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“Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” Elle Woods might have got a bad rap with this quote, but she wasn’t necessarily wrong...
While many begin yoga for its known benefits on strength and flexibility, the impact of a regular practice on the mind is gaining greater awareness, both scientifically and socially.
At its roots, yoga has been around for centuries and refers to a holistic practice that includes "8 Limbs."
Many of us, when referring to yoga, are only talking about one of those limbs--the physical practice, which continues to shift and evolve from tradition with many new styles emerging.
And while many of these styles receive criticism for "westernizing" the practice, I’m a big believer in the benefits of yoga.
Science tells us that the happy, "non-husband-shooting" neurotransmitters increase by 27% after a single class (1). Meaning? Yoga is not just calming, but also a mood-boosting activity.
Just 27 minutes of mindfulness per day which can be experienced through yoga actually shrinks the amygdala (the brain’s fight-or-flight center) and strengthens its connection to the pre-frontal cortex helping to calm the stress-response in triggering moments (2).
The breathing techniques in yoga activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the stress response and promotes relaxation.
Mindfulness is a pretty massive buzzword these days, with people like Eckhart Tolle writing the book on the Power of Now. Yet experiencing "now" can be challenging in our day-to-day lives.
We’ve all had the experience of being here but not being here. Or talking with someone while thinking about something else. Or getting home with no memory of the drive.
Yoga encourages us to fully experience the present moment and let it go once it’s passed. For many students (myself included), this is a huge gift.
It can be easy to get stuck reliving and over-analyzing the past or creating undue anxiety around the future. Yoga helps to shift these habitual thought patterns-- to create more ease and generate more positivity.
I remember my first class. I kept falling out of a pose. I was angry and embarrassed that I wasn’t "good enough" to hold it.
I see this in students all the time: the negative self-talk that follows us through life tends to show up on the mat, and as we’re focusing on the present moment we can really listen to how we treat ourselves.
This makes yoga a great place to practice a new way of being.
And the more we practice this new way of being, the stronger the neural pathway becomes, making qualities like compassion and peace a more naturally-occurring response.
It’s no surprise then that people start yoga for the body and come back just as often for the power it has on our mind.
With a regular practice, we can generate fundamental positive shifts in our life, discovering whole new worlds on the mat and in the mind.
1. Streeter, C. et al. (2007) Yoga Asana Sessions Increase Brain GABA Levels: a pilot study Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine DOI: read more
2. Britta, K. et al. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density Psychiatry Res DOI: read more