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7 Ways to Cultivate Equanimity with Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

7 Ways to Cultivate Equanimity with Yoga

Reflecting Trees By Melina Meza

Self-possessed, resolute, actWithout any thoughts of results,Open to successor failure.This equanimity is yoga. —translation by Stephen Mitchell
Recently I’ve witnessed some people dear to me suffering from serious physical problems. One is older and has a classic disease associated with aging and the other—who has a serious inherited condition that may lead her to life in a wheelchair—is only in early middle age. So once again, I’m reminded of how important cultivating equanimity—the third pillar of yoga for healthy aging—is for all of us. Even if we can extend our health spans (see What is Healthy Aging, Anyway?) though healthy practices, we will certainly have to go through poor health at some point. And even if we can prolong our independence into old age (see A Declaration of Independence!), we may eventually have to face the loss of that, however briefly. In addition, even if we are ourselves blessed with long and healthy lives, we’ll all have to deal with losing people we love.
The Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as “equanimity,” and tells us that equanimity allows us to face difficulty with a “steady and quiet” mind. He who hates no light, nor busy activity, nor even darkness, when they are near, neither longs for them when they are far. Who unperturbed by changing conditions sits apart and watches and says “the powers of nature go round”, and remains firm and shakes not. Who dwells in his inner self, and is the same in pleasure and pain; to whom gold or stones or earth are one, and what is pleasing or displeasing leave him in peace; who is beyond both praise and blame, and whose mind is steady and quiet. And the Yoga Sutras tells us that regular practice (abhyasa), done with the right attitude (detachment, or vairagya), is what will quiet our minds.
1.12 Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness.
1.13 Practice is the steadfast effort to still these fluctuations.
1.14 Long, uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations. 
But what exactly should you be practicing to cultivate equanimity? Yoga has evolved quite dramatically since those two scriptures were written. New practices, such as restorative yoga and supported inverted poses, and new ways of doing old practices, such as guided forms of Relaxation pose (Savasana), are now part of the yoga lexicon. All these techniques work in different ways and have somewhat different effects (see Yoga Relaxation Techniques: They're Not All Created Equal). That’s why I’ve decided to list all these practices in one place today so you can compare and contrast them, and figure out which techniques are best for you at any given time.
Seven Ways to Cultivate Equanimity
1. Focused Relaxation. Yoga stress management practices help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, calm your nervous system, and quiet your mind. These practices include simple breath awareness done in a seated or reclined position, any form of Savasana done with a mental focus (see Savasana (Corpse Pose)), and formal, structured forms of guided relaxation, such as yoga nidra (see Friday Q&A: What is Yoga Nidra?).
2. Restorative Yoga. Restorative yoga was specially designed to provide deep rest and relaxation. Rather than using your muscles to hold you in the shape of a pose as you would normally, the props hold you in the pose so you can simply let your muscles relax. With your muscles completely relaxed, you can then turn your attention inward, focusing on your breath, physical sensations, or any other object of meditation, which allows the relaxation response to switch on, calming your nervous system and quieting your mind. See Restorative Yoga: An Introduction.
3. Supported Inverted Poses. Practicing supported inverted poses for stress management is an effective way to calm your nervous system and quiet your mind because all you have to do is set yourself in the pose and stay there for a while. The shape of the pose itself causes your baroreceptors to trigger the Relaxation Response. See All About Supported Inversions.
4. Mindful Asana. Practicing yoga mindfully is a very powerful tool for improving your mental and emotional health as well as your physical health. When you systematically pay attention to your body, you will learn what it is telling you—if you are stressed, anxious, angry, and so on, and be better able to take appropriate steps to bring yourself back into balance. See Practicing Yoga Mindfully.
Practicing this way also helps you cultivate your inner witness, which you can use to teach your nervous system to react more calmly to stressful situations See Changing the Brain's Stressful Habits.
5. Meditation. Meditation is an effective way to trigger the Relaxation Response, calming your nervous system and quieting your mind. But more importantly it allows you to study your mind and gain more control over it. See Is Meditation an Essential Part of Yoga Practice?.
6. Pranayama. Practicing pranayama is a good way to take your mind off regrets about the past, worries about the future, or negative reactions to the present. You can also use specific practices to stimulate, calm, or balance your nervous system. See Pranayama: A Powerful Key to Your Nervous System.
7. Yoga Philosophy. Studying yoga philosophy provides you with an alternative way of thinking about your life, enabling you to be more content with what you have and what you don’t have, and to become more comfortable with change. The scriptures also provide useful insights into the nature of the mind, which can use to help change your mental habits and behavioral patterns. See Why You Should Study Yoga Philosophy and The Power of Svadhyaya (Self Study), Part 2.
According to a recent scientific study, these seven techniques are complementary tools that enable you to increase self-regulation (see Self-Regulation, Psychological Health, and Yoga). Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term interest, consistent with your deepest values. Emotionally, self-regulation is the ability and to calm yourself down and cheer yourself up. Naturally, being able to self-regulate, rather than reacting impulsively as a result of emotions such as anger or fear, contributes to your overall equanimity.
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