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Last year, an estimated one out of every ten adults reported being depressed. Can you guess the primary culprit?
Most people never give themselves enough time to truly decompress and relax. Even when we go on vacations, there is often little relief from the demands of daily life, whether it’s work, family, or friends. There’s always a voicemail, text, or email message waiting to be answered. There’s always more that you feel like you need or want to do.
So how is it that in these days of nonstop information and stress that millions of people are not only finding stress-relief, but also reporting greater levels of peace, joy, and contentment in their lives?
They practice yoga, of course!
More and more studies are confirming what yogis have been claiming all along: Those who consistently practice yoga are consistently happier. Here’s why:
1. A healthy dose of hormones.
Like any physical exercise, asana practices actually boost our levels of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These are responsible for elevating your mood, blocking pain, creating feelings of pleasure, amping up your energy, and providing greater clarity.This is especially true for those styles with more movement, such as vinyasa flows. So the next time you’re thinking to yourself, I just can’t do one more vinyasa flow, know that your brain is in the process of mixing up a seriously sweet cocktail for you!
2. Pain relief.
Chronic pain can dull the senses and cognitive functions and may lead to inactivity, passivity, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. As a result, it can also have a tremendous impact on relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. Yoga can be an effective means of relieving and even treating pain by targeting its primary causes: muscle tension and poor alignment. There have been countless cases of individuals who have claimed yoga has given them their lives back by decreasing or eliminating their chronic pain.
3. An increased sense of health and wellbeing.
Feeling good is so much more than absence of pain, and yoga helps to build a healthy body inside and out. Yoga not only increases flexibility, balance, strength, and range of motion, but also contributes to decreased blood pressure, increased immunity, and lower levels of glucose, sodium, LDL and VLDL (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides. Furthermore, all of the bends, twists, and subtle movements of yoga help to stimulate the internal organs and flush out toxins. When your body is strong, flexible, free of toxins, chemically balanced, and properly regulating itself, you begin to emit a sort of radiance that shines into every aspect of your life.
4. Focused attention (a.k.a. mindfulness).
Unlike some other forms of exercise, yoga calls for a great deal of focus — not only on the positioning of the bones and muscles in each pose, but also on the quality and flow of the breath. This focus draws you inward, away from the noise and chaos of the outer world. As one of my teachers so succinctly stated, yoga helps us transition from external stimulation to internal sensation. Essentially, every asana practice becomes a meditation in motion. It gives our brains a much-need break from continuous multitasking and information overload. Studies show that this type of focused attention on the mat can actually lead to lasting effects off the mat, including improved memory, attention, and concentration.
5. A confidence boost and greater sense of self-worth.
Our confidence naturally grows as our minds and bodies transform through yoga. Improved physical dexterity, flexibility, strength, and posture, as well as the ability to manage stress, relax, and reach a place of deep inner calmness all contribute to a more positive outlook, especially about ourselves. Furthermore, yoga encourages us to show greater compassion towards ourselves. In each pose, we are given the opportunity to work through any self-judgements that may arise.The more we are able to disconnect with the many pressures and expectations placed on us by the external world, the more we are able to connect with the true essence and beauty of the internal world.
6. Strengthening relationships.
Our interactions with others tend to reflect our state of mind. When you're feeling more calm, clear, and centered, it creates a ripple effect that is felt by everyone around you, especially those closest to you. It’s often been said that a smile is contagious, and this is also true of the centering and revitalizing effects of yoga. Beyond the ripple effects, yoga truly does promote open-mindedness and self-reflection. Yoga helps us become more patient, compassionate, and present with ourselves — skills that are incredibly important in developing and strengthening relationships.
7. Lifestyle choices
A consistent yoga practice tends to lead to better decision-making in general. The foods we eat, the projects we pursue, the people we spend time with, and the amount of sleep we get all contribute to our experience of life and level of happiness. Finally, yoga encourages a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation — for ourselves, our teachers, our friends, our family, and our experiences, even the difficult ones. When gratitude becomes the lens through which we view life — when we stop taking the little things for granted — life becomes that much sweeter.
For all the happy yogis and yoginis out there, can you think of a reason I might have missed? Please add your thoughts in the comments!
Cheers to your yoga practice and a life of happiness!