Imagine a situation where a mugger uses a knife to harm their victim: we think instantly of the wound – the physical harm – caused to the victim. What about the fear in the victim’s mind – the mental harm – caused by the attacker’s aggression? What about the self-inflicted harm on the assailant’s mind, filled as it is with violent thoughts and anxieties?

When we think about ahiṃsā, we often think only of the physical impact. We rarely consider that we are capable of inflicting mental harm on others and ourselves. In the same way as we can train our bodies to endure physical trials, we can train our minds to endure mental assault such as stress and anxiety. The system of practice which builds resistance to harm on both the physical and mental planes is called yoga, of which yogāsana is one of eight parts.

How has the practice of yogāsana helped individuals to build this resistance?

“I completed my teacher training course at the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (SVYASA) University in September 2017. By the end of the month I was not only a qualified yoga teacher but more importantly, I felt like a whole new person! It made me realise that yogāsana is about more than just being flexible, having a good physique and being physically fit. Yoga is about controlling the mind, being in control of your emotions and about how you perceive the world. Yogāsana teaches you how to become both mentally and physically strong.

“Through practising yogāsana daily, I’ve really seen the difference it can make to the way you feel, think and act. When I haven’t practised yogāsana in a while, I notice my concentration levels reduce, I feel more stressed and I quite frankly, become very lazy. But when I practice yogāsana in the mornings, I undoubtedly have some of my most productive, happy and positive days.

“It really does make a difference and I can only encourage others to try it out and see for themselves” – Sangita Chhabhadiya, NHSF (UK) Campus Coordinator

“I was going through what you might call a ‘mid-life crisis’ at the age of 20 or 21. I couldn’t really handle stress at this time, and it wasn’t helped by the accumulation of debt and pressure from everywhere. To keep myself sane, I began to develop a number of unhealthy habits. Realising that I couldn’t keep this up, I decided to go away and sort myself out. From the information around me, the best way to solve the problem was yoga. I decided to go to SVYASA in India.

“It was an amazing journey. I came back to the UK facing the same pressures as before, but the difference was that I could control my mind and remain calm. If it weren’t for dhyān (meditation) and yogāsana, then I would be in a much worse situation.” – Nikhil Parbat, NHSF (UK) Income Generation Team

“Rising expenses, exam results and increasing competition for graduate jobs are all causing university students like ourselves stress. The burden on university counselling services has swelled as more and more students look for help. At a time such as this, it’s not uncommon for us to have to wait, as I did, for up to eight weeks to receive meaningful advice. We’re forced to turn to other solutions before we get counselling, after the counselling period ends, or if it simply doesn’t help us.

“In one sense, the Sanskrit word yoga means ‘union’: the union of body, mind, intellect and ātmā. Patānjali’s Yogasūtras say “sthiram sukham āsanam”: ‘the posture should be steady and comfortable’ (Yogasūtra 2.46).

“This direction applies not only to the body, but to the mind. Through practice, I’ve found that this meditative approach to yogāsana – keeping the mind still and focusing on one’s breathing – has made a difference, even in the simplest of postures. Alongside prānayāma (breathing exercises) and dhyān (meditation), two of the other eight limbs of yoga, the practice of yogāsana can help us to control our thoughts, defeat stress, and manage mental health problems.” – Pravar Petkar, NHSF (UK) Public Relations Team Coordinator

Yogāsana has the potential to benefit individuals in a variety of situations, from managing concentration levels to overcoming unhealthy habits and mental health problems. The practice of yogāsana is thus the practice of ahiṃsā not only to our bodies, but also to our minds.

“To overcome these obstacles, we should focus the mind when we practice yogāsana.” (Yogasūtra 1.32).

Yogāsana of the Week launches in four days’ time.