Most people will recognise that yoga practice, confers not just physical freedoms, but mental and emotional freedom too. The essence of this is being able to choose the response or reactions of the mind and emotions, as opposed to these happening spontaneously.
If we have learned to respond to a particular stimulus in one way, then that tends to become our habit. So for example, if someone feels stressed then perhaps the habit they have developed over time, is to seek solace in food or comfort buying. Someone else responds to another road user with anger, there are countless examples and its not hard to see that our lives are full of these habitual responses.
But yoga gives us the ability to change patterns and habits in all parts of ourselves, especially the mind and emotions.
In the practice of yoga asana(postures) we can observe both the body and mind, this observation of the mind becomes more sensitised in the more subtle practices of pratyahara(sense withdrawal), dhrana(concentration) and dhyana. In Dhyana, meditation, we experience an inner quiet, from where the observation of everything, including the mind is easier.
This leads to a recognition that although the mind is ours, its contents, the mental activity are not necessarily what makes us. Much of the mental activities are descended from our past, what we have seen, heard, experienced. The mind learns to behave and respond in particular ways, we can also recognise that many of these mental activities are temporary and change over time, just think of how your tastes, beliefs etc have changed over ten, twenty or thirty years.
This observation, especially born from the stillness of meditation, allows us a space where we can see the minds tendencies, our usual, patterns of response and reaction. In this stillness there is also a realisation that we can even watch our thoughts and emotions without becoming attached to them, we can let them come and go, we realise that we are not defined by them, nor do we have to perpetuate them. Therefore when encountering all manner of circumstances and situations, we can then develop a different response or reaction, or perhaps none at all if that is what seems appropriate.
Our responses can therefore become more flexible and spontaneous, the correct response to each moment and what it contains.