Self-control plays such an important part in our lives and how we live, because without it there could be moments that it is easier to scream and shout when something does not go according to our wishes, increasing stress to ourselves and others close to us. It could also lead to out of control eating, drinking or other behaviours that can be very damaging to the self and is then followed by feelings of guilt.
According to the Oxford dictionary, self-control is defined as:
The ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires, especially in difficult situations.
So, can yoga help and if so, how?
In practical terms, to practice yoga requires discipline, especially in the beginning before your body starts to feel and experience the ‘feel good’ benefits of yoga that will make you want to practice. It reminds me of the saying in the US army, I am sure elsewhere too, that the first step is to get out of bed and make your bed. Sometimes that is a massive achievement. In the beginning practicing yoga is the same. Just do it. Before you know it, your body and mind feel so much better that you actually want to continue and miss it when you skip a practice.
What does this have to do with self-control? Self-control makes us feel better about ourselves, because it helps us to achieve small or big tasks that may not be possible otherwise. Lack of self-control on the other hand leads to depression, anxiety, obesity or other undesirable behaviours which is then often followed by feelings of guilt, for example eating a whole packet of biscuits instead of enjoying just a couple. Self-control is therefore a life skill. It helps us to regulate our thoughts, feelings and actions.
Research led by the *Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in the USA found that yoga provides tools that impact the mind (top down) as well as tools that impact the body (bottom-up) and the synergy between the two, unique to yoga, creates the most impact.
The effect of meditation helps us to stay present to different experiences and sensations which can help us to manage emotions better and increase self-compassion. By becoming aware of what makes us feel better we start acting in a way that achieves this more, thereby reducing stress.
The bottom-up tools found in our physical yoga asana/poses practice impacts on the body directly. By focusing on the breath and moving with awareness, something changes mentally, without us even trying to do so. The physiological function of the body is impacted directly, such as the function of the vagus nerve which helps us calm down and relax. It improves the heart rate variability and reduces stress.
This self-control is about finding a balance to create a space to be happy within yourself in a kind and compassion way, not in a controlling way. Enjoy the biscuit and the yoga practice. Allow others the space to do the same. At the end of the day life is about living in a joyful, happy way.