Yoga for Relaxation: How to Quiet the Mind – Katie Couric Media

Yoga isn’t about standing on your head, it’s about calming the mind.

In a world with an exasperating news cycle, 15-second Instagram reels, and over-opinionated people, remaining calm is becoming increasingly difficult. But , even amid this chaos, there are ways to find stillness, tranquility, and peace of mind no matter where you are or what you’re up against. One of them? Yoga.  

If you tried yoga once and felt the opposite of relaxation (when someone challenges you to “focus on your breath, ” we get it if it feels like the only thing you cannot do in that moment), we don’t blame you for swearing off the pretzely practice. But before you go that far, just allow me to take you on a short journey to explore what yoga is actually meant for. (You guessed it: Focusing on the breath! ).

The true purpose of yoga

Today, one can come across all kinds of yoga classes — power yoga exercise, yoga for the core, restorative yoga, hot yoga, and even yoga sculpt, where downward dogs are balanced with neon weights and finished with a few dancing punches. (Most people look frantic and unable to keep up with the HIIT, but leave sweaty, panting, and flaunting a look of victory that announces they managed some serious sculpting. ) All of this is pretty far from the true purpose of yoga exercises.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve got no issue with people morphing yoga to suit their interests. But what saddens me is that in the quest to turn yoga into a sculpting mechanism churning out finely cut abs and toned legs, many never experience the magic of the yogic philosophy. When I trained to be a yoga teacher in New Delhi, I was taught to emphasize that the goal of yoga is to turn inward, not just focus on what’s visible outside.  

Every time I lead a yoga session, I begin with the words, “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha, ” which means yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. These words were part of Patanjali’s yoga sutras (aphorisms), often regarded as the authoritative text on the practice of yoga (fun fact: The text is thought to be at least 4000 years old). No, this doesn’t mean that you need to entirely stop thinking. As Swami Tattwamayananda of the Vedanta Institute explains , these words refer to achieving “complete freedom from all obsessive mental tendencies. ” 

Let’s begin here — yoga isn’t just a power exercise or a 40-minute class, it’s a way associated with life. Yogic philosophy espouses goals and ideas much larger than the ability to complete 108 sun salutation flows. For those who truly give in, the yogic way of life permeates every aspect of their own being — what they eat, how consciously they breathe, how present they are, how they interact with others, how they interact with themselves, how they practice the particular physical aspect of yoga. And all with the goal to achieve stillness of mind and body. Hold on, hold on — I don’t quite mean you need to give up everything plus move to the mountains to meditate. The benefits of yoga are actually accessible to each one of us, no matter how busy our lives may be. Simply put, at any point, when your mind is still and in the present moment, uninfluenced by attachments to changes in the world around you, you are in yoga. It’s the stillness, not the sculpting, that lies at the heart of the viewpoint.

How to achieve stillness through yoga

The Yoga Institute , the world’s oldest organized yoga center, says there are two ways to achieve this stillness of mind — Abhyasa and Vairagya:

Abhyasa (practice): We’ve all heard, a little too often , that “practice makes perfect. ” But , for a minute, forget about the perfection and concentrate on the practice. That’s the first step to achieving stillness — to focus on the action you’re doing with determined and continuous effort. Once you begin to practice actions with strong mental and physical discipline, the journey to stillness begins.

Vairagya (detachment): The continuous practice must then be met with a sense of desireless. This means you dedicate yourself to the practice associated with yoga without being attached to the outcome of the fancy-looking handstand, wheel, headstand, or any of the other poses that influencers do on mountaintops and sandy beaches. The goal is not to turn your body upside down, but to be able to practice regularly with focus, dedication, and detachment. To be able to practice simply for the exercise itself — accepting the practice and all its benefits as a way of life.

Abhyasa and Vairagya can be applied to every aspect of life — not just to how you practice yoga in its physical form. It can impact anything from how present you are while eating your meals to how you connect to those around you. For example , it means thinking about eating healthy not because it’s going to lead to a size-zero figure, but because it’s important to have a healthy body and mind that allow for tranquility.

As you begin or continue your yoga practice, try the following to find stillness:

Connect with your breath

Every time you feel like you are getting distracted while practicing yoga (or really whenever), take a pause and notice the pattern of your breath. This simple trick works wonders for relaxing you.  

Observe your thoughts

This is where the magic of detachment comes in. While meditating or just thinking, try to observe your thoughts — become a viewer from the “show” instead of a participant. Slowly, your mind will begin detaching from the thoughts and you’ll reach for them with stillness.

Practice regularly

I suggest you begin your yoga practice at a pace that’s comfortable for you — it doesn’t matter if you practice for 15 minutes or even 25 minutes. However , it is important that you practice regularly, along with determination, focus, and detachment from the outcome. Over time, the benefits will stack!  

Yoga exercise, I say again, is not about building muscles that allow you to stand upside down; it’s about building the muscle to keep yourself calm even when the world seems upside down. The handstand is a bonus.