How Yoga Will Make You Happier

Think yoga's not for you? It's for everyone!

lotus pose yoga woman

I love to tell people all about my skepticism regarding yoga before I finally tried it; as someone who is constantly on the go, the idea of sitting on a mat and being still sounded like torture to me. I thought there were "yoga people"—you know, people who are naturally calm and slow and patient—and then there was... everyone else like me. I was most definitely not a yoga person.

Except, now I am a yoga person, and it's precisely because I don't come to what I think of as those stereotypical "yoga attributes" naturally that I've learned to love it so much.

Yoga forces me to stop and do the things I know full well will help make me happier, but that I sometimes find hard to do when I'm away from my yoga mat. For me, delving into the science behind yoga made it feel a lot more palatable and a lot less "woo-woo," too. Yogis have known the benefits of yoga practice for thousands of years, but modern science now offers empirical proof that yoga truly can make you happy!

Never tried it before? Read on, and consider giving it a go.

There's all kinds of yoga
My vision of yoga before I tried it was a lot of statue-like beautiful people in a bare studio going "Om" in unison. It turns out that there are lots of different types of yoga, from very spiritually-focused and/or relaxing all the way up to very athletic and physically demanding. If you think yoga isn't for you because you enjoy a particular style of workout, do your research---chances are excellent there's a style and venue that you'll enjoy.

Yoga has become some popular that it's everywhere, and there's no one way to do it.

Yoga changes your brain immediately
You may think it takes years of dedicated practice before you start to see happiness-boosting results, but that's not the case at all. Studies have shown that the brain's gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels are significantly boosted after a single hour of yoga.

Higher GABA levels are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Simply put, a single class can start changing your brain chemistry and boosting your mood.

Long-term yoga practice creates long-term changes
Those who stick with regular yoga practice report themselves to be happier and healthier on a variety of indices than their non-yoga-doing counterparts. A polling study conducted in 2011 showed that those who'd done yoga regularly for the past two years reported being less fatigued, anxious, and angry. While there's still a lot of research into the chicken and egg aspects here (are people like that more likely to do yoga in the first place, or does doing yoga create those changes?), science seems to be coming up with ample evidence that there are real biochemical changes created through yoga practice which support better physical and mental health.

Breathing makes you happier
Wait, what? I know, you breathe whether you mean to or not, and you even breathe when you're cranky.

That's not what I'm talking about. Every yoga practice incorporates some elements of focusing on the breath to invigorate, relax, or do both (not at the same time, obviously). Research has shown that the ability to become aware of and regulate the breath is key in terms of lowering stress and anchoring oneself in the moment---both of which are needed to feel happier. Although you could do the breathing exercises without the yoga, the natural pairing of the two together is a guaranteed happiness-booster.

Straighten your mood
Did you know that your posture is related to your mood? It is, and although we tend to think of sadness as causing slumping rather than vice-versa, we know the feedback loop between the brain and the body is complex, and it turns out that changing your posture can change your mood. If only there was some sort of practice where one could focus on allowing the body to move and stretch naturally and fully... hmmm... oh! Hey! How about yoga? That's right---yoga of all types strengthen that brain-body connection where the body sends messages to the brain that make it feel strong and positive. Really!

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