How can yoga make us a better person?
The answer is quite simple, through the practice.
If you decide that you want to get stronger, lift weights. The method and interpretation is up to you but the idea is simple. What we know from science and common sense is that what would not work is sitting on the couch and contemplating the idea of being muscular. Yet for some reason, when we want to change our attitudes and behaviors [that make us a better person] we believe that it is possible through willpower alone. This is does not sound reasonable.
Let’s experiment. Right now I want you to be kind. Put all your will towards kindness. Could you do it? Now stop being kind and be compassionate. Don’t be too compassionate because now I want you to be courageous. Could you do it? My guess is not because without an experience to connect the attitudes with, it is just words and images in our mind.
Learning to be kind, compassionate, courageous, trusting, etc. require that we do something, such as lifting weights. Finding experiences to practice them is hard. In order to develop compassion, we would have to hang out with people who are suffering. To develop courage, we would have to take up an extreme sport. To become trusting, we would have to fill our lives with people who we don’t currently trust. Even if this was possible, I don’t think it would be very useful.
This is what makes yoga such a wonderful tool. Yoga is a method of practice and experience.
Yoga is 99% practice.
Let’s say you want to develop compassion. How would you do that in your practice? Every time that you come to your mat, embody kindness in each and every posture or breath. Catch yourself in self-loathing dialogue or criticism of others. Develop alternative attitudes in the direction of compassion or if that’s too hard, begin with indifference. Use every opportunity to install the new mindset. For courage, practice poses that you would otherwise avoid. Let yourself struggle and overcome the challenge. In the cultivation of trust, allow the teacher to guide you completely without addition. Believe in them. Maybe even test it out with a teacher you are a bit unfavorable towards.
These are just a few ideas of how we can utilize yoga, as a practice of attitudes. Be creative. By intentionally “engineering” our experience on the mat, we can create the attitudes that will make us a better version of ourselves off of it.