Within part one of our two-part series, we discussed some well-documented, physically beneficial aspects of yoga and maintaining a regular practice. Given those measurable physical changes which take place within the body, it is important to also explore those effects from a mental standpoint.
Often, previous physical harm or emotional pain has been the primary motivation of innumerable, present-day yoga practitioners to maintain a practice. But many of those persons will relate that yoga offers them far more than pain management, relief, or control! In part two, we’ll examine the positive mental aspects of regular yoga and reveal what keeps faithful yogis and yoginis coming back to the mat.
There are key ways in which your brain changes with regular yoga practice! Probably one of the most significant ways lies in yoga’s ability to balance our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It doesn’t in any way diminish our sympathetic or core survivalist instincts. Instead, yoga manages to enhance our own ability to rest and recover by lowering blood pressure, aiding our digestion, and reinforcing focus upon our physical state.
Intelligence improvement is another very substantive reason to maintain a regular asana practice. The discovery that your practice can increase the connection between the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA) and brain cells is profound. When our brains are working most effectively, we are less inclined to feel depressed or anxious. Improving our ability to perceive and process information enables us to expand our conscious knowledge and awareness.
Yoga always seems to be capable of making someone feel fantastic or at least feel better if they weren’t at their best before their practice.
A great yoga class will often leave a person feeling refreshed, empowered, happier, hopeful, or just plain great! During a yoga practice, our brains release dopamine. Similarly, the brain’s natural levels of serotonin and oxytocin also increase. A feeling of confidence and a sense of self-discipline can be attributed to reduced cortisol levels. Cortisol decreases the size of the prefrontal cortex, responsible for fear and stress.
Increased self-awareness perhaps best represents the mental shift that can be enjoyed given regular yoga. Why? The answer is three-fold! First, self-awareness is a central aspect of being mindful. Awareness reinforces a willingness to reflect on how we feel right now, today, and in our lives. In essence, we check in with ourselves! The takeaway is that yoga improves our self-care. Second, our newfound awareness and our practice allow for improved focus, thereby allowing us to experience fewer distractions, clearer thoughts, and improved day-to-day productivity. Finally, yoga forces cognition of the importance of our physical and emotional wellness. Through yoga, we learn to grow and develop our self-worth and our self-image!part one