Even people who have never been to a single yoga class seem to know that it will make you feel good. While each of us have our own personal experience with our practice, these six reasons help explain some of the universal foundations behind why we leave class feeling better than before. Next time you need a little more motivation to make it to practice, check back on these to help move you towards your mat.
Our brains need oxygen to function and process sensory information. This critical element of life ensures our brains have the energy they need to operate at their highest potential, and without sufficient oxygen, we can feel tired, depressed, irritable, and execute poor judgment, notes Natubhai Patel in his book on Health and Happiness.
While yoga can’t help us absorb more oxygen in our blood, it can help us breathe more deeply as we build awareness of our breath through our practice. This can help us take more oxygen into our lungs with each breath so we have more for our bodies to work with.
Breathing deeply also redirects energy away from our stress management systems to other functions in our bodies, literally helping us focus more on other things. As we grow our ability to be mindful of our breathing with regular practice, we can begin to notice when we could breathe more deeply in every day life, helping us feed more energy to our brains and bodies throughout the day.
One of the big reasons that yoga can have such a relaxing effect on us is how it can stimulate our vagus nerve. Think of “vagus” like a “vagabond” – this wandering nerve traverses all our major systems, running all along our spine from the base of our brains all the way to our tailbone.
The Huffington Post calls the vagus nerve an “unconscious brain” that integrates bodily feelings and inputs. Stimulating the vagus nerve as we do through yoga movements and deep breathing triggers our bodies to relax, as the vagus nerve response is the “rest and digest” counterpart to our “flight or flight” response system triggered by stress. With vagus nerve stimulation, our heart rate, blood pressure and inflammation decrease as our bodies actually let go of the stress we have been holding onto.
A good yoga class will move your spine in all six directions – frontwards, backwards, side to side and twisting to right and left. Psychology Today reports that all this motion can trigger positive chemical changes in our bodies, releasing endorphins that can uplift our outlook and mood. When we feel stuck – physically, mentally, or emotionally - we can literally start to move through our emotions with our bodies.
All this motion also helps us build more flexibility over time. When we are static, our bodies get stiffer. As we move, things literally loosen up – including our minds, hearts and emotions.
Sure, drinking water after yoga will make you feel good, but we’re talking about a much deeper level of hydration here. The longer, relaxed holds of yin yoga are an essential part of a Scholé Yoga practice. These holds target your fascia, the connective tissues of your body. You may have even seen it on a steak – fascia is that translucent stuff that wraps around the muscle, and it does the same in our bodies.
Fascia was once dismissed as a bodily by-product, but new science is emerging that highlights its role in our subconscious communication systems, as well as our flexibility. Dehydrated fascia is tight, limiting our range of motion. Longer yin yoga holds helps hydrate our fascia, as does varied movements. So a practice that is different from class to class, rather than the exact sequence of say, 26 postures (we’re looking at you, Bikram Yoga), will help you hydrate your fascia and build flexibility while avoiding injury from repetitive movements.
Being creative makes us feel good – getting into a state of “flow” makes us deeply connected with the present. Even better, psychologists have found that the happiness we get from being in a state of flow lasts longer than more fleeting pleasures, like eating a cookie.
While not all of us may have the talent of great artists or musicians, the “free flow” time experienced in every Scholé Yoga class creates an opportunity for us to be creative and playful in our very own ways. We can start small and move just a little differently, and then maybe a little more. Soon enough, we’re literally in a state of flow with our own bodies, breath and movement. Not only does it feel good, but experts note that creating this state can also help us see more solutions to the problems we face in daily life. Sounds like a good reason to step outside your comfort zone and give moving your own way a try.
The biggest reason why yoga makes us feel so good ties everything else together. As we practice, we create the space to connect breath, mind and body. This helps us see things more clearly, as they truly are, rather than how we want them to be. Through deeper connection with ourselves, we are better able to focus on what we want in life, and able to begin to see the habits holding us back from our highest potential.
Once we begin to strengthen our connection with ourselves, we can be more connected to others as we see that we all want the same things - to be safe, to grow, to be appreciated, and to be loved. Deeper connections help us move more freely outside our comfort zones to be there to help others on their paths as we walk our own, which helps us connect even more with what ultimately creates true, lasting happiness.