It is well-known that yoga has many health benefits and therapeutic effects. These days you can find yoga classes for all kinds of ailments. However, unlike taking a prescription, yoga is a subjective and experiential subject. It involves the participant on a deep level. If we practice yoga for peace—inner peace, mental calm, greater health—much of the result depends upon our own engagement with the practice. Meaning, how we go about it makes a difference. As the great yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar has said, “Yoga is a means and an end.” If practiced with awareness, the potential for yoga to guide us toward inner peace is profound.
“You do not need to seek freedom in some distant land, for it exists within your own body, heart, mind, and soul. Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you must choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it.” (1)
Classically speaking, yoga can be defined in a number of ways. One definition of yoga is “union,” indicating the unification of body, mind, and spirit—or the layers of the self. Yoga is also defined as “yogah citta vrtti nirodhah” or “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of thought.” Another definition is “skill in action.”
All of these definitions point to a sense of unity, awareness, inner quiet, and perhaps skillfulness. These qualities are both the aim and result of a dedicated yoga practice. Whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned practitioner, one of the reasons you may be drawn to yoga is for a sense of greater peace. This can mean harmony in body and mind.
Yoga for the Season
As mentioned in this article about Vata season, the transition from summer to fall marks the transition from Pitta season to Vata season. During the autumn season, we are more susceptible to Vata imbalances, such as insomnia, worry, anxiety, dryness, and constipation. Therefore it is particularly helpful to work towards stillness, peace, and mental quiet in one’s yoga practice. Furthermore, given the stressful climate of the times, this is probably something that we can all benefit from on a daily basis.
A Well-Rounded Practice
In general, as a yoga teacher and practitioner, I suggest maintaining a well-rounded yoga practice. This means that your yoga practice will not look or feel exactly the same from day to day. I was trained to practice all the categories of yoga asanas (poses or postures). This means that within a month’s time it is good to include standing poses, twists, inversions, supine poses, seated poses, backbends, and arm balances in one’s practice. You probably won’t do all of these different types of poses each time you take a class or practice on your own. However, it is good to touch on all these types of poses over the course of the month or so.
Yoga Asana for Peace
That said, if you are in need of a little extra inner quiet, focus on the poses that help your nervous system attain a sense of calm. Restorative practices can be very useful in this way. These are asanas that use props and supports so that the body and mind can rest in the poses for longer. When you do a restorative practice, be watchful for any mental strain or accumulation of tension. When I teach restorative classes I often emphasize the importance of nourishing the nervous system. Restorative practice is not a time to struggle or strain. It is a time to rejuvenate the body and mind.
In addition, inversions are immensely helpful in supporting the health of the endocrine and nervous systems. Asanas such as Sirsasana (headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) are wonderful poses with many benefits. This is what B.K.S. Iyengar says about headstand:
“People suffering from loss of sleep, memory and vitality have recovered by the regular and correct practice of this asana and have become fountains of energy.” (2)
One caveat in regards to inversions such as headstand is that it is important to learn how to do these poses properly so as not to get hurt. Therefore it is a good idea to learn these potent asanas from an experienced and qualified teacher.
Come Back to the Breath
Slowing down and turning one’s attention toward the breath is another wonderful way to manage one’s vital energy. This is helpful at all times of year, but perhaps especially so during the fall—Vata season.
Pranayama, or the breathing practices, is really about balancing and directing one’s energy. When speaking of yoga for peace, it is a key practice. The prana (life force) is carried on the breath, so by guiding the breath we also guide our energy.
Pranayama is a more subtle and advanced practice in comparison to the physical postures. Therefore, it is advised to have a somewhat solid footing in the asanas before learning the breathing practices. But even if you are new to yoga, starting by simply sitting or lying down quietly and observing your breath is a great place to start.
Furthermore, extended inhalations are considered to be energizing, whereas emphasizing the exhalation is more calming and quieting to the nervous system. So if autumn has you feeling a bit giddy and Vata-vitiated, try taking some slow breaths and emphasizing the exhalations.
Inner Dialogue: Words Matter
The power of words should not be underestimated. This applies not just to the words we say aloud or write down. It also applies to the way we talk to ourselves in our heads. If notice self-defeating thoughts or feelings cropping up, consider the opposite message. For instance, if you find yourself becoming nervous or worried about a particular situation, an internal mantra such as “This too shall pass” or “All is well” can be helpful.
Even silently saying the word “ahimsa” (meaning non-violence) can be soothing if you find feelings of agitation arising. You can experiment on your own to see which words or phrases bring about a sense of comfort, peace, and ease.
Furthermore, repeating special mantras such as the simple sound “Lum” or “Vum” can have an affect on the subtle body. The sound “Lum” corresponds to the root chakra and “Vum” to the second or sacral chakra. These chakras relate to the earth and water elements respectively, and invoking the earth and water elements is balancing for Vata dosha, thus encouraging a sense of peace and balance for those with a Vata constitution or imbalance.
Peace and Freedom Within
Though we may all wish for peace to exist in the world around us, the fact is that even in relatively calm times, there will always be some strife and conflict in the world. However, through practices such as yoga, we have a tremendous opportunity to find peace and steadiness within. With that sense of equanimity we can then engage more skillfully with the world around us, living up to one definition of yoga, “skill in action.”
(1) Iyengar, B.K.S. (2005). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. Holtzbrinck Publishers.
(2) Iyengar, B.K.S. (1966). Light on Yoga. Schocken Books.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.