We've all heard about a "runner's high," but what about getting a "yoga high?" This happens when I feel a rush of emotions come over me while lying in savasana after a tough day, or have “happy tears” swell up in my eyes when a yoga teacher plays a particular heartfelt song. All types of exercises can release powerful endorphins, but yoga touches me in ways that I don't experience from running or lifting weights.
Because yoga connects me to others, puts me in touch with a long lineage of teachers, allows me to appreciate my body exactly as it is right now and makes me look deeply inward, my yoga practice can bring on a euphoric "high." Here are the three ways in which getting high on yoga will improve your life.
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. (Read more about why you should be Practicing Aparigraha (Non-Attachment).)
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 how to be brave and gain strength as we stick with discomfort, both during our practice and afterward. (Learn about the spiritual experience of bravery in Be Brave...Be Free.)
Strengthened Mind-Body Connection
The twists, turns and inversions of the asanas literally get our blood flowing, causing us to sweat as our muscles work hard. But the sense of happiness that yoga offers is more than just a typical dopamine high – it’s our bodies and minds changing, while growing a stronger connection to one another. The mind-body connection that yoga fosters is invaluable, offering improved self-confidence, peace of mind and appreciation for our body regardless of how we think it might look. (Learn about the many more benefits 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 us where we’re trying to go (toward having a healthier, resilient body), in a gentler and more rewarding way. We get the same sense of accomplishment we would from other physical achievements by watching ourselves make progress week after week, but we also choose to appreciate our body more for what it can do, rather than just how it appears to the outside world. What seemed challenging when we first began practicing yoga, maybe even impossible, starts to come naturally and with ease. I marvel at how much our bodies can do, how it moves us, how it gains 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. (Read more about the practice of being kind to yourself in thought, word and actions in Ahimsa: A Self-Practice.)
Increased Health (and Happiness)
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. (We can reverse these negative effects by Unlocking the Stress in Your Body.)
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. (Learn 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, among other benefits.
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 body weight, or even as we experience changes in our 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.
The more we experience the feelings of euphoria brought on by our personal practice, the more we will want to keep showing up to the mat to experience it again and again. And off the mat is where we will truly reap the benefits of all our sweat and tears put into our physical asana practice, taking us ever higher! (Read on about Why We Practice Asanas.)