Yoga aficionados make endless claims about yoga’s benefits, like how yoga will improve your mood or lead to weight loss and even bliss. Do the estimated 20 million Americans who practice yoga believe that making like a pretzel will bring enlightenment? Maybe some do—and they might actually be onto something. Studies published in everything from the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal to popular magazines agree there’s proof that yoga elevates people’s mood.
Learning how to stop the spinning for a moment and taking some time to still your mind and body in some calming yoga poses is the easiest way to let go of daily stresses while taking care of your body and mind. Before we get into all of the great ways yoga can improve your mood, check out a few of these yoga poses to help you de-stress.
Simple Poses to De-stress
Want to do some yoga poses that’ll help you de-stress? Stress is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness and bad moods. Doing these simple yoga poses can help decrease stress and improve your mood drastically. Remember to breathe deeply, acknowledge, accept and release your thoughts, and to listen to your body.
Supine Spinal Twist
Lying on your back, bring your knees to your chest. Extend your left leg out back to the floor and shift your hips slightly to the right. Use your left hand to guide the right knee over to the left side of your body towards the floor on your left. Make sure your body is still in a straight line from your left foot up to the crown of your head, and look over to the right if this feels good to you. Relax here for a minute or longer until you feel your body easing deeper into the pose. Repeat on the other side.
Seated with your spine straight and sitting with your legs straight out in front of you, bring the feet in so that the soles meet. Holding the feet with the hands and with your elbows resting on your thighs (not knees) if comfortable, bring the feet in a few inches from your pelvis, and begin to lean forward. Relax as deeply forward as you like and as feels comfortable to you. It is an excellent hip opener and stretches the hamstrings and glutes for all of us who work at computers or have fairly sedentary jobs.
From Mountain pose, bring your hands to your heart center. Stare at a focal point that does not move, and shift your weight onto one leg. Bring your opposite foot onto the standing leg’s ankle, leg or thigh (not the knee). Make sure that your hips are level. Keep the hands at your heart center or reach them overhead if you feel like a little challenge. Reach down through your foot and up through your hands for strength and balance. The tree is an excellent stabilizer for the mind – when trying to balance here, it’s hard to think of anything else.
Here are the top 5 reasons yoga will improve your mood:
5.) Sexy Time
There’s some evidence that yoga has certain romantic advantages.
Some claim yoga originally sprang from orgiastic sex cults. The yogic practices were meant to enhance arousal, and still do. So if you’re feeling a tad excited on your yoga mat, don’t worry; it’s natural.
According to Indian studies, married couples who practiced yoga together experienced more desire, orgasms, and satisfaction… and that’s got to improve your mood.
4.) Human Contact
People are generally happy to be at yoga class and are exhibiting their better behavior. Other students will probably be polite to you and maybe even smile. So going to a yoga studio or gym is a way to get some good human contact, as opposed to seeking company, say, in lines at the DMV or post office. In a world where an increasing number of people live alone and lead more isolated lives, this can mean a lot. The teacher might even lay gentle hands on you to adjust a pose.
Apart from human contact, yoga also improves breathing. A breathing practice is a common step in a yoga asana class or home practice. The focus on breath engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes us and can also bring the mind into a state of “alpha brain waves” or daydreaming, thus out of the excess “beta brainwaves” of low mood and anxiety.
If a breathing focus does suit you, just try taking a deep breath that engages the diaphragm, so you trigger the vagus nerve and involve the relaxation part of the nervous system through a simple mechanical trigger. This practice is bound to improve your mood.
3.) Peace and Quiet
The world has become a cacophonous place. Yoga class is now one of the few venues where cell phones, texting and the constant e-chatter of modern society are taboo. Richard Broad, the author of The Science of Yoga, cites the de-stressing “anti-civilization” aspect as one of the biggest benefits of doing yoga. If you really want quiet, find a teacher who doesn’t play music or talk constantly. By the time class is over, you might have forgotten why you were so stressed out in the first place.
When you’re more centered and more peaceful with yourself, you’ll be the same way with your partner—you’ll view them through the same lens of compassionate, unconditional love. You’re less reactive—for example, you may know that snapping at your partner is not a wise choice.
As you realize yourself as non-separate through the practice of yoga and meditation, the abandonment, loneliness, isolation, and sense of separation that can get in the way of close relationships are broken down.
By practicing yoga we come to know and love ourselves, we find self-acceptance, a union of opposites within us, and awareness and sensitivity to our own needs. When we are self-aware, self-accepting, self-responsible and self-loving, we are ready to enter into a relationship with another. And, of course, all of this is another way that yoga improves your mood.
2.) You Can Do It In Bed
What if you’re too depressed or lazy to get out of bed?
Yoga teacher Amy Weintraub fought depression for years before eventually finding relief in yoga. She has developed a form of yoga called “LifeForce”—with depressed students in mind—which can be done in bed or on a chair. Her style of yoga will improve your mood, along with mantras and breathing techniques to regulate emotions.
Yoga is a low-impact activity that can provide the same benefits as any other well-designed exercise program. These benefits include wellness, strength, stamina, lowered stress, improved mood and much more.
Also, not only will yoga improve your mood, it has been studied and may be recommended to promote relaxation, reduce stress and improve some medical conditions such as premenstrual syndrome. It is particularly promoted as a physical therapy routine and as a regimen to strengthen and balance all parts of the body. Many illnesses are made worse by stress, and the reduction of stress that yoga provides helps limit the onset or severity of illness.
1.) Elevated GABA Levels
Yoga has been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. GABA activity is reduced in people with mood and anxiety disorders, and drugs that increase GABA activity are commonly prescribed to improve mood and decrease anxiety. So it makes sense that this feature of yoga will improve your mood.
While many claims of yoga’s benefits are subjective, objective information is available. Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine confirmed that yoga really does increase the brain’s levels of GABA. Lower levels of GABA correlate to anxiety and depression, so an increase is a positive sign. When scientists compared a walking group to a yoga group during 12 weeks of study, the yogis came out on top. GABA levels were up, and self-reported measures of anxiety were down.
Yoga may also improve psychological health during cancer treatment, although more evidence is needed to confirm this possible benefit. Other research indicates that yoga could be useful in addition to other treatments in schizophrenia, and may have positive effects on mental health.
What other positive benefits of yoga are you aware of? Do you agree that yoga will improve your mood when you’re feeling down? Let us know in the comments!