The yoga bliss effect

Release your happy hormones!

Just how our emotions impact our biochemistry is extraordinary, and when we are in a state of happiness, our brain acknowledges these patterns of emotions.

A variety of yoga practices such as postures, meditation, breathing and relaxation techniques positively impact the main endocrine glands responsible for the release of the following happy chemicals. Emma Palmer writes. 

A hormone and neurotransmitter known as the reward and motivational system of the body. Low levels of dopamine impacts areas of physiology and behaviour including our ability to problem solve effectively. This may contribute to perceiving our circumstances in a negative or perhaps unhelpful way rather than a positive empowering learning opportunity. A vigorous vinyasa practice, the weight-bearing components that yoga creates, as well as relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra and meditation, can boost dopamine levels by increasing cardiorespiratory output.

Endorphins act as a communication channel between the brain and nervous system. They react to external stimuli and emotions as a way to manage fear, anxiety and worry, as well as happiness, joy and pleasure. They are known for creating a sense of euphoria and are effective in pain management. Scientific research acknowledges that those who practice yoga experience increased endorphin levels post practice, commonly known as the ‘yoga high’. In fact, a 2012 study found that yoga students showed not only reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but a significant increase in endorphin levels. These compounds are also responsible for the all-encompassing sense of happiness we sometimes feel after a yoga or meditation class.

A hormone produced during sex, orgasm and intimacy, reproduction, childbirth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is also present during wound healing and management of inflammation as well as emotions associated with reducing fear and increasing a sense of trust. It is related to how we interact with others, and highlights our need for social interaction as a means of happiness. Oxytocin increases through the act of touch, e.g. when receiving a hug, which is known to boost oxytocin levels as well as relax the cardiorespiratory systems and boost immunity. The first study to identify the effects of yoga and oxytocin was published in 2013. It identified that students showed a significant increase in oxytocin levels as well as social bonding. This is perhaps why we are also drawn more to practising together in a yoga class rather than on our own.

A neurotransmitter that influences mood and behaviour. Low levels of serotonin are most commonly linked to fatigue, depression, anxiety, apathy, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness and unexplained sadness. A variety of studies have shown that consistent practice of yoga, meditation, prayer and relaxation increases serotonin levels significantly. This further supports the exceptionally powerful way yoga influences our mood and increases the need for wellbeing. Yoga postures such as inversions and forward bends are therapeutic for the pineal gland and boosting melatonin levels, which is vital considering serotonin production is dependent on a minimum of seven continuous hours of sleep the previous night!

NEXT:  How to make yoga a habit

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