How does Yoga make you Happy?
There is a science to why yoga makes you happy, why it feels so good. Your yoga may not be contortions on a mat. Perhaps it is single minded focus while you pound out the trails. The point is you are in a flow state with your breath and body, not caught up in the busy and boring loop in your mind. The word yoga means to yolk, or more accurately, intimacy – intimacy with your breath, with sensory perception, with yourself.
What we practice weaves itself into the fabric of our anatomy. The part of the brain that does that thing gets stronger. Blood flow increases, neural connections improve, and there is even evidence that gene expression is altered.
Stress leads to chronic unhappiness.
Chronic stress leads to increased levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, which in turn degrades the hippocampus. The hippocampus, a structure in the centre of the brain is responsible for mood, memory and emotion. It makes sense, then, that those suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, pain, or any other chronic stress are prone to depression.
Engage in a contemplative practice with regularity and you will increase brain tissue volume in areas for attention, empathy, love and pleasure, including the hippocampus. It is suggested that disciplining your mind in this way not only increased your mind’s lean toward happiness, but when stressful events happen in your life, you are more resilient.
Become part of a community so you feel connected. Practicing yoga at home is great, doing yoga with friends at a yoga studio gives you connection with others which is vital for wellbeing.
What can you do to feel happy more often?
Here are some suggestions for changing your brain for happiness:
- Learn something new
- Decrease stress
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Have enjoyable sex (as long as it doesn’t lead to chronic sleep deprivation)
- Get regular cardiovascular exercise
- Join a community
- Show kindness and generosity to others.
Rick Hanson, Neuropsychologist makes the following suggestions:
- Look for positive facts, let them become positive experience
- Savor this positive experience by sustaining the feeling of it for 10-30 seconds
- Sense and intend the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body so it registers deeply into your emotional memory.
I might add one more practice from Yogic teachings. One of the keys to happiness is finding your Dharma – what your soul signed up to do on this planet that intersects with what the world needs.
In the words of Bill Waterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbs, “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it is still allowed and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”