Most of us have probably heard the claims that yoga makes us feel happier and reduces stress, anxiety and depression. These are pretty big claims so how exactly can a practice like yoga give us these amazing benefits?
Well, there are many ways it does.
Firstly, like all forms of exercise, yoga releases endorphins (those feel good hormones) and reduces your blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone) the same way that going for a run or a gym workout does. But with yoga, it goes a lot deeper. It’s safe to say that we do not feel the same way after a gym session as we do after a yoga class. During a yoga class our brain activity is immediately affected.
Research shows that a one-hour yoga class can raise the gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in our brain. Higher GABA levels are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. So as research shows, you do not need to practice yoga for years to receive these benefits, even a single class can start to change your brain chemistry and improve your mood.
The main focus of yoga is on the breath.
In vinyasa yoga we synchronize each movement with the breath. In yin yoga we work on lengthening the breath. Yoga practice allows us to become more aware of our breath and learn how to regulate and lengthen it.
Research has found that slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing tones the vagus nerve, which plays a vital role to our emotional and physical health. This is associated with our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode). The vagus nerve regulates our emotions and dulls aggression, hostility, depression and anxiety.
In yoga we practice mindfulness. We practice letting go of the past and future and just being in the moment, the here and now. We start our practice by setting our intention and frequently return to this throughout the practice.
Through yoga, we also learn to listen to our body and honour it, letting go of ego. Accepting where we are right now. We invite the belief that where we are right now is good enough.
This helps to increase self-confidence and create more positive thoughts. In addition, by including practices like expressing gratitude, we create a shift in our mindset and start to appreciate our lives for what they already are, instead of focusing on what we don’t have and what we want to change.
Uplifting yoga postures to boost your mood and energy
Although yoga in general can help boost our mood and energy, certain yoga postures are known to be more uplifting and energising than others, which tend to be more calming and relaxing. If you are lacking energy, feeling fatigued, sad or low try adding the following to your practice.
Backbends are uplifting and energising postures. They stimulate the circulatory and nervous system, increasing blood flow throughout the body leading to an instant increase in energy levels and vitality. Additionally, they stretch and open the chest and heart creating a sense of courage and fearlessness. Some great backbends to increase your energy and mood are upward facing dog, bridge pose, bow pose and dancers pose.
When we work with the core we are working with the manipura chakra. At the level of the solar plexus, which is where our strength, motivation, determination and self confidence is stored. Have you every heard of the term, ‘fire in your belly’?
The manipura chakra is where this fire lives. By engaging and working the core muscles in postures such as plank pose, boat pose and balancing postures we are stimulating that fire. In this way we create warmth and energy within us as well as increasing our self-confidence.
Yoga Inversions such as headstand, handstand and even downward facing dog are very energising postures. In fact, they are great when your mood and energy are low. Inversions bring blood to the brain energising you physically and mentally.
In a headstand, the pressure on the crown (top of head) helps to stabilize our mood and the emotions. In addition, inversions require a lot of core strength stimulating and strengthening the manipura chakra. However, if you are feeling anxious, shoulderstand or legs up the wall pose are better options as they do not have the energising qualities. Instead, they are great postures to calm the nervous system and create a sense of peace.