Most seasoned yogis have seen how the quality and quantity of our thoughts affect our mental health, emotions, and physical bodies. A recent study has shown just how powerful practicing mindfulness and cultivating positive emotions can have on one’s physical health and healing. Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine taught a group of 80 people recently diagnosed with HIV five weekly sessions of positive thought and mindfulness skills. A 15- month follow up showed a 13% drop in the HIV patients’ viral load and a drop in antidepressant usage! While this study specifically looked at the health outcomes for individuals with HIV, it confirms that a daily practice of a few simple techniques can have a profound impact on our physical and mental well-being.
The practices taught in this study are remarkably easy, simple, and accessible. Most of these practices are taken from the emerging field of positive psychology, but, upon reading the list, yoga students may remember one of Patanjali’s sutras (1.33): “In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.”
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Here are the eight daily practices taught in the study:
- Recognize a positive event each day.
- Savor that positive event and write it in a journal or tell someone about it.
- Start a daily gratitude journal.
- List a personal strength each day and note how you’ve used this strength recently.
- Set an attainable goal each day and note your progress.
- Report a relatively minor stressor each day, then list ways to positively reappraise the event.
- Understand that small acts of kindness can have a big impact and practice a small act of kindness each day.
- Practice mindfulness with a daily 10-minute breathing exercise, concentrating on the breath.
Obviously, you don’t have to have HIV or another illness to reap the benefits of these practices. You can easily practice these exercises at any time during your day. You can also integrate and adapt them into several aspects of your yoga practice.
Here are a few ideas to begin:
- Keep a journal next to your yoga mat or in your yoga bag. Begin and/or end your yoga practice with journaling on any or all of the first six practices.
- Add extra minutes of pranayama or meditation to the start and/or end of your yoga practice.
- Find opportunities in your yoga class to be kind to yourself, to your yoga teacher, and to your fellow students.
- Develop or strengthen a relationship with a yoga class buddy to share your goals and achievements of practicing yoga on and off the mat.
Let us know how you add one or more of these eight practices to your yoga routine! We’d love to hear how these mindfulness and positive thought practices affect your body, mind, and heart.