Yoga has become increasingly popular as a workout – we already know it tones our muscles, stretches us out and is a bit more (*whispers*) interesting than the treadmill.
But it’s so much more than that: yoga makes you happy.
Not just happy in the standard ‘exercise releases endorphins’ way (although that’s true too) – it makes your whole life happier, both from the outside in and the inside out.
Sound a bit much? Well read on for how – we’ve got the science to back it up!
Talking about your ‘mind-body’ connection is something that your yoga teacher might say in class while you’re distracted in Humble Warrior, but it’s not an abstract concept.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the nervous system and quite literally connects the brain to the whole body. It runs from the brain stem through to the abdomen and connects facial muscles, heart, lungs, digestive tract, kidneys and reproductive organs. If you can imagine a core to your body’s effective functioning, this is it.
This nerve not only holds responsibility for neural regulation of those parts of you used for communication, it also works on your heart rate and helps calm you down.
Trust me, if this is functioning properly, you stand a much greater chance of feeling happy!
And yoga helps. How?
Strike a pose!
Sure, politicians and public speakers might be all about the power poses, but who actually feels better after standing with your legs splayed for two minutes? Real answer: no one.
On the other hand, two minutes in a steady Mountain Pose can make you feel calmer, more empowered and therefore happier. Research suggests that yoga poses have a positive effect on the vagus nerve: the ‘cardiac vagal tone’.
Don't worry about the complicated words, you just need to understand that : Aligning your body through asana and triggering the vagus nerve is what sends that yoga buzz running through you.
Fit body = fit mind
I know they say a happy mind equals a happy body, but it works the other way around as well.
No matter how Pollyanna-esque you are, it can be tricky to feel particularly perky when you’re physically unwell or in pain.
Yoga also gets people moving, even when they believe they can’t, and that automatically starts your body feeling healthier (and you feeling mentally perkier).
Fights depression, stress and anxiety
You know that feeling where you think that if the person next to you blinks you’ll go full-on hulk and start throwing staplers out of the window?
Or when the thought of going to the next meeting makes you shake like you’ve had 10 espressos?
Aside from needing a new job, chances are your GABA levels are low.
Yoga also increases your levels of Oxytocin aka ‘the love hormone’.
Heard people say yoga is better than sex?
Well, it’s scientifically true that it is (OK, maybe not better but certainly the same!).
Warming up your muscles through the asana, and the relaxation that follows, releases Oxytocin, giving you that gorgeous zen feeling post-class.
The luuuurve hormone also, unsurprisingly, makes you feel more connected to others. In a world where people are increasingly disconnected, this is essential to help us feel happier.
Obviously, hugging strangers is not something we’d recommend (take it from my experience, it doesn’t always go down well), but feeling part of something greater than ourselves can alleviate loneliness.
Get back to being a child
Seriously, is there anything that can make you feel automatically happier than Happy Baby pose?
Dignified, it isn’t – no one wants their flatmate to walk in while you’re on the floor with your legs akimbo – but it’s so full of childlike joy that it’s impossible not to smile.
Yoga lets you be playful and free, in turn unlocking a more compassionate and uncritical side – just like when you were young. Who doesn’t want to feel like that again?That is probably why yoga is so addictive :)
So there you have it – yoga is scientifically proven to make you happy. No excuses.