Yoga and Psychology at Hanuman Festival

By Dr. Arielle Schwartz


Yoga has much to offer for our physical wellbeing but the benefits of practice do not stop there. The effects of yoga practices also help us find mental calm and emotional balance. This year, Hanuman Festival features classes devoted to yoga psychology offering you a well-rounded experience for your body, mind, and soul.

Why yoga and psychology? Research has demonstrated that yoga balances the autonomic nervous system which is the stress response system in the body. A healthy nervous system is one that oscillates naturally and freely between active (sympathetic nervous system) states and relaxed (parasympathetic nervous system) states.

Anxiety tends to occur when we are stuck in a sympathetic nervous system response. If you have experienced anxiety then you know well the accompanying physical sensations; usually some variation of quickened breathing, racing heartbeat, and sweaty palms. Yoga can help reduce anxiety with practices such as deep relaxation or conscious breathing which are powerful tools for calming oneself during surges of stress. Hanuman Festival offers classes in Pranayama and Yoga Nidra this year.

Yoga also asks you to become conscious of your thoughts to better understand how they contribute to psychological distress. Patanjali’s Sutras, a major text in yogic philosophy, emphasizes observation of your thoughts in order to develop “clear perception.” The Sanskrit word Klesha translates as “trouble maker” and refers to our mental misperceptions and misunderstandings. We work with them through increasing self-observation and labeling our thoughts as useful or not useful. It is important to note that we are not judging our thoughts as “good” or “bad.” We simply recognize that there are thoughts that create greater ease and those that create more distress. You can learn more in the yoga and psychology classes at Hanuman Festival this year.

A common cause of psychological distress is the need to be perfect. So, the next time you step on your yoga mat, remind yourself that you are engaging in yoga practice not yoga perfect. Each practice is an opportunity to explore your mind and body and to refine your awareness in one small way. And, as you join together with others in community at Hanuman Festival this year, your own self-acceptance becomes an invitation for others to do the same. Collectively, we claim a space to be real and vulnerable…as we join together in this imperfect human experience.

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