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Achieving Well-Being In 2023 Through The Ancient Wisdom Of Yoga

Written by: Kristen Lessig Schenerlein, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Well-being is a measure of how they think, feel, and behave in the world, all with the end goal of living a life of flourishing. This is the foundation set by the Father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman. Well-being is a complicated construct that includes hedonic means (pleasure seeking, pain avoidance) and eudaimonic means (seeking meaning, self actualization) on the quest to human flourishing (Ryan and Deci, (2001). Yoga is a growing means of optimal living, eudaimonic well-being. Yoga has experienced a 64% growth in popularity in twelve years, as people seek ways to manage stress. Research shows rising stress levels worldwide and the global yoga industry will surpass 88 billion dollars this year.

woman practicing yoga at home.

There are 7,000 yoga studios in the United States and estimated of 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide (Smith, 2022). A yoga practitioner's knowledge is rooted in yoga philosophy compiled by The Father of Yoga, Pratanjali, highlighting the challenge (and reward) that comes from bringing the teachings off the yoga mat and into daily life. Considering Positive Psychology’s aim is to enhance human flourishing worldwide, yoga practitioners can have a significant impact on advancing the field while integrating the science of well-being with the science of yoga in studios across the globe.


To merge the sciences of yoga and well-being, Dr. Seligman’s PERMA™ theory is a useful construct focused on specific building blocks, measured independently, to enable human flourishing. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras provide an overlay of yoga principles via simple texts to guide the practical application of well-being. Each can be internalized differently, as what constitutes well-being for one individual may be different for another. This key concept is referred to as subjective well-being, individual self-reports life experiences, providing a general evaluation of the quality of experiences (Peterson, 2006). This proposed integrative approach realizes that the physical practice of yoga is not for everyone, though the teachings behind the practice may also be more accessible when integrated into positive interventions as well, aiding in self-actualization leading to optimal living.


Beginning with the P in PERMA™ theory, Positive Emotions have a certain role in hedonic well-being. Positive emotions are based on love and they are expansive, opening us up to other individuals, experiences, and to knowledge of the world around us. Positive emotions also signal safety, which allows us to build off of them. Positive emotions radiate outwards, reflecting inner experiences of joy, awe, wonder, and gratitude (Fredrickson, 2009). One can increase their positive emotions related to past, present, and future experiences using positive interventions that engage practices of gratitude, forgiveness, savoring, mindfulness, and the cultivation of hope and optimism (Seligman, 2011). Our experiences of positive emotions fluctuate as we are also predisposed to more negative emotions, making navigating a balance between essentials. Yoga Sutra 2.33 states that when disturbed by negative emotions (thoughts), opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. Inviting the exercise of shifting from anger to love by changing our environment or our thoughts and controlling our minds (Satchidananda, 2012).


Engagement, the E in PERMA™, connects to the physical practice of yoga, as it is based on the concept of flow, when skill and challenge converge an individual is one with their experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). In flow, full attention is on the task, an inherent aim for both Positive Psychology practitioners delivering positive interventions and for yoga practitioners guiding a yoga practice. In both, the reward is the experience itself, where the individual loses their sense of self, immersed in the experience. This is what draws people to their yoga mat each day, the chance to be fully engaged in the practice. Asana, one of the eight limbs of yoga, focuses on cultivating deep steadiness and ease of mind and body through a series of physical postures (Stone, 2008).Yoga Sutra 1.14 describes one’s practice as perfection when it is firmly rooted in regularity, a continuous focus throughout, and with the basis of love and respect for yoga (Satchidananda, 2012). Attending regularly to that which improves our well-being allows us to experience Csikszentmihalyi’s (2008) flow state.


Eudaimonic well-being through the lens of the Relationships, the R in PERMA™, is fundamental. Connections to family, friends, and co-workers give our life deeper meaning. As social beings we have evolved to adapt to challenges due to strong connections with others. Yoga Sutra 1.33 aids in maintaining a peaceful mind where Patanjali focuses on key attitudes to cultivate greater fulfillment in life through the relationships we have by sharing joy, extending compassion to the less fortunate, celebrating good and moral values, and distancing ourselves from negative or toxic relationships. The yamas, another limb of yoga, clarifies our relationship with the world around us where a yogi is expected to practice external restraints of non harming, honesty, nonstealing, energy management, and acquiring only the essentials (Stone, 2008). The most important relationship in yoga, and in life, is the relationship we have with ourselves and we are reminded of this each day we step on our mat and set our intention.


The practice of yoga is carried out everyday through the five niyamas, also part of the eight limbs of yoga. By leading a principled inner life of purity, contentment, patience, self-study, and dedication (Stone, 2008) we are exercising healthy habits of a life well lived. This correlates to the M in PERMA™, Meaning, where a connection to that which is larger than ourselves enhances our well-being. Meaning can be derived from religion, work, community, family, or social causes and serves as a rutter in our life, helping us navigate the twists and turns while providing a sense of stability. Meaning serves as a path to a good life and as Aristotle posited, aids in cultivating the best qualities within us (Smith, 2017). Yoga Sutra 1.2 is essentially the purpose and meaning behind the practice of yoga, cessation of modifications of the mind (mind chatter) that allows us to experience the present moment (Satchidananda, 2012). It is here that we experience effortless well-being that extends beyond our mat and allows us to flourish as human beings.


Finally, the various routes described above lead us to the A or Accomplishment of PERMA™ successfully enhancing our well-being, in this case, through applying the science of yoga to our daily lives. Whether on our yoga mat or in our homes, offices, churches, or communities we are successful in our pursuit of the good life when we score high in all of the domains outlined throughout. Accomplishments relating to yoga might include dhyana (absorption) or samadhi (integration), of the eight limbs of yoga, specifically where there is no separation between ourselves and the world around us (Stone, 2008). We are one. Yoga Sutra 2.46 encourages the idea of steadiness and ease of our inner state, extending this to a life well lived. We must let go of accomplishment in the traditional sense, allowing ourselves to experience the beauty of each posture as its own experience (Satchidananda, 2012).


When we can align the domains of PERMA with the Yoga Sutra’s we see and experience what it means to flourish. The construct of PERMA enables us to measure flourishing by evaluating the individual components of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. The overlay of the Yoga Sutras aid in combining the sciences of well-being and yoga. Further, expanding Positive Psychology’s reach, making it more accessible by integrating into a field that is expanding across the globe.


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Kristen Lessig Schenerlein, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kristen Lessig-Schenerlein, a social entrepreneur, mental fitness coach and yoga instructor, is an expert in nonprofit leadership, forever passionate about the fields of neuroscience, positive psychology, and performance science. After nearly two decades of being driven by a mission, almost to complete burnout and after having experienced the real life effects of working within a toxic environment, Kristen began down a new path in service to others facing similar challenges. She integrated her own personal yoga practice and energy medicine into a science-based coaching practice. She became a trained yoga instructor guiding her clients “on the mat” and also an ICF Certified Professional Coach and a Certified Positive Intelligence Coach to support her clients “off the mat” with mental fitness training and coaching. Kristen has dedicated her entire career to transforming the lives of others and sees herself now as a guide to those willing to do the innerwork necessary to link their power with their passions, so that they can live a life more in alignment with their values, while showing up authentically in aspects of their lives. Kristen is the founder of Koi Coaching and Consulting, serving clients around the world, thanks in part to being part of the coaching team of BetterUp as well, whose mission is to make coaching accessible to all, unlocking greater potential, purpose, and passion.


Born in a small coastal town in Connecticut, Kristen also spent a good part of her career in Richmond, Virginia, where she founded her nonprofit organization before moving back to the coast where she now resides in Southwest Florida with her husband and a blended family of four beautiful children.

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