Pratyahara, one of yoga’s 8 limbs (guidelines to a meaningful and purposeful life), is withdrawal. In this limb, the goal is to draw the senses and awareness inward, and away from the external world. This practice focuses on awareness of oneself and maintaining inner awareness. Having an awareness of one’s thoughts and emotions increases their emotion regulation abilities (Gross, 1998).
Emotion regulation is the process of actively influencing the emotions we have. This includes influencing which emotions we have, when we have them, as well as how we express the emotions. There are many emotion regulation strategies, which are divided into one of two categories: reappraisal and suppression. Reappraisal involves constructing emotion-eliciting situations in non-emotional terms while suppression involves inhibiting emotion-expressing behavior. Reappraisal is suggested over suppression (Gross, 1998).
A study found that after only one yoga session, women reported lower emotional liability and aggressiveness than a control group who did not do yoga. These women also reported a lower likelihood to cope with stress and emotion through aggression and self-pity, and a higher likelihood to cope through reappraisal (Schell, 1993).
A study including college students in a yoga intervention found an increase in students’ self-compassion and emotion regulation skills. They also showed increased non-judgmental self-reflection (Sauer-Zavala et al., 2012).
These studies demonstrate that yoga, possibly due to the pratyahara limb, increases awareness and control of emotion- and mental-processing.