Yoga Mimamsa

: 2018  |  Volume : 50  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 16--19

Yoga: A self-regulation process

Laura Tolbaños Roche 
 Department of Clinical Psychology, Psychobiology and Methodology, Section of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

Correspondence Address:
Laura Tolbaños Roche
Kamalabari Yoga Studio, Senador Castillo Olivares, 55, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria 35003


According to the ancient yogic texts, the origin of suffering is the ignorance of the true nature of things (avidya). The yogasutras of Patanjali posit that the main objective of yoga is to cease the origin of suffering by a process of involution called pratiprasava, through the development of awareness and consciousness. From a psychotherapeutic point of view, the cessation of suffering could be explained as the result of a process of self-regulation based on the development of self-awareness. It proposes that yoga practice promotes an embodiment process, providing the integration of the organism's systemic unit: brain, body, and environment. This integration process could be the central mechanism of affective self-regulation.

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Roche LT. Yoga: A self-regulation process.Yoga Mimamsa 2018;50:16-19

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Roche LT. Yoga: A self-regulation process. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Mar 29 ];50:16-19
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 Yoga and Pratiprasava: the Ending of Suffering

The yogic holistic approach comprises all the constitutive aspects of an integral management of health: with a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, natural environment, physical practice, breath work (pranayama), meditation, healthy thinking, and practicing of an attitude of mindfulness in daily activities. From a therapeutic point of view, yoga focuses on achieving and maintaining a state of psychophysiological balance, through a set of techniques to cope with stress, reducing psychophysiological activation and facilitating a state of mental calm. However, beyond this therapeutic approach, the purpose of yoga is to act on the very origin of the imbalances that lead to illness or lack of health, and thus to be able of promoting the access to a natural, positive, and calm mental state that can remain independent of daily life situations and circumstances, achieving a general state of well-being (Pradhan, 2014).

According to the yogasutras of Patanjali, the first systematization of the principles and practices of yoga, the elimination of suffering can only be produced by a process of involution called pratiprasava. The sutra 2.3 says: “avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha klesha,” what according to Bharati (2007) means that: “There are five kinds of suffering causes (kleshas): (1) forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things (avidya), (2) I-ness, individuality, or egoism (asmita), (3) attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects (raga), (4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha), and (5) love of these as being life itself, as well as, fear of their loss as being” (p.19). Moreover, the sutra 2.4 points out: “avidya kshetram uttaresham prasupta tanu vicchinna udaranam,” what following the interpretation of Bharati (2007) means: “The root forgetting or ignorance of the nature of things (avidya) is the breeding ground for the other of the five sufferings' causes (kleshas), and each of these in one of the four states: (1) dormant or inactive, (2) attenuated or weakened, (3) interrupted or separated temporarily, or (4) active and producing thoughts or actions to varying degrees” (p.20).

From this original teaching, we can understand that the origin or primary cause of suffering is the ignorance of the true nature of things (avidya) and that also is the cause, out of which, the other four sources of suffering arise: I-ness, attachment, aversion, and fear of death.

Then, Patanjali posits that the main objective of yoga is to cease the origin of suffering, that is, ending ignorance through its antidote, the development of awareness and consciousness. Patanjali defines yoga (sutra 1.2) as: “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha,” “Yoga is the control of the modifications of the mind field.” And: “vritti sarupyam itaratra” (sutra 1.4) which means, according to Bharati (2007): “At other times, when one is not in self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns” (p.5).

From a psychotherapeutic point of view, and according to the concept of pratiprasava and Patanjali's definition of yoga, the cessation of suffering could be explained as the result of a process of self-regulation based on the development of self-awareness. It is proposed that this self-regulation process could also be explained through an embodiment process based on two fundamental pillars: (i) the intervention on the levels of organization of the experience and (ii) the concept of embodied mind.

 The Embodiment Process

Yoga acts on all levels of knowledge and organization of experience: sensorimotor, emotional, and cognitive. These levels are closely interconnected and interdependent. Cognitive processing usually prevails over emotional and sensorimotor responses so that we can avoid or subordinate emotions and feelings to our reasoning (top-down processing). But also bodily sensations and emotions influence cognitive processes and decision-making (bottom-up processing). Likewise, emotional processing is inseparable from the body and its sensations. Emotions correspond to bodily sensations and these, in turn, generate emotions. We use the same brain circuits for mental actions and physical actions. It has been shown that certain areas of the central nervous system (CNS) are involved in autonomic regulation (Pollatos, Schandry, Auer, & Kaufmann, 2007). One of them is the central autonomic network (CAN), which receives and integrates internal information and environment information and coordinates autonomic, endocrine, and behavioral responses. CAN includes structures such as the cortex of the anterior cingulate and the insular cortex, linked to the interoceptive consciousness and emotions.

However, these top-down and bottom-up processes are not independent, but interact generating the conscious experience at the present moment. Yoga practice could facilitate the integration of these processes, with the development of body, mind, and environment awareness, as well as, by paying attention to both internal and external stimuli. Furthermore, yoga could lead to the awareness of the complex interaction of bodily states with the cognitive and emotional processes, which would be a self-regulation mechanism in itself (Khoury et al., 2017).

Body awareness has a transformative effect. In cases of unpleasant internal sensations, yoga practice can lead to a transformation of them into more tolerable sensations. For example, in a study of chronic neck pain patients who followed a 9-week yoga program, Cramer et al. (2013) found a body awareness increasing and a perceived health control enhancement in the participants, as well as a higher ability to create an emotional distance from overwhelming situations and a better acceptance of pain and daily life burdens. In the same way, in another study of application of a yoga program in chronic pain patients, an improvement in their ability to control the degree of pain interference in their daily life was shown. Patients suffered less episodes of pain or less intense pain, since they could recognize the signals of the body and prepare cognitively to relieve the pain sensations (Tul, Unruh, & Dick, 2011).

Reinforcing this idea, the theory of the embodied mind raises cognition as a corporealized action (Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991). The cognition is the resulting process from the interaction of the different body systems and from the relationship to the environment. The body is conceived as a cognitive system in itself. Body sensations, postures, gestures, and body expression are part of the emotional experience and have a direct influence on the perception and evaluation of the environment, situations, objects, and other people and, therefore, on the perception of the emotional and affective interaction with them (Fuchs & Koch, 2014). As a result of this interaction, the basic sense of being alive arises and “physical body becomes the live and experienced body, or the very basis of self-awareness” (Fuchs, 2012). The body sensations play a fundamental role in the sense of identity. Hence, body and relationship with the environment awareness could be the base of self-consciousness. Yoga practice would promote this process of embodiment which, from the level of the visceral, sensory, and motor consciousness, develops the consciousness of this “live and experienced body” and, transcending the linear senses, descending and ascending, would act on the complex network of interactions of the organism's systemic unit: brain, body, and environment.

 Self-Care and Self-Regulation Through Yoga Practice: Neurophysiological and Cognitive Mechanisms

The relationship between the CNS activity patterns associated with emotional styles and peripheral biological processes (endocrine, autonomic, and immune functions) involved in physical health and well-being has been well proven by research on neural substrates of emotional processing (Davidson, 2014). Moreover, the brain circuits that underlie differences in emotional responses and emotional regulation are highly plastic and are transformable through experience. Yoga practice promotes a general attitude of health care, as well as a commitment and a personal responsibility in its maintenance. Thus, healthy mental habits and positive cognitive and behavioral changes, aimed at increasing the degree of well-being and resilience, can be developed through yoga practices. In this regard, important extant evidence in animal models and in humans have shown structural and functional changes in the brain, after interventions with cognitive therapy and certain forms of meditation based on compassion, leading to the suggestion that the neural circuits underlying social and emotional behavior well-being and other prosocial characteristics might be enhanced through the training in these practices (Davidson & McEwen, 2012).

Furthermore, according to the current approach of attachment theory conceived as an affective regulation theory (Schore and Schore, 2008), early attachment experiences are determinants for the structural development of neurobiological systems involved in emotion processing, tension modulation, and emotional self-regulation. However, attachment experiences can produce both structural and functional neurobiological changes, not only at these early stages, but at all later stages of development, depending on social connections, conscious and unconscious communications, and interpersonal relationships. Attachment experiences are essential to “create” a right side of the brain which successfully regulates internal states and external relationships. Similarly, current expansion of the interactive-affective regulation and communication principles, neurobiologically supported, could explain and justify the role of yoga practice in the establishment of a secure attachment relationship with oneself (Siegel, 2007). Self-awareness process, developed through yoga practice, gives a feedback to the practitioners about their sensorial, emotional, and cognitive processes, improving the self-knowledge and better and more objective understanding of the reality. The practitioners establish a communication, a dialog with themselves which help them to regulate their own psychobiological processes. In this way, the yoga practitioners can share their experiences with the self-observer (consciousness) and receive comfort and security of what, in this explanatory context, we could call an affective relationship with this consciousness. The practitioners discover that there is something beyond their thoughts and emotions that remains immutable, a presence or state of being which they can establish an unconditional relationship with; a presence of peace and serenity, where they can always find shelter.

The role of awareness and mindfulness in emotional self-regulation has also been confirmed by research on correlates of neurological activity in affective regulation, providing evidence for an explanatory neurophysiological pathway (Goodman, Quaglia, & Brown, 2015). In this sense, a relationship between mindfulness practices and left prefrontal activation is enhanced (Davidson et al., 2003; Moyer et al., 2011), related to positive affective style (Harmon-Jones & Harmon-Jones, 2011). Furthermore, right amygdala activity decreases, related to relevant emotional threat detection (Farb et al., 2007), and orbitofrontal cortex activation gets enhanced related to emotional regulation (Zeidan et al., 2011).

 The Role of Acceptance and Decentering in Self-Regulation

The objective understanding of the reality conducts to a clear vision of nonpermanence of feelings, emotions, and thoughts, spreading out attitudes such as dis-identification, nonreaction, and nonjudgment, resulting in a new way of experience processing. This understanding of the reality also leads to a deeper insight into the interdependence between the human being and the environment, promoting humility and acceptance. Acceptance and dis-identification of the emotional experience leads the practitioner neither seeking tirelessly for pleasant experiences nor rejecting those that are not. Hence, higher tolerance of negative emotions is experienced, without needing to control them. By experiencing acceptance, struggle and rejection are transcended, and an inner space is created in which emotion can be liberated and transcended. Thus, the change from a “control attitude,” in which the goal is to achieve regulation, to an “attitude of acceptance,” is evident. This takes the present experience as a transient experience, contributing to the self-regulation process.


According to the ancient yogic texts, yoga points out to ending ignorance, origin of suffering, through the development of its antidote: the unfolding of an awareness and consciousness. From a psychotherapeutic point of view, self-awareness provides the integration of all experience levels, culminating into a self-regulation process in itself.

Self-awareness development represents a new way of being with oneself. Through body awareness, the yoga practitioner can be in contact with the experience from a physical and mental stillness, encouraging a “no judgment” and “no reaction” space, that is, an acceptance space. Yoga is a practice of awareness and consciousness in daily life, observing and recognizing sensations, thoughts and emotions, and relationships between them. Yoga practice reduces psychophysiological activation and cultivates a state of mental calm, promoting physical, emotional, and attitudinal changes and thus enhancing a positive and healthy relationship with the environment. In this way, the yoga practitioner experiences this consciousness process as a transformation process leading to achieving and maintaining a state of complete health and well-being.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.[19]


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