A more in-depth look at Modern Yoga’s individual components, for a more informed practice
– Part Two –
The Five Faculties of Modern Yoga and the Benefits Bestowed
Providing a firm foundation for a life lived well
“A happy life is one which is in accordance with its nature”
– Part Two –
Yoga is Skill in Action
When you decide to take up yoga, you’re making an affirmation to become a complete person in mind, body and Self.
Chances are you know something needs overhauling and you think yoga might help. You’re not alone. Millions of people practise yoga; many for that reason.
Yoga is practical rather than philosophical – more of a verb than a noun. I like to use the alternative term for yoga, ‘Skill in Action’, which is used in the Bhagavad Gita, a hugely influential and powerful philosophical text.
The ‘skill’ of yoga is more than knowing the postures. It’s understanding who you are and being motivated towards yoga for the right reasons. The ‘action’ is transferring that knowledge into powerful movements.
The five faculties of modern yoga convert and combine the ancient and authentic aspects of classic yoga with the terminology and concepts of contemporary science.
Hence, it’s a skill in action.
Modern Yoga, You and the Contemporary World
Modern yoga is the only discipline that sustains all three prongs of your integral health: your Mind, Body, and Self.
Doctors and psychiatrists recognise that yoga has much to offer as an effective treatment for mental and physical health. Evidence suggests it prevents and treats lifestyle diseases such as:
And mental disorders including:
The Five Faculties: explained in detail
“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
1) Physical Fitness
There are five components of physical fitness:
- Cardiovascular Endurance
- Muscular Strength
- Muscular Endurance
- Body Composition
The physical practice of yoga consists of physically challenging postures which combine to service each of these components.
Asana: Vinyasa: Surya Namasker
In Sanskrit, postures are called Asana and a flow or sequence of postures is a Vinyasa. The most famous of these is the notorious Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), which in fact originates in the last century and in yoga terms is a relatively recent innovation!
There are seven types of posture:
- Arm Balances
- Hip Openers
- Forward Bends
The Components of Physical Fitness
The five components of physical fitness can be elaborated upon as:
- Cardiovascular Endurance
- Muscular Strength
- Muscular Endurance
- Body Composition
A. Cardiovascular Endurance
Cardiovascular endurance is the length of time your heart and lungs can sustain prolonged physical exercise. Yoga conditions them to supply fresh oxygen to the body more effectively and efficiently.
Increased cardiovascular activity is common to all forms of exercise, but not typically associated with yoga. In a fast session, the heart and lungs pump vigorously, conditioning their endurance. In a slower practice, the emphasis is on mindfulness and being calm.
The difference between yoga and other exercise is the quality of content and purpose. An example of this is how you apply your breathing. Training the breath to consolidate postures is unique to yoga and an attribute transferrable to other physical disciplines.
Occupational Yoga: Value in Sport
Professional sportspeople and others in demanding roles find that yoga, and especially controlled breathing, helps them to sharpen and prolong their performance. It gives them a competitive edge and allows them to manage their lives harmoniously.
The gift of yoga: from India for all
But yoga is not only for talented or busy people. It’s a gift for all – helping us perform more productively in all aspects of life, professional or private.
B. Muscular Strength
Muscular strength is the amount of force your muscles can exert. Yoga builds muscular strength because a lot of it is physically challenging. However, in yoga the only weight you use is your body. This builds strength proportionate to your body size that will be more useful to you.
It builds sinuous tissue in long and short muscle fibres. During vigorous exercise, the longer fibres work at the expense of the shorter. Yoga works both fibres simultaneously, redressing that imbalance and resulting in less post-exercise stiffness.
C. Muscular endurance
Muscular endurance is similar to cardiovascular endurance. It’s the length of time muscles can perform before they’re exhausted. This comes about from their eventual inability to absorb fresh energy and expel the toxins accumulated.
Yoga builds muscular resilience, which bolsters the body’s capacity to endure pressure.
Yogi are renowned for flexibility. New pupils often have to be reassured that you don’t have to be bendy to start – that comes later.
Flexibility allows you to move comfortably and reduces the threat of injury or inflammation. Yoga does this by expanding your muscles beyond their comfort zone and aligning the skeletal frame (particularly joints and vertebrae). The result is sustained flexibility, stamina and physique.
The spatial awareness within each posture improves proprioception, balance and coordination. Elderly pupils often cite these factors as the reasons why they value yoga.
Modern yoga explains the science behind how your muscles and joints are:
- exercised in different combinations of ways
- linked with your breathing so you can perform a posture to best effect without injury
E. Body Composition
Body composition is the fat to muscle ratio in your body. Yoga builds lean tissue and less fat. Muscle is also denser than fat, so it weighs more. That denser, stronger muscle speeds up the body’s metabolic rate, which is significant in combatting obesity.
Moreover yoga, with its twists and turns, exercises your body internally and externally, lowering the health risks associated with fat in the abdominal organs.
The Drivers of Physical Health
There are five drivers of physical health expanded upon as:
- Physical Activity
- Nutrition and Balanced Diet
- Alcohol Consumption and Drug Abuse
- Recuperation and Sleep
- Contingency Planning
1. Physical activity
Yoga alone does not provide all the exercise your body and mind require. It’s vital to get outside at least once a week, for two or more hours of continual movement. The best way is to blend leisurely activity with structured exercise.
Leisurely activity includes hobbies, voluntary work, hiking, casual cycling and walking. Structured exercise includes swimming, running and maybe a new sport or physical challenge. None of which need to be extreme in order to be active; just regular, frequent and preferably enjoyable.
Exercise your mind by reading good books. Learn new skills, such as playing an instrument, chess, drawing or craftwork. Don’t allow yourself too much screen-time, as it can mess with your dopamine levels and make other activities less enjoyable.
2. Nutrition and balanced diet
Ayurveda is the sister practice of yoga and focuses on wellness. It advocates a vegetarian diet and natural forms of health care. But you don’t have to practice Ayurveda or be vegetarian unless that’s right for you.
A balanced diet contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
Here are some sound nutritious tips:
- Eat meals and snacks at even intervals
- Portion sizes should be moderate
- Drink water and other fluids regularly
- Strive to avoid excess and obesity
- Enjoy your food but be sensible about it
- Cook fresh and organic
- Choose variety and quality for nutritional diversity
- Be mindful of your food’s provenance
- Consume more vegetables and fruit
- Eat smaller and better-quality meat – less often
Sugar is harmful and disrupts your body’s energy levels. Wean yourself off it and check what has been added or occurs naturally in your diet.
Do all that, and you won’t go far wrong.
3. Recuperation and sleep
Recuperation is important. Make time to relax, meditate or take short naps to rejuvenate. Sleep is the body’s natural healing mechanism. It should be planned for in a calming dark environment.
Aim to get to bed by 23:30 for 7-9 hours of regular sleep. Erratic sleep is low quality and may be symptomatic of a deeper malady or malaise. If it persists, consult your doctor.
As part of your bedtime regime, complete a gentle, short yoga practise beforehand. Then move onto a relaxing mindfulness or meditation. These should improve your quality of sleep.
4. Alcohol Consumption and Drug Use
Alcohol and drugs are hazardous. Nobody’s saying you can’t drink, just don’t let it get the better of you and set limits. Safe consumption of alcohol equates to not more than one bottle of beer or glass of wine per day. And that’s just for men; it’s less for women.
The abuse of drugs and other mood-altering substances is lethal. Best not to start using them, especially if you have addictive tendencies. But life isn’t straightforward.
If you need it, get professional assistance from a reliable support group. There are numerous reputable organisations available to give you guidance and help. If you’re uncertain, consult your doctor.
5. Contingency Planning
First aid essentials, bandages, emollients, and over-the-counter pain medications should be accessible in your home. Make sure they’re stored in a safe but convenient cabinet and replaced before their expiry date.
Chronically persistent or unusual coughing, fevers, the appearance of blood in stools, abnormal swellings, cramps, consistent pains or other disabling conditions should be reported to your doctor expeditiously.
Your local NHS Accident and Emergency Unit is where to go when signs and symptoms are concerning or life-threatening.
Nobody is perfect: yoga gets that!
At this juncture, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s a lot going on here. To be honest, to be human is to be fallible. Nobody we know of fulfils all of these ideals. So don’t set the bar too high. Above almost everything else, yoga is a pragmatic non-judgemental discipline. All any of us can do is our best!
Just enjoy your yoga – don’t work too hard at it and let yoga do the rest!
Emotional Intelligence: Ancient Yoga as Psychology
As I developed my yoga knowledge and practice, I became aware that the ancient yoga scholars were two millennia ahead of their time.
I was excited to discover that many concepts of psychology, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness, were not unique. They were yoga! But the poor thing had been camouflaged by the baggage and mystique it accumulated over time.
This connection correlates why Emotional Intelligence is fundamental to modern yoga and cements its link with psychology.
A Short History of Emotional Intelligence
Two Yale University professors, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, constructed the concept of and coined the term Emotional Intelligence in 1990. They described it as a:
“… Form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”
Daniel Goleman is the psychologist who promoted the more popular understanding of Emotional Intelligence. He identified five essential elements to develop in adult life. These are:
- Social Skills
Definitions and links to each one of these elements appear at the bottom of this blog.
I find the original Salovey and Mayer Framework of Emotional Intelligence more useful. They categorise Emotional Intelligence as:
- Identifying emotions in the Self and others
- Integrating emotions into thought processes
- Effectively processing complex emotions
- Regulating one’s own emotions and the emotions of others
I’ve listed all of these elements and categories here because they translate the ancient philosophy of yoga into the terminology and concepts of contemporary psychology. Hence, modern yoga!
The link between modern yoga and Emotional Intelligence is Mindfulness and Meditation.
Both practices seize upon:
… “the idea that you are not your thoughts, but the entity observing your thoughts; you are the thinker, separate and apart from your thoughts.”
Duval & Wicklund, 1972
In Sanskrit, this modern concept of your autonomous entity, postulated by Duval and Wickland, is called the Self and is named Atma.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means being in the present moment. You achieve this by observing the tangible qualities of your body, mind and surroundings, rather than dwelling on your thoughts, ruminations and daydreams.
As discussed elsewhere, mindfulness flows naturally from a physical session. This is one reason why modern yoga is such a good way of learning how to relax. You’re not going into it cold!
What is Meditation?
Meditation means concentrating on a focal point, which can be your breath, a sound or an image. In doing so, you exclude the thoughts and distractions your mind creates. You accept them for what they are but let them be. In Sanskrit:
- Meditation is called Dharma
- The focal point you use in meditation is named your Drishti
In a nutshell:
In mindfulness, your awareness is drawn to the here and now. It acts as a precursor to relaxation and meditation.
In meditation the deeper purpose is to harness awareness of your inner self.
Subtle but important differences.
The therapeutic effects of mindfulness and meditation
Both meditation and mindfulness increase your awareness of how your mind responds to its own thoughts about, and perception of, situations you encounter.
They train you how to maintain the connection with your inner Self, making it a powerful adjunct for preventing and easing common mental disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression.
These disorders are closely associated with distorted perception. When that distortion dominates the Self, we are out of touch with our real values and motivation. Disillusionment, lack of action and loss of self-belief are typical outcomes. If unchecked, these damage our integral health and lead to impaired mental health.
Mindfulness and meditation sever that downward spiral and takes you up to where your true Self belongs.
What is meant by the phrase ‘mental health and wellbeing’?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:
“… A state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and can make a contribution to his or her community”.
Mental Health or Mental Disorder?
A mental disorder is a diagnosable impairment of mental health. Such conditions include Chronic or Clinical Depression, Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Bipolar.
Mental illness is a severe problem which does not always fit within the purview of yoga. It requires professional medical or psychiatric attention.
But there’s encouraging evidence that yoga can help patients with some mental disorders, such as stress, anxiety or low mood.
There’s no silver bullet. From my personal experience, mental health requires a multifaceted strategy. I find yoga one of the best combatants for my clinical depression. I also know how hard a struggle and how dangerous mental illness is, having lost a brother to suicide.
Be proactive, not reactive
View modern yoga as part of your own holistic approach, not as a cure. Get help and have courage. Each moment does pass and with yoga’s help, you can assist yourself to help prevent a recurrence.
Personal growth is about the realisation of your potential. You’re adding, if one is needed, a purpose to your life commensurate with your needs.
Modern yoga doesn’t disavow traditional beliefs. It’s merely a recognition that in contemporary society, spirituality doesn’t always sit well with one’s educational, cultural or personal experience.
As stated before, modern yoga is for all of us regardless of our belief or lack thereof. And why set yourself up to fail with unrealistic goals in your practice? Think pragmatically (although optimistically) about it, yourself and what you can achieve.
Take the slow road and enjoy the view
It’s perfectly fine to use modern yoga purely for your physical fitness.
Yoga is not a set of rules to be obeyed, because it treats you like an adult. And anyway, yoga is a habit for your lifetime, so your journey you take will twist and turn regardless.
To paraphrase The Beatles (who got me into yoga)
“… the yoga (love) you take is equal to the yoga (love) you make.”
John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Founder: Yoga Mind and Body
Further Reading, Links, and Bonus Information
The Bhagavad Gita
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, empathy is:
‘… The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another, in either their past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also, the capacity for this.’
Source: Positive Psychology
For our purposes, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s situation, to understand how they are feeling (connecting intellectually), as well as being sensitive to how someone else is actually feeling (connecting emotionally).
‘Motivation is an internal process. Whether we define it as a drive or a need, motivation is a condition inside us that desires a change, either in the Self or the environment.
When we tap into this well of energy, motivation endows the person with the drive and direction needed to engage with the environment in an adaptive, open-ended, and problem-solving sort of way.’
Reeve, 2018 | Source: Popular Psychology
‘Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.’
Courtney Ackerman MSc | Source: Positive Psychology
‘Self-regulation is controlling [of oneself] by oneself.’
Andrea Bell | Source: Good Therapy
‘Social skills are being able to flexibly adjust our behaviour to fit a particular situation compatible with our personal needs and desires.’
Source: Psychology Today