, and flexibility. Practiced with the proper attitude, it also confers a sense of inner peace and contentment. Whether or not you practice yoga, you can benefit greatly by targeting similar strengths in your mind.
The following exercises can be practiced independently, but when practiced together, they function as yoga for your mind:
Focus: Being able to focus on your present experience or task at hand enables you to truly live in the moment. It offers clarity of mind that can help you to appreciate positive experiences and to cope better with difficult situations.
Practice: Begin your “yoga” practice by paying attention to your breathing. Don’t try to do anything different with it; just notice your inhale and your exhale. Simply breathe mindfully. I promise you that your mind will stray because that is the way our human mind is wired. Your task is to just be aware of this and gently remind yourself to return to your breath. You can practice this for a few breaths or for longer (e.g. 20 minutes or an hour).
Core Strength: In traditional yoga, core strength refers to building the muscles in your torso, leading to greater physical balance and stability. When considering your mind, you want to build a strong, positive sense of your authentic or true self, which leads to greater emotional balance and stability. It also increases your emotional resilience – giving you the wherewithal to get up each time life knocks you down.
Practice: Consider your strengths. They might be specific skills, such as being good at math, or more general traits, such as being kind or funny. Also consider the values that you hold dear – such as being honest or charitable. Then think about the ways in which you enact these strengths and values in your life. As you reflect on these ideas, you might want to write them down. Reflect upon them slowly each day, allowing yourself to absorb them. Then, when you find yourself struggling with some mistake, limitation, or weakness during your day, you can call upon this practice to balance your self-doubts with the positives you know to be true about yourself.
Flexibility: Being psychologically “flexible” means intellectually understanding what might be influencing another person’s reaction and emotionally empathizing with their experience. This kind of flexibility enables people to be empathic, have compassion, and be forgiving. Those who possess this strength often have healthy, happy relationships in which both partners are genuine, supportive, and caring toward each other.
Practice: Choose to be curious about any situation in which there is some conflict between people. This might be a personal conflict with a friend or partner, but it could even be one you only know through the news (e.g. Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Think about the position of the person or people on each side, trying to understand their thinking and their feelings. The goal is not to convince yourself that both sides are right – you might be absolutely convinced that one side’s position is more justified – but rather to be able to understand and have empathy for both sides.
By regularly practicing these psychological yoga exercises for building focus, core strength, and flexibility (with or without yoga), you will find that you feel emotionally stronger. You will sense that you stand tall. And you will find that you are less upset with yourself when you get knocked down, as well as more supportive of yourself getting back up. Overall, with yoga for the mind, you will feel better about you and be happier in your daily life.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness