Sample from the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Swami Vidyananda

Swami Vidyananda’s workshops on Yoga and the emotions explore Integral Yoga techniques that bring greater harmony within oneself and to one’s relationships. These workshops use Hatha Yoga and meditation, as well as sacred imagery, cognitive restructuring through Raja Yoga and other Yoga tools. In this interview, Vidyanandaji illustrates how the multimodal approach of Integral Yoga is a very simple, yet powerful approach to mind-body healing and improved emotional balance.

Integral Yoga Magazine: What is the Integral Yoga approach to emotional well-being?

Swami Vidyananda: We approach the emotions through all levels of our being (the koshas): the body, breath, senses and intellect. We start with the body. Our emotions, we know, affect our health. Negative emotions show up in our body as tension, blocked energy, body armoring and physical discomfort. The poses essentially massage the body and so release emotional holding patterns. Over time, we let go of old painful emotions by releasing the memory of them that we hold in the body. This approach is a different from remembering old stories of how we got hurt. As Joseph Campbell said, “The Eastern approach to psychotherapy is biologic, not biographic.”

When I started practicing Hatha Yoga, many years ago, I had a couple of years when the practice was always joyful. Then I started to notice that I would be distracted by angry thoughts during my asanas. I wondered if I was doing something wrong in my Yoga practice. The anger would bubble up, and I would use Raja Yoga to analyze the anger during my meditation after the poses. I asked myself, “What am I attached to that’s making me angry? Will getting that thing make me permanently happy?” And after a while, the anger subsided.

I eventually realized that it was old anger that I had stuffed down for years that was gradually being released through my practice. I even had memories of childhood injustices that still distressed me, when I remembered them. So my Hatha Yoga practice was bringing them up, but also helping me to let go of them. Over the years I can see how the combination of Hatha Yoga and meditation gradually brought up old unresolved emotions and provided a way to integrate those energies in my mind and heart. It’s a long process, but so worth it when we realize that the manomaya kosha (emotional layer) goes with us into future incarnations.

IYM: Would all types of physical exercise have the same effect?

SV: They can, yes, but there’s something unique about classical Yoga traditions. It’s not just movement but the awareness that makes it Yoga. We tend to push painful emotions out of our awareness, along with the physical distress they cause. This can lead to depression and ultimately illness. In Integral Yoga Hatha poses, we move slowly so we can be conscious of what we feel at every phase of the movement. We start to study our use of prana, or energy. Am I using too much prana by straining or forcing my way through tension? Or am I using too little by not going as far as I could in the posture? Where are my chronic holding patterns that block the natural energy flow in daily life? Can I let go of the patterns, open the flow and relax?

This is different than, for example, basketball, where the focus is on the ball, one’s team members, the basket, etc. In Yoga the focus is inside us, listening to the body and the breath, stretching while letting go. This is profoundly healing for the body and emotions.

In basketball, it’s easy to strain oneself because of being so focused on the game.
In classical Yoga traditions we don’t strain. When we strain, our bodies feel pain, and we know to stop. If, however, our minds say, “No, I want this pose to be perfect and what I’m doing isn’t good enough,” two things happen: When we suppress what we are feeling in the body, we simultaneously stuff down the emotions as well. Straining re-enforces a negative emotional pattern, and having the thought that “This comfortable asana isn’t good enough” re-enforces a negative self-image…

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.