Yoga Beyond the Mat

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Yoga Beyond the Mat

When someone mentions the word yoga, what is the first image that pops up in your head? For the majority of the people reading this, it would be the image of a person on a yoga mat, holding a yoga pose. However, this is not the true meaning of yoga.

Yoga is defined as a set of exercise practices that involve the execution of specific body positions called asanas which are useful for improving one’s flexibility, strength and balance. Thus, these aspects of yoga are indeed a part of it but they are not even the tip of an iceberg. Yoga being an ancient practice was originated from India more than 5000 years ago, Yoga is an all-round science for achieving healthy body, healthy mind and Healthy soul. It is for this reason that a number of yoga practitioners define it as a complete discipline that is more than just another system of physical exercise, but rather one that has the capacity to take a person to the ultimate state of wellness and tranquility, and that makes all the difference.

Yoga: A Holistic Discipline   

The word Yoga has been originated from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which translates as bind, join, attach and unite. This can be interpreted as the merging of the human self with the spiritual self, hence its meaning as the union of self with the cosmos as well as the combination of the physical, mental and spiritual self.

There are eight Yoga Sutras, or limbs of yoga, which were devised by Patanjali. These limbs, also called the ashtangas, offer a path to self-realization and liberation, extending beyond the physical practice of asanas. Understanding these eight sutras is necessary in being able to realize the true essence of yoga and make the best use of its holistic nature.

The Eight Yoga Sutras   

As mentioned above, yoga is encompassed within the ashtanga system; ‘ashta’ meaning eight and ‘anga’ meaning limbs. The end goal of yoga as a practice is to attain complete freedom from whatever weighs us down, which is also called ‘moksha.’ The way to attain moksha is by practicing the eight yoga sutras to eventually reach the eighth stage of samadhi.

1. Yamas   

Yamas refers to restraints which are guidelines on how a person should interact with the world around them. These rules are something that every individual, regardless of time or place, should inculcate within their daily life. These are:

  • Ahimsa or non-violence
  • Satya or truthfulness
  • Asteya or non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya or non-excess
  • Aparigraha or non-possessiveness

2. Niyamas   

Niyamas are standards of self-discipline that should be practiced. The prefix ‘ni’ refers to inward, implying that these are restraints applied to oneself, in contrast with yamas which are guidelines for outward conduct. These are: 

  • Saucha or purity
  • Santosha or contentment
  • Tapas or self-discipline
  • Svadhyaya or self-study
  • Ishvara pranidhana or surrender

3. Asanas   

Yoga postures are supposed to be performed with relaxed muscles; therefore, asanas are poses. It is always best to complete a set with a given pose at a slower pace and do so with merriment. Examples of asanas include the padmasana, vrikshasana, virasana, dhanurasana and so on.

4. Pranayama   

‘Prana’ is actually power and this is frequently connected to the process of breathing. Yoga of breath control, therefore, entails certain forms or processes that find traction in order to control breath which consequently aids in controlling the mind and its correlations to emotions. Such practices raise the vital energy, decrease the level of stress, and improve the quality of thinking.


5. Pratyahara   

‘Pratya’ means to draw away, and ‘ahara’ means to take in. This practice involves withdrawing the senses from external distractions to focus inward. It is a bridge between the external and internal practices of yoga, preparing oneself for deeper concentration and meditation. It is similar to the notion of mindfulness, where you focus on the present and concentrate in a way that you are not distracted by outside sounds and sights.

6. Dharana   

Dharana involves focusing and concentrating. It involves focusing the mind on a single point or object. Thus, through developing the ability to concentrate the mind becomes more steady and is not able to be capture by distractions. Dharana and pratyahara are in essence similar because the aim of both is to enable the mind not to be diverted to other points.

7. Dhyana   

Dhyana is the state of contemplation which is kept up without the least interruption. Thus, in this state the mind is utterly placid and fully present, which results in deep, more or less permanent, peace and vision. This is when we are actually meditating, employing all the laid down methods followed from the first through the sixth steps. Something that one should bear in mind is that, until abruptly – meditation is not something that we engage into consciously. However, things like sitting in a set pose in a quiet environment, focusing on our breath, drawing attention to a single point, and moving away from external sounds and sights can help in achieving the state of meditation.

8. Samadhi    

Samadhi, or enlightenment, is the final stage and the last limb of the yogic practice. The state of samadhi is not about escaping or dissociating from the real world. Rather, it gives the person the vision to be able to see what actually lies in front of them, without disturbance from the mind. A person who has reached samadhi engages in all actions without dwelling on the outcome, and experiences a state of bliss.  

Yoga For Better Mental Health    

After reading about the true meaning of yoga, you would realize that it is a truly holistic discipline, owing to which, it is a very powerful tool if used right. It shouldn't come as a surprise that yoga has many benefits for a person’s mental health. Let’s look at these:


Yoga which has its origin from India is centered on the idea of awareness of the present moment, which is known as mindfulness. It can be incorporated into the simple activities in life like eating, walking, and even talking to people. Through the practice of developing mindfulness, one is able to become aware of their thoughts, feelings and actions as well as the environment leading to a more healthy, happier state of being.

Stress and Anxiety Reduction 

It is rather stating the obvious when claiming that the practice of yoga can help to relieve stress and anxiety. It is noteworthy that pranayama, meditation, and relaxation exercises facilitate the same nervous system that counteracts the effects of stress and in turn anxiety.

Achieving Emotional Balance 

With the promotion of circulation of endorphin, which is described as the body’s natural mood enhancer, an improvement in mood and wellness occurs. Also, practices such as pranayama and meditation also help to reduce the level of stress responding by raising the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid in human beings.

Relaxation and Sleep-Inducing Practices 

It is therefore possible to deduce that gentle asanas, pranayama and the relaxation response yoga session are particularly suitable for making the body relaxed and ready for sleep. These practices help to relax and thus get rid of excessive thinking, muscle stiffness, and elevated pulse, which help to create the proper environment for sleep.

Cognitive Benefits 

Cognitive function, including memory, attention, and executive function, is vital for daily life and overall mental health. Yoga has been shown to enhance cognitive abilities and protect against age-related cognitive decline. For example, yoga practices that involve focused attention, such as pranayama and meditation, improve concentration and cognitive performance.

Building Supportive Relationships 

Yoga classes and communities provide opportunities for social interaction and connection. These supportive relationships can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are risk factors for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Integrating Yoga into Mental Health Treatment   

The growing body of evidence supporting the mental health benefits of yoga has led to its integration into various therapeutic settings. Yoga is now used as a complementary therapy in the treatment of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance use disorders.

Yoga therapy involves the application of specific yoga practices to address individual health conditions and promote overall well being. Trained yoga therapists work with individuals to develop personalized yoga programs that complement traditional mental health treatments and support holistic healing. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are evidence-based programs that integrate mindfulness practices, including yoga, to reduce stress and prevent relapse into depression. These programs have been shown to be effective in improving mental health outcomes and enhancing overall quality of life.


Yoga is far more than just a series of poses; it is a way of life that encompasses physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. The holistic teachings of yoga can help us cultivate greater health, happiness, and harmony in our lives.

Solh Wellness can be a helpful companion if you’re looking to explore yoga. Learn about the various techniques derived from yoga through our educational resources such as blogs, audio, and videos. You can also book a session with a yoga professional under our ‘Allied Therapies’ section.

In a world that often feels fragmented and chaotic, yoga offers a path to inner peace and connection. It reminds us that we are part of something greater and that by nurturing our own light, we can illuminate the world. Regardless of whatever level of proficiency you’re at, the journey of yoga is a continuous exploration of the self, a journey that is ever-evolving and infinitely rewarding.