Control Your Emotions Using BKS Iyengar Yoga Techniques
Do you ever let your emotions hijack your sense of calm, cause you unwanted stress and just plain get the better of you? Let the teachings and techniques of BKS Iyengar help you to still your mind and maintain your cool even in the most challenging situations.
Never in a million years did I think I would kick off an article featuring one of the world’s leading authorities on yoga, BKS Iyengar, with a reference to the David Fincher film Seven, but here goes…
Early in the film, Detective Mills (played by Brad Pitt) has his first run-in with the killer, John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey). Doe, posing as a photographer at the scene of his own crime, goads Pitt into a violent show of wrath. This in turn elicits the following response (and one of the key lines of the film, drenched in cynicism) from Detective Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman):
“It’s impressive to see a man feeding off his emotions.”
Woah. Not only does this line sum up Pitt’s character’s general disposition and Somerset’s less-than-impressed view of him, but it’s also a powerful indictment of how our minds are so often contaminated by our emotions. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if somewhere in Somerset’s off-screen backstory, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker had the character reading Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga and practicing asanas (poses) after a long day on the beat.
BKS Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga and widely regarded as the grand master of modern yoga, was an instrumental figure in bringing yoga to the western world. Not only did he dazzle his students with his ability to contort his body into seemingly impossible positions, but he was also highly adept at molding their minds (and emotions) to be sharply focused, iron-willed and free from pain and sorrow.
Heavily influenced by the ancient Hindu text Bhagavad Gita, he sites this powerful passage that speaks volumes about managing your emotions:
“A lamp does not flicker in a place where no wind blows; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment.”
In other words, when you’re a slave to the noise of life (more specifically people – you know who they are) and you let your emotions run wild, you’re left with nothing other than a state of misery. When you control your emotions, you find calm and even bliss.
Light on Yoga bills itself as “the classic guide to yoga by the world’s foremost authority” and after reading it, I wouldn’t dare argue. It’s a high-minded resource with hundreds of Iyengar yoga asanas and restorative yoga poses for the aspiring yogi who wants to get and keep their emotions in check. So what are some of the time-tested yogic methods for managing your emotions that BKS Iyengar discovered through decades of disciplined research and practice, and then imparted to his students? Let’s find out.
Practice Iyengar Yoga Asanas
Do Iyengar yoga asanas and you’ll be able to control your emotions? Yes! After all, Iyengar quotes Mahadev Desai from his introduction in the Gita According to Gandhi, which says that yoga literally means:
“The disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will.”
What does that mean for you? Start a yoga practice or continue diligently with the one you already have. Yoga isn’t simply an exercise to get a lean and tone body that others will adore (but, it might give you this, too). It’s a practice that’s scientifically proven to still the restlessness of your mind and intellect, and calm your emotions.
Don’t believe it? I challenge you to walk out of a 60-minute or even 30-minute yoga session and not feel calmer, more emotionally stable and less likely to entertain, much less instigate a confrontation than you did when you went in.
Be Ethically Disciplined
Iyengar references the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and the first of the eight limbs of yoga, known as yama. Yama is the collective name for the following ethical disciplines:
When you don’t follow a lifestyle in line with these disciplines, it leads to:
Listen, I know the chances of you or most anyone living a perfectly ethical life are slim-to-none. And nobody expects you to restrain yourself from all the various pleasures this world has to offer. But you’d be surprised just how much keeping yourself in check in the above areas, if you’re not doing so already, will help you to ease your mind and control your emotions.
Minimize and Manage Your Expectations
“The life of an ordinary man is filled with an unending series of disturbances and frustrations and with his reactions to them,” says Iyengar. “Thus, there is hardly any possibility of keeping the mind in a state of equilibrium.”
I’m sure for a lot of us, this one hits pretty close to home, doesn’t it? We must forgive ourselves for being this way and work to change our state. How? Iyengar says:
“The yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.”
Easier said than done? Actually, if you adopt a yogic lifestyle for just a week, you’ll already begin to experience the transformative effects on your thinking and emotions that Iyengar is describing.
Control Your Breath to Control Your Emotions
Breathing – we sure do take this one for granted, don’t we? The fact is, learning to breathe correctly can help you to regulate your emotions and literally change your life. Iyengar says:
“Emotional excitement affects the rate of breathing; equally, deliberate regulation of breathing checks emotional excitement. As the very object of Yoga is to still and control the mind, the yogi first learns pranayama to master the breath. This will enable him to control the senses and so reach the stage of pratyahara.”
If you’re not familiar, pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath through various techniques and exercises. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of energy and focus from the senses.
Imagine how much better your emotional stability and control would be if you weren’t reacting every five seconds to what your senses wanted or didn’t want?
Managing Your Emotions with Backbends
Can something as simple as doing backbends help you control your emotions?
In an interview with Iyengar conducted by Victor Oppenheimer and Patricia Walden, Iyengar says:
“Backbends demand a lot of discriminative power and the emotional center is the torso, the trunk. Have you ever experienced that you can keep your brain quiet, but the mental thoughts move in the trunk? When you do backbends, what happens to the emotional center? Does it not open more? You are creating tremendous vastness so that it can accumulate [absorb and withstand] all types of pressures and strains. So emotionally there is no chance for a person who does backbends to get depressed or distressed. Backbends give stability, or maturity, where there’s ripeness in the brain, ripeness in the emotion. So we cannot become victims easily, those who very accurately do backbends. You can take catastrophes with a calm mind, which others cannot do.”
If you’ve practiced yoga for a while, then you know exactly what Iyengar is talking about here. If you haven’t, then under the guidance of a trained yoga professional, try some yoga backbends and experience for yourself how they have the ability to work wonders on your emotional health.
Iyengar was a master at showing people, through yoga, how to attain and maintain the correct state-of-body, state-of-mind and overall state-of-being. As so eloquently put in The Bhagavad Gita:
“Free from anger and selfish desire, unified in mind, those who follow the path of yoga and realize the Self are established forever in that supreme state.”
What more could you want out of this existence than that?