Ever notice how you feel after practicing yoga? You are probably feeling pretty emotionally centered and energized. The health benefits of yoga can helps us work with how emotions live in our bodies, how they affect our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors. Most of us are not fully aware of how our emotions are living in our bodies. We know we feel anxious, sad, frustrated, but we sometimes fail to understand where the feelings are coming from. Yoga and its practices – the asanas (postures), breathing, deep relaxation, and meditation all help to connect the link between body and mind. Yoga has been shown to enhance overall well-being through a sense of belonging and connection to self and others, as well as, to improve the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Yoga has also been shown to have physical effects on the body, on a biological level, helping to increase the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate and calm the nervous system.
Physical and Psychological Health Benefits of Yoga
There’s a ton of research and articles on the internet for you to find on Yoga and its therapeutic benefits, which overwhelmingly conclude that Yoga and its practice yield beneficial effects on four key physical and psychological areas. These four key areas are supported and detailed by ongoing research conducted at Harvard University and Boston Medical school by Sat Bir Singh Khalsa and his colleagues. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa is a researcher in the field of body-mind medicine, specializing in yoga therapy.
Yoga as a physical exercise can improve overall fitness, strengthening muscles, improve posture, breathing, flexibility, and coordination. When practiced regularly there’s an improved sense of self-efficacy in body movement and physical activity.
Yoga helps in teaching how to regulate emotions, regulate stress, and over time, and consistent practice helps to build resilience leading to equanimity in the face of strong emotions. This leads to an overall sense of psychological self-efficacy, mental stability and mood stability.
Yoga teaches us how to focus our attention through its mediation and breathing components. This practice helps us to gain awareness of our body and our feelings as they live within our body. This leads to an understanding of mindfulness, being present and connected to the here and now, which increases concentration and productivity. With dedicated practice, there’s the development of meta-cognition, the ability to separate from oneself and step back from your thoughts. To see that you are not your thoughts, and that you have control over your thoughts, and that you can control your reactions to your thoughts.
Yoga has been shown to lead to transcendence, life-changing transformations over long-term practice due to arriving at unitive states of flow. Flow is being one with the Self, engaging with the world in a way that is aligned with who we are so that we experience positive emotions most of the time. This results in psychological change that includes new perspective and perception of life, meaning, and one’s purpose, for the better. This is what is meant by “Living my best life.”
One of my favorite mantras to meditate on, especially when dealing with anxious thoughts: “Thoughts are just visitors, let them come and go.”
These four areas are essential to one’s physical and psychological well-being; ideally, we want to be content in these areas. The more content and fufilled we are in these areas the happier we’ll feel with ourselves and in our lives. Yoga is a multi-component practice that includes – asanas (postures), breath work, deep relaxation, and meditation making it an ideal practice for improving overall well-being. Yoga practice works on both cognitive (mental) and somatic (body) components, making it beneficial to all four areas. Next time you are on the mat take notice, how do you feel?