I love share with people my early skepticism regarding yoga and meditation. I had tried both several times but never found it helped. As someone who is not that flexible and is constantly on the go, the idea of sitting on a mat, and trying to bend myself into different shapes and then sit and “be” sounded like torture to me. If there were “yoga people”– you know, people who are naturally calm and slow and patient–then I was most definitely not a yoga person. But then I found Yoga can make me feel happy.
Except, now I am a yoga person! How did that happen?
Well… one day I finally found a class where the style of yoga felt just right for me. I left that class feeling like I had come home. It didn’t matter if my shape was not perfect or different to other people. Everyone was welcome. I felt like I had received the biggest, warmest, heartfelt hug, the yoga made me feel happier and it was just what my body and mind needed
Yoga forces me to stop and do the things I know will help make me happier, but that I sometimes find hard to do when I’m away from my mat. For me, looking at the science behind yoga made it feel a lot more real somewhat less “woo-woo”. I knew that the benefits of practising yoga had been known for thousands of years and recent research proves doing yoga can truly make a person happier. yet, with almost 20 years of mental health clinical practice, yoga still felt unattainable in my world sometimes.
This was until I found and studied Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) and wow, here was the lightbulb moment where I found the link between my everyday world and the “woo woo”.
As a survivor of trauma, TCTSY coupled with my previous yoga learnings helped me to uncover the secrets of my trauma. I learned how to heal myself and find my voice to deliver something I am really passionate about.
Every once in a while, something comes along that fundamentally changes the way we look at the world. TCTSY did this for me enabling me to take my yoga practice to the next level – it gave me passion and purpose. The Yoga practice made me feel happier.
Different kinds of yoga have different benefits
My vision of yoga before I tried it was a lot of statue-like beautiful people, bending themselves like a pretzel chanting “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 like (or dislike) a particular style of workout, please do some research–chances are excellent there’s a style and venue that you’ll enjoy. Yoga has become so popular that it’s everywhere, and there’s no one single way to do it.
The effects of yoga practice can all be linked to a common mechanism: the functioning of the vagus nerve which connects the brain (and therefore the mind) to the body.
From the brain stem, the vagus nerve connects facial muscles, heart, lungs, digestive tract, kidneys and reproductive organs. It plays a key role in operating the parasympathetic nervous system which rest-and-digest processes, and also regulates heart rate, and promotes calm and soothing states. The nerve is responsible for the neural regulation of parts of the body necessary for communication: the larynx, the eyes, the inner ears (particularly helping to distinguish human voices from background noises), and facial muscles involved in vocal and non-vocal expressions.
It also regulates our caring behaviour, hence why a well-functioning vagus nerve leads us to feel calm, relaxed and safe in relation to others. This is also reciprocal: feeling calm, relaxed and sociable also stimulates the vagus nerve. This means it’s possible to start off a positive upward spiral of well-being either by affecting the states of the body or the states of the mind. Meaning that yoga can make you feel happier.
Research suggests that the proper functioning of the vagus nerve promotes emotion regulation, social competence, and prosocial behaviour, and dampens aggression, hostility, depression and anxiety. This supports the theory that yoga practice; meditation, breathing, and performing yoga postures, tones the vagal nerve.
Yoga changes your brain immediately
You may think it takes years of dedicated practice before you start to see happiness-results, but that’s not the case at all. Studies have shown that even a short practice of yoga may positively affect the vagal ton. Simply put, even a single class can start changing your brain chemistry and improving your mood.
Long-term yoga practice creates long-term changes
Those who stick with regular yoga practice report themselves to be happier and healthier. Studies like this one show that yoga reduces fatigue, anxiety, and anger. Real biochemical changes created through yoga practice support better physical and mental health.
Breathing makes you happier
Every yoga practice incorporates some elements of focusing on the breath to invigorate or relax. 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, pairing the two together is a guaranteed happiness-booster.
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, it turns out that changing your posture can change your mood. Yoga of all types strengthens that brain-body connection where the body sends messages to the brain that make it feel strong and positive, so don’t wait to lengthen your spine and stand up straight!