How Yoga Makes You Happy

By Monique Minahan

When I first started practicing yoga, I was still digging my way out of a deep cavern of grief.

Something about this unusual method of twists, turns, and upside-downs kept calling me back. I didn't know what it was initially, but as I began to settle into my body, things began to shift in my life.

I think of it as going from a paralyzed life to a walking life. If you are already able to walk and then begin to run, that's liberating. If you are paralyzed and then begin to walk, that's a miracle.

This was my experience with the power and patience of yoga. Learning how to walk into my life, transition from grief to peace, and eventually to happiness.

The peace and happiness we access on our mats is no accident. Although many write it off as just another exercise-induced dopamine high, yoga goes deeper than that.

The mind-body connection created in yoga facilitates change at a cellular level. Cellular memory is the idea that our bodies hold our histories.

Before you brush this off as far-fetched, consider that scientists and physicians have found compelling evidence that the brain and body send messages to each other through neuropeptides and receptors. Neurocardiology is a discipline that studies "the communicative relationship between the brain and the heart via the nervous system."

Our nervous systems are what we're tapping into in yoga. Retraining how psychological or emotional triggers set off our flight-or-fight response allows us the opportunity to rewire our sympathetic nervous system. The deep breathing practiced in yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, producing a calming, relaxed effect.

The relationship between head and heart has been described as a "dynamic, ongoing, two-way dialogue with each organ continuously influencing the other's function."

When we weave positive intention into our movements, we are imprinting these thoughts, not only into our minds, but into our bodies. We are effecting change on our mat that will allow for change off our mat.

Much of our unhappiness as humans comes from our thoughts or feelings. We judge our experiences in terms of good or bad. We experience feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness, embarrassment, humiliation, and we often keep track of what we don't have more than what we do have.

A full practice of yoga, including meditation, gently removes these weights from our minds and our bodies. Not only does it remove them, but with time it can begin to reshape our attitudes, views, and thoughts.

The physical postures take us into our bodies in a nonjudgemental way. From this neutral viewpoint we can see huge possibility. Without being blocked by preconceived ideas of what we can or cannot do, we are free to try, to fall, to play, and to grow.

Physically yoga asks one simple thing of us: Show up.

Show up in mind, body, and spirit. These are things we can skimp on in other areas of life. Perhaps we show up in body to work or a conversation, but our minds are somewhere else. At times we show up mentally to a project, while our bodies slouch for hours, forgotten.

The integration in yoga of all these parts creates the prerequisite unity and connection required for happiness to bloom.

Once we feel unified and connected, we will access a deep well of joy that does not diminish when shared.

Yoga doesn't just lift our spirits. It lifts our lives. It opens our eyes to the essence of who we are, and therein lies peace.

Therein lies the happiness.

I'm sharing a yoga class you can take online, Happiness Flow by Amy Ippoliti here. The class is free with a 10-day trial at Gaiam TV. Amy is known for her energetic, clear instruction. This flow is formulated particularly with Happiness in mind. She leads you in lighting up your inner body, so that your outer body will walk off your mat, full force, into your life.

Enjoy!

Monique Minahan is a writer, yogi, and lover of life. She's inspired by nature's simplicity and the healing power of love. She finds true liberation in living life fully from the inside out. Her intention is to offer her heart to the world through words that motivate, inspire, and encourage. Connect with her at mindfulmo.com.

Photo credit: Gaiam TV

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