Fitness Magazine

Self Regulation and Yoga: Managing Your Internal States

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Self Regulation and Yoga: Managing Your Internal States

You Are Conscious Matter by Marie Lossky

About a year ago, I wrote a post about self regulation (see Self-Regulation, Psychological Health, and Yoga) because I was excited to learn about a study Potential self-regulatory mechanisms of yoga for psychological health by Gard, et al in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience that provided a model for understanding how yoga can achieve the benefits of improved psychological health. I also said that the real takeaway for me from this article was that these scientists included all eight branches of yoga (see Ashtanga Yoga: Following the Eight-Fold Path) in their model as the tools that yoga provides to facilitate self regulation. But lately as I’ve been noticed that “self regulation” was becoming quite the trendy concept, I’ve been wondering, what exactly IS self regulation? I mean, I had a working definition when I wrote that post but because I hadn’t researched the subject that thoroughly, I wondered how accurate my understanding was. I soon discovered that some other people had the same question. Haha, unlike me who just typed the term into my handy search engine, those people—three York University researchers—actually conducted a study! They, too, observed that there was a lot of confusion around the term, and they were looking for clarity. (Weird, I know, but it turns out people conduct studies to determine what a term means.) Without going into how they came up with this conclusion (see for yourself at Researchers map 'self-regulation' to develop comprehensive definition), I must say I quite liked their “comprehensive” definition. Learning 'self-regulation' involves learning how to monitor and manage your internal states, understanding what it feels like to be calm and alert, and so also learning to recognize when certain activities help you to return yourself to those states most easily, as well as what pulls you out of them.
The term “self regulation” is often used regarding children (I think you can imagine what a child who is not able to self regulate at all might be like) but of course it can apply to all of us, because who among us is not sometimes swamped with emotions that cause us to do things we might later regret
And now that I have a better understanding of what the term means, I thought I’d look at bit more closely which yoga techniques can help improve self regulation. (I read or hear so often that “yoga” can help with this or that problem, but yoga is such a large collection of techniques and practices that I feel that it is important to be more specific than just saying "yoga.") So I’ve broken down the definition the following five different phases:1. Monitoring Your Internal States. Whether you are meditating or practicing asana mindfully, using your witness mind as I described in The Power of Svadhyaya (Self Study), Part 1 allows you to observe your emotional responses and thought patterns, helping you uncover habitual responses to stressors. This is the first step toward improving self regulation.2. Understanding What It Feels Like to Be Calm and Alert. Yoga practices that trigger the Relaxation Response, including meditation, breath awareness, and restorative yoga, allow you to experience conscious relaxation in the safety of the yoga room (see The Relaxation Response and Yoga). In this state, your mind opens to a wider range of possible reactions to stressors (see Stress and Your Thought-Behavior Repertoire). Having this experience in the yoga room teaches you that you can learn to respond to stressors in the real world in a similar way. 3. Recognizing When Certain Activities Help you Return to Those States Most Easily. Experimenting with a wide range of yoga practices, including different yoga poses, different meditation techniques, different breath techniques, and even studying yoga philosophy helps you recognize which yoga “activities” work best to help you return to a more balanced state. (I know, for example, that Baxter loves a yoga nidra practice, while I myself prefer Legs Up the Wall pose and revisiting some of my favorite passages from the yoga scriptures.)4. Recognizing What Pulls You Out of Those States. Working with your witness mind in the yoga room trains you to start observing yourself in more volatile situations in your everyday life. You can learn which external or internal events set you off or make you more likely to be off balance. Some of these may be things you can change, for example, by eating more regularly, finding a less stressful way to get to work, or getting more sleep. For those stressors that you cannot avoid, you can learn to respond differently to them (see Re-Patterning Your Nervous System: Practice for the Real World).5. Managing Your Internal States. Besides relaxation practices, you can use yoga asanas and breath practices to energize yourself when you are feeling fatigued and to uplift yourself when you’re feeling depressed. Using yoga to manage your internal states allows to make yourself feel better through your own efforts rather than relying on outside events or other people to calm you down or cheer you up, and gives you feeling of control over your emotional life.Although “self regulation” is new concept to me, because I’ve been practicing yoga for over 20 years and using it to reduce my stress levels, to restore myself when I’m depleted, to energize myself when I’m fatigued, and to uplift myself when I’m feeling a bit depressed, it turns out I’ve been self regulating all this time without even knowing it. And that’s one of the main reasons yoga is so important to me. How about you?Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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