“Each of us caught in a matrix, a universe of forces that frequently produces our unhappiness.’”
– Levine, 2011
Mindfulness was originally introduced by the ancient teachings of the Buddha. In Buddhism, the cultivation of mindfulness is achieved through meditation.
In our modern times, yoga has gained much traction as it offers us a practice of mindfulness whilst improving our physical and mental health.
Exploring mindfulness and its roots in buddhism, yoga and meditation will be helpful in understanding the role it can play in the field of positive psychology.
The core of Buddha’s teachings are based on 4 concepts, namely:
- Liberation from suffering and
- The eight-fold path
In Buddhism human beings are viewed as vulnerable and susceptible to experiencing pain and unhappiness throughout our lifetimes. If we are to start attempting to overcome these negative experiences we need to gain understanding into the origin of our suffering.
For most people negative feelings are associated with unpleasant external experiences however; according to the Buddhist approach:
“The ultimate cause of suffering lies squarely within the individual”
– Levine, 2011
This is what the Buddha called ‘craving‘.
The human being has many cravings whether biological, ego driven, or culturally-conditioned. We all aim to avoid threats to our well-being (eg. pain) whilst maintaining and improving our self-worth and the value we share with society.
The goal of Buddhism is not to control the cravings but rather to transform them, to detach from them and eventually freely experience a happiness which is independent of them.
Yoga is a practice which combines the mind and body to promote better mental and physical health. It includes physical postures and exercises which encourage the development of strength and flexibility, breathing techniques as well as exercises in mindfulness, meditation and relaxation are performed together in order to train attention. (Noggle et al, 2012)
Yoga has two main principles which align with Buddhism; firstly is liberation from suffering and secondly is cleaning the mind of misconceptions, thus reducing cravings and eventually realizing Atman, the end of our suffering.
Combining Buddhism, Yoga, and Positive Psychology
“Both the Buddhist monk and the clinical psychologist work toward understanding the forces that determine the inner life.”
– Levine, 2011
The fundamental themes of self-discipline, mindfulness, concentration and ‘being in the present’ are introduced in Buddhist as well as Yoga philosophy. These are easily compared to the concepts of self-control and flow presented by positive psychology. (Ivtzan & Papantoniou, 2014)
The most important correlation however is that of ‘controlling our mind’ and thoughts. Something that can be done at work with meditation, for instance.
According to a study performed by Levine (2011), the correlations between Yogic philosophy and Buddhism are ‘inner well-being’ and ‘having the right thoughts’. In the field of positive psychology Seligman presents the similar idea that thinking patterns which are ‘wrong’ or ‘pessimistic’ can lead to suffering.
The early treatment of depression used the same concept. Clients were first made aware of the thought that is “wrong” and then how they can transform it to the right one. In this way the clients started to become mindful about their thought patterns and begin making important changes in their rehabilitation.
Moreover, a study of the relationship between yoga, ‘meaning of life’ and gratitude revealed that there was a strong correlation between regular yoga practice and ‘higher reports of meaning of life’ (Ivtzan & Papantoniou, 2014). The same result was also found in their study on gratitude (Ivtzan & Papantoniou, 2014).
According to Buddhist philosophy, suffering is unavoidable. There is evidence of this in our daily lives where we often face challenges and unpleasant circumstances that we cannot control.
Being mindful of our thought patterns can help us towards transforming our suffering into well-being. The best news is it can be cultivated through different methods.
If traditional meditation up your alley, you may like yoga as well. It will help you to develop mindfulness, increase your gratitude and improve your sense meaning in life all while helping you keep in good shape.
Levine, M. (2011). The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga: Paths to a Mature Happiness. New Jersey; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Noggle, J., Steiner, N., Minami, T., Khalsa, S. (2012). Benefits of yoga for psychosocial well-being in a US high school curriculum: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 33(3), 193-201.
Ivtzan, I., Papantoniou, A. (2014). Yoga meets positive psychology: Examining the integration of hedonic (gratitude) and eudaimonic (meaning) wellbeing in relation to the extent of yoga practice. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 18(2),183-189.