Finding Happiness through Yoga in the New Year
By Sandra Helpsmeet
Happiness and yoga are interconnected. Much of this has to do with the ways that yoga can lessen or turn off the stress response in the body, but yoga can foster happiness in other ways too.
Practicing yoga intentionally and mindfully keeps your focus in your body, which keeps it in the present. When our minds are in the present, we are not thinking about what could happen, or what did happen. We just are. That is extremely refreshing and turns the stress response off, so we tend to feel calm and content.
Practicing yoga intelligently tends to pull the kinks out of our fascia, which frees us to move more easily and with less pain in our daily lives. It also tends to turn off the stress response when we can move easily and free from pain. We feel freer, more mobile, happy.
Practicing yoga usually helps us breathe more fully. Freeing the breath also tends to turn off the stress response, so we feel more calm and content.
An energetic type of yoga practice can stress our nervous system in a pleasant way so that we feel energized. A steady diet of this can backfire, but if balanced with a calmingpractice, it can work in a lovely way for some people. A strong, grounded practice tends to turn off the stress response and leave us feeling calm and alert—a great combination.
Practicing yoga consistently helps to create more neural pathways for the states we practice ourselves into, so it is easier to access a calm and content state. Yoga practices can be designed for balancing various mood states, like easing anxiety or lifting depression.
As current science is demonstrating in many ways, what we do creates more neurological pathways for that mental or physical activity. If we sit in a depressed posture, we feel more depressed and are more likely to become depressed. If we extend our body and move it more freely, we learn to pay more attention to our body’s signals and thus we become more sensitive to our internal state, and also, via mirror neurons, to the state of others. As a result, we tend to develop more understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.
As we learn to note and not react to our body state in the moment, we become more tolerant of our feelings, saving us from getting carried away in reactions to them.