Could Yoga Increase Your Happiness?By Sarah Stevenson
Haven't tried yoga yet? Wondering what all the hype's about? Trust me, it's not just about slipping on some yoga pants and checking out all the hot guys and girls as they down-dog. If you are looking for an all-around holistic form of exercise that will fix you up inside and out, then yoga is the thing for you. Here are just some of the benefits.
- Lower Your Blood Pressure: Yoga is a marriage of movement and breath. Research has proven that exercise, meditation, and breath exercises can all help lower blood pressure without medication.1 With yoga, you're getting all three for the price of one.
- Clear Your Body of Toxins: Taking a one-hour yoga class is like getting a full body massage from head to toe. It's a belief in yogic practices that twisting asanas wring out the organs similar to twisting a sponge to rid it of water. This flushes your system of the toxins your body takes in from your environment, stress, and the food you eat. It's important to drink a lot of water after class to help purge these from your system.2
- Learn What Your Body Can Do: I will never forget the first time I was able to slip into the splits in yoga class. Until that moment, I had no idea I could do that! Yoga is a great way to learn what your body is capable of. If you keep up your practice you will be amazed at what your body can do.
- Massage Your Organs: As I mentioned earlier, a good yoga class gives you a full-body massage, inside and out. This keeps your organs young and supple. The body begins to deteriorate and actually rots when you live a sedentary life. All of that pressing, twisting, and turning you do in yoga keeps your organs in check and functional.3
- Give Yourself Body Awareness: In yoga, you are taught to listen to two feelings the body creates: a scream (which is anytime you feel sharp pain), and a whisper (a pleasing sensation). When you learn to listen closely to the body, you start to make better choices for it. Staying away from the screams that would eventually cause injury or illness and moving toward the whispers will bring you health and joy.
- Meet Cool People: Yogis can be some of the most nonjudgmental, chill peeps you can hang with. These people tend to take responsibility for their bodies, minds, and emotions, so it really cuts back on the drama.
- Learn Discipline: By starting a consistent practice, you teach yourself the art of discipline. By gaining the ability to commit to something, you open yourself to a world of successful possibilities.
- Teach Yourself Physical Balance: Yoga helps you focus your mind with your breath and also helps you build muscles to balance on your hands, head, shoulders, and feet. This will make you quicker on your toes and in your head.
- Relieve Back Pain: One leading cause of back pain is having tight hamstrings. Jobs requiring lots of sitting only tighten those muscles all the more; pair that with gravity and you have yourself some serious back pain. Yoga stretches out those hamstring muscles. It pairs body positions with gravitational pull and voila! Back pain decreases if not ceases.
- Increase Your Happiness: Yoga increases the production of serotonin and decreases cortisol release. So you get an extra boost of happy chemicals and block the secretion of stressful chemicals. This can help you to be a happier, healthier person.4
- Create "Aha" Moments: Yoga allows you to defocus. Scientists call this cognitive disinhibition. The conscious mind quiets so that all the wisdom and creativity that is sitting on the back burners of your mind can float to the surface.5
- Make Yourself More Flexible: Pair a calm mind with some serious stretching, and you can become more flexible than you ever thought possible.
- And Stronger: Yoga centers around a series of isometric poses. Most poses are held for upward of 10 long yogic breaths. Holding these poses can help build strong, toned muscles and denser, more resilient bones.6
- Decrease Mood Swings: Yoga helps regulate hormones, lowers your blood pressure, and connects you to your emotions with heightened mindfulness—so you are less likely to have negative emotions sneak up at you out of nowhere.7
- Decrease Anxiety and Stress: During yoga, you are encouraged to relax, slow your breathing, and focus on the present moment. This shifts you from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to the parasympathetic system (relaxation response). The result? A slower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and lowered cortisol.8
- Boost Your Libido: We are sexual beings. Sometimes it's simply the chaotic chatter continually running through our heads that shuts out our connection to our sensual body. When you quiet your mind and learn to listen to your body's voice, you may find that you are hot and bothered more often! And, when you are under the sheets, you can improve your stamina by using the focus and yogic breath you've mastered in class. (Now you know how Sting does it.)
- Get Taller: Yoga improves your posture, so you gain back those extra inches that are typically swallowed up by slouching. So make your granny proud and get yourself a yoga mat so you sit up straight at the dinner table.
- Get a Better Night's Sleep: Exercise can help ward off insomnia because you wear yourself out enough to catch some Z's. But, yoga might be particularly effective as researchers have found that yoga increases the production of melatonin in the body.9 Melatonin helps give you a sense of calm and well-being so when you hit the pillow, you can drift off to dreamland.
- Regulate Hormones: Yoga balances out the endocrine system. When you slowly move through your asanas, you pressurize and release various glands—and glands secrete hormones. This brings them back to proper function and you can gain the benefits of lifted mood, weight loss, better sleep, more energy, and proper digestion.10
- Lose Weight: You can drop pounds by practicing yoga for three reasons. First, as I said above, yoga regulates hormones, including the stress-y ones like cortisol, which can get in the way of fat loss. Second, as I mentioned in #2, yoga helps your organs detoxify and function properly, which can impact your metabolism. Third, yoga helps you release trapped emotions, so you are less likely to emotionally binge.
- Grossman, E., et al. "Breathing-control lowers blood pressure." Journal of human hypertension 15.4 (2001): 263-269.
- Chopra, D. (2012). AARP The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga: A Practical Guide to Healing Body, Mind, and Spirit. Wiley.
- Bailey, A. (1927). The light of the soul, its science and effect: a paraphrase of the Yoga sutras of Pantanjali. Lucis publishing company.
- McCall T. New York: Bantam Dell a division of Random House Inc; 2007. Yoga as Medicine.
- Simonton, D. K. (2012). The Science of Genius. Scientific American Mind, 23(5), 34-41.
- Patel, N. K., Newstead, A. H., & Ferrer, R. L. (2012). The effects of yoga on physical functioning and health related quality of life in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18(10), 902-917.
- Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International journal of yoga, 4(2), 49.
- Arora S, Bhattacharjee J. Modulation of immune response in stress by yoga. Int J Yoga. 2008;1:45–55.
- Harinath, K., Malhotra, A. S., Pal, K., Prasad, R., Kumar, R., Kain, T. C., ... & Sawhney, R. C. (2004). Effects of Hatha yoga and Omkar meditation on cardiorespiratory performance, psychologic profile, and melatonin secretion. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 10(2), 261-268.
- Clennell, Bobby, The Woman's Yoga Book. Berkley, California: Rodwell Press, 2007