Yoga and Emotional Intelligence
What's the true meaning and goal of yoga? Whats is Emotional Intelligence and how yoga practice can help you develop Emotional Intelligence? These are the questions that I will discuss and hopefully give you more clarity in this article by using the most simple to understand and direct answer possible.
Yoga is derived from the Sanscrit word "YUJ" and it means union of individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. In simple and less philosophical wording it means there's no separation between yourself, your neighbour, the environment and even God (whatever that means to you, it can be any God you chose, or nature, energy, the universe, etc). We are all one, made of the same thing, with the same consciousness, knowledge, intelligence and potential. That realisation is the ultimate goal of Yoga. The more you find yourself in tune with this philosophy the more you can have compassion toward others, love and non-judgement towards yourself, more respect towards the environment and nature, more acceptance that things are the way they are for a reason, more trust that everything is going to be alright and the universe will provide according to its big plan, not yours. Living by this knowledge and philosophy brings you more happiness and joy, because you surrender more to the natural flow of things. Because you trust that the universe is working in your favour, not against you. This knowledge makes you more patient, less volatile, more calm, more humble, more joyful... And how do we achieve that? Some of you might be reading this and thinking to yourself that sounds all very dreamy and idealistic. But more and more science is studying and proving what already for thousands of years has been known and practiced by Yogis in India. And also let's not forget that these "results" have been described and experienced by normal people like me and you all around the world. Ultimately, yoga practice aims at achieving balance within the internal and external environment, thereby seeking to attain mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
And what all that has to do with Emotional Intelligence (EI)?
Let's start from the start. What is EI anyways? Emotional Intelligence is defined as "the ability to monitor one's own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions". The five components of EI are: self-awareness, self-regulation or self-management, self-motivation, empathy and social awareness. Let's look at each one of them with more detail to have better understanding of how yoga practice can help you attain more EI.
Self-awareness is the ability to recognise and understand personal moods and emotions as well as theirs effect on others. The ability of self-observation and awareness of oneself.
Self-regulation is the ability to monitor one's own emotional state and to correctly identify and name one's emotions. To feel and be aware of what emotions you're feeling, when they're coming up and how to observe them and respond to them without over-reacting or activating "fight and flight responses".
Self-motivation is the ability to direct one's emotions to achieve goals, recognise opportunities and deal with difficulties to convert them into opportunities and to be more productive and proactive. The ability to overcome difficulties without getting overwhelmed or feeling paralysed by the "bump on the road".
Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of other people. It's the skill of understanding people according to their emotional state and acting accordingly. Like putting yourself in their shoes :)
Social awareness, finally but not less important, is the ability to manage relationships and build networks. For that we need to able to find common ground between you and the other. To be able to build rapport. We are social beings and this is a skill not to be skipped or forgotten, isolating yourself and having things your way can give you a "false" impression of EI and harmony.
Now that you know what's yoga and what's Emotional Intelligence we can finally make the correlation between the two of them. The yoga practice embodies the discipline of postures, breathing and meditation. Through these practices, it has been proved that yoga helps to balance the nervous system and improve connections of brain structures that are critical for threat perception, emotional regulation and stress reactivity. In other words, to make sure you don't go into "fight and flight" mode for no reason (you're not being face by a tiger, so this is not a life threat!). A study conducted by a group of scientists in 2012 proved that changes in the endocrine system and levels of neurotransmitters in yoga practitioners help to elevate the mood, lower depression and improve emotional regulation because of significant changes in cortisol, dopamine and serotonin levels.
The practice of "Swadhyaaya" or self-introspection and self-observation, makes a yoga practitioner have a better awareness of him/herself. This deeper understanding of one's subtle behaviours and mental processes can bring on great insights about one's life and their relationship with the world around them. By developing these skills during the yoga practice one can gain deeper understating of oneself and how they relate to others. Concentration power is increased, the capacity to remain stable in difficult situations, the ability to let go of negative emotions and increase positive attitude, as well as patience and self-confidence. All of these may lead one to improve their level of Emotional Intelligence through consistent practice of yoga philosophy and lifestyle.
*Reference: Yoga and Emotional Intelligence, IAHRW International Journal of Social Issues Review 2019, Indian Association of Health, Research and Welfare - Mamman Joseph, Central University of Tamil Nadu & Screenivas P Kamath, Central University of Karnakata, India