Why would we want to strengthen our minds? Let's say we decide that we lack physical strength. Pick up any fitness magazine and there are pages of advice to help us build muscle, endurance and physical strength. YouTube channels guide us through training regiments, gyms facilitate group classes and personal trainers create individual programs to strengthen our bodies. There is an abundance of resources out there to help us. Yet, with all this emphasis on physical strength, it can be easy to forget that strength is not just a physical quality. According to the Oxford dictionary, it's also “the emotional or mental qualities necessary in dealing with difficult or distressing situations.”
This definition of strength says that it's necessary for dealing with difficult or distressing situations. Not helpful or desirable, but indispensable. If we are required to deal with challenging situations, we will need strength of mind. How many of us can actually say we've never experienced a stressful situation?
Strengthening our minds helps give us the resilience to cope with life when it isn't perfect. It makes us less likely to buckle under pressure and gives us a fighting chance of retaining our equanimity when life gets tough. If we can do that, we’re likely to be happier, more well-balanced and positive people. This is good for us and those around us.
How Yoga Strengthens the Mind
There are countless ways in which the teachings and practice of yoga makes us stronger. The following key techniques work specifically on strengthening the mind.
Meditation is exercise for the mind. In meditation, we make a concerted effort to focus. Every time our monkey minds wander, we need to flex our mental muscles to notice the drift and pull our attention back to the present moment. The more we practice, the more we build concentration, focus and mental discipline.
Try setting aside 10 minutes a day, or even just three or five minutes, to sit and meditate. Notice over time, the difference this makes to your mental state during the remainder of the day. (Learn more in How Do I Start Meditating and Quieting the Commentary of Your Mind.)
Chanting is another way to strengthen the mind. It helps us connect with our inner power and to enjoy a vocal practice in mindfulness. In yoga, repeating a specific mantra is known as practicing japa. Japa is a Sanskrit word that means "to repeat internally." Depending on the mantra and the intention of the practice, it may help to evoke a particular mental state. It also cultivates focus, concentration and inner strength. We can use a simple mantra such as Om, or choose a mantra such as the Hanuman Mantra, "Om Hanumate Namah" which is believed to help bring about inner strength and power. (Read more in What's a Mantra? and The Meaning of Om.)
Try a daily chanting practice, or use chanting as a tool next time you face a difficult or stressful situation. Taking a few minutes out to chant will shift your mind into a different gear, break any negative thought patterns and help you to reconnect with a feeling of internal equanimity.
One of the most powerful tools for strengthening our mind is by becoming an attentive observer of our thoughts. Contemplation means deep reflective thought. It can be a great way to connect with our inner wisdom, giving us more insight and awareness. There is a difference between contemplating and over-analyzing. When we contemplate something, we specifically set aside time to quietly think and reflect with the intention of gaining better understanding. We don’t force or obsess like we would if we were ruminating over a specific worry. When we contemplate, we mindfully take the time to calmly reflect on the thoughts that are arising in our mind.
For some people, keeping a journal or reading and reflecting on spiritual texts may support the process of contemplation. Others prefer to simply sit and reflect.
Compared to building physical strength, it’s hard to measure and quantify the progress we make in our efforts to strengthen our minds. However, the difference becomes obvious every time we are faced with a difficult or stressful situation. Life doesn’t necessarily become less challenging, but the ease with which we can deal with those challenges does. After all, if we can build enough physical strength to bench press twice our body weight, but can't get out there and face the world, what good are those muscles for?