Can Yoga Improve Your Willpower?

By Shoba Narayan
Mint, New Delhi.

In an ideal world, stilettos would have massager-inserts in them; French fries would remove the toxins from your body and make your waistline shrink; and everyone would have the willpower to do whatever they wanted to accomplish.

But reality, sadly, is a little different. Social psychology points to four characteristics that lead to success — resilience, willpower, focus and imagination.

In an outlandish and somewhat brilliant twist, all four of these characteristics can be cultivated by a practice that is at least as ancient as Indian corruption. I speak, of course, of the global juggernaut that we call yoga.

As someone who learnt yoga as a child, I am a little unnerved by the sight of blonde women with long Scandinavian bodies chanting Sanskrit mantras and doing the downward dog with far more flexibility than I ever could.

I suppose I should feel proud rather than resentful. After all, it takes a special kind of inventiveness to look at how scorpions, dogs, crows and locusts move and come up with asanas that manage to enlighten or humiliate, depending on what level you’re at.

Like many Indian children, I was sent off to the local playground to learn yoga from a man who looked like a military commander.

My teacher made us contort our bodies into bends, stretches and lunges. No theory was given. Raps on the knuckles were a favoured mode of punishment, along with “Stand up on the bench”, except that there was no bench on the field, so it was modified to “Stand up on the branch”, which was equally humiliating because we stood there swaying on a guava branch that was permanently at risk of breaking.

I have remained interested in yoga. I do the asanas or poses every now and then, sometimes consistently and sometimes sporadically.

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