CAUTION, yoga has been known to cause extreme happiness. As a practicing “yogi” aka someone who does yoga, I can attest to this statement. Yoga challenges your body into additional flexibility and increases in muscle tone and strength. Breathing becomes easier and more efficient (who even knew there was a “more efficient” way to breathe!) which increases your energy levels and increases your cardio and circulatory health. Lastly, besides just looking and feeling good, at a chemical level, yoga has been proven to decrease stress hormones and increase the hormones that make you feel happy. Yoga does a wonderful job at making people feel bountiful again.
As most of us know or have read, moving your body is good for you! Adding in body weight “exercises” or in yoga, postures, is even better! Not only does yoga ask you to bend and flex in SAFE ways, yoga asks you to do what’s called isometric contractions. That is, there is no movement, but you are activating your muscles. (THINK: Warrior 2 with your arms held out to the sides or Chair pose when you sit in a squat position.) This is a very effective way to help increase muscle tone and strength. When you build muscle strength, your metabolism increases too! Throughout the day, muscles burn more fuel than fat. Next time you’re in a yoga class and your muscles are burning just think, you’re building muscles to help burn off some extra fat stores!
Yoga also does a wonderful job at bringing in a flexibility component. Commonly, with increased range of motion in joints, you can prevent more injuries throughout the day. Yoga calls for a lot of balance and body awareness. This increase in body awareness is something we call, proprioception aka knowing where your body is in space. An increase in proprioception helps decrease injury rates and falls throughout the day.
At a scientific, chemical level, yoga has been proven to cause an increase in everything that makes you feel the emotion “glad.” It has been proven to decrease levels of cortisone (stress chemical) and decrease our time spent in the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is our “fight or flight” mechanism. This protects us from danger and harm and is the reason (along with the release of adrenaline) that Grandma can lift the car off her grandchild. Notice, in this nervous system, that we are alert and all the blood is in our muscles to allow us to either stay and fight or run away. Where we would prefer to live is in the parasympathetic nervous system, “rest and digest.” This is where our blood is in the center of our bodies; in our gut to allow for absorption of the food we eat, we are calm and collected and our body is not under many stresses. Yoga, along with our breath, allows us to come back to this parasympathetic nervous system.
Notice next time you are stuck in traffic (Nashvillian’s, I know you know!) Your hands will begin to grip the steering wheel, you will sit up in your seat and will most likely be holding your breath with your face turning a new shade of red. Notice the changes when you add in some breath: a long, slow inhale maybe with a small pause at the top, followed by an even longer exhale. Repeat this 4-5-7,8 or 9 times depending on which direction of 65 you’re traveling! Notice how your shoulders drop, the tension in your jaw ceases and you no longer feel the bulking of your muscles. Your body can rest and absorb the foods you fed it; therefore, helping you lose weight even as you sit there driving home from work.
Yoga does many things. It will help you tone and build muscle mass, gain flexibility and decrease injury; all of which are beautiful things. More importantly, and why yoga has been around for as long as it has, yoga will, at a chemical level, make you feel blissful. It will calm your mind and spirit and will help you feel cool, calm and collected all day. Simply adding in some organized breathing associated with some movement into your life every day will leave you in love with yourself and the world all over again.