We hear about the effects of a runner's high following exercise all the time, but what about getting a yoga high? Have you ever felt a rush of emotions come over you while lying in savasana after a tough day, or had “happy tears” swell up in your eyes when a yoga teacher played a particular heartfelt song? All types of exercises can release powerful endorphins: chemical messengers that our bodies make which naturally lift our moods and dull pain. But yoga can also touch you in other ways that you might not experience from going to the gym, running or lifting weights. Because yoga connects you to others, puts you in touch with a long lineage of teachers, allows you to appreciate your body exactly as it is right now, and makes you look deeply inward, your practice can bring on euphoric feelings in ways you might not have even realized.
One of the primary benefits of any yoga practice is gaining introspection, turning inward and being brave enough to explore any issues further than you ever have before. Yoga is the opposite of self-denial, procrastination or blissful ignorance – it’s about learning how to recognize and then tolerate what seems intolerable. With a non-judgmental mind and willingness to accept whatever lays below the surface, yoga helps us tune into the present moment and pinpoint what is and isn’t working in our lives. It instills us with bravery, self-compassion and the desire to improve ourselves without an attachment to the results.
Many people report that once they begin to show up consistently to their mats, it’s like they finally start showing up for life – walking right into sources of grief and, in turn, finding peace. Instead of turning away from problems and choosing to focus attention on less important sources of immediate gratification, yoga teaches you how to be brave and gain strength as you stick with discomfort, both during your practice and afterward.
Ecstasy and Euphoria
The twists, turns and inversions of the asanas literally get your blood flowing, causing you to sweat as your muscles work hard. But the sense of happiness that yoga offers is more than just a typical dopamine high – it’s your body and mind changing, while growing a stronger connection to one another. The mind-body connection that yoga fosters is invaluable, offering you improved self-confidence, peace of mind and appreciation for your body regardless of how you think it might look. (Learn more in The How and Why of Strengthening the Mind.)
While other forms of exercise might preach “no pain, no gain,” the physical practice of yoga gets you where you’re trying to go (toward having a healthier, resilient body), in a gentler and more rewarding way. You get the same sense of accomplishment you would from other physical achievements by watching yourself make progress week after week, but you also choose to appreciate your body more for what it can do, rather than just how it appears to the outside world. What seemed challenging when you first began practicing yoga, maybe even impossible, starts to come naturally and with ease. You marvel at how much your body can do, how it moves you, how it's gained strength, and all that it does do right – instead of nit-picking where it isn’t skinny enough, toned enough or in-line with society's ideal.
Healthier Body, Happier Heart
It’s been said that our bodies hold our histories, which means a stiff body usually holds anger, guilt, shame and stress. The fact that stress could diminish health was once thought of as new-age "mumbo jumbo," but today science even shows that stress depletes energy and can lead to many different diseases.
The brain and body are constantly sending messages to one another through nerves, hormones and biofeedback, so stress in the mind shows up in various places as damage done to the body. Yoga changes us, both psychologically and physically, turning down our innate "fight or flight" response while reworking our sympathetic nervous system. Stretching, deep breathing and meditating kick our parasympathetic nervous system into gear, allowing us to relax, rest, think more clearly and appreciate the present moment for all it has to offer. (Read more in 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)
There’s nothing like body image issues or chronic, nagging pain for ruining an otherwise happy day. If you usually suffer from feelings of “less than,” or pain in the legs, lower back or neck which stops you from fully enjoying life – especially whenever you try moving your body in new or difficult ways – you’ll be glad to hear that yoga can help you find lasting relief. Yoga is associated with reduced body pain, better range of motion, improved flexibility, more restful sleep and protection from injuries.
While some dread the effects that aging has on the body, yogis age with grace. They do what they can to practice Self-love, move in beneficial ways and address problems that stand in the way of health and happiness; but, at the same time, they understand that nobody is perfect and getting older is inevitable. The joy that yoga helps develop doesn’t diminish with age, fluctuations in your body weight, or even as you experience changes in your physical abilities. The mat is always there waiting for you, helping you to reconnect to the "right here, right now," and bringing your focus to what matters most.