When we pursue a hobby that we really enjoy, we feel happy – and yoga is no exception. But yoga is so much more than a hobby and can do so much more than just make us feel good temporarily.
There is now even evidence that regular practice on the mat can have a positive impact on our mood. So let’s take a look at how yoga can make us happy!
What actually is happiness?
Each person will probably answer this very philosophical question individually, but surveys from happiness research show that we tend to classify happiness as a momentary experience, while satisfaction is seen as longer-term. However, it is also less pronounced and is perceived less intensely.
According to surveys, we are particularly happy in good relationships, during fulfilling activities, when relaxing or during joyful events.
Obstacles to happiness from a yogic perspective
Patanjali, an Indian scholar and author of the famous Yoga Sutras, identified three factors that prevent us from feeling happiness:
1. Genes (Vasanas): These are predispositions that work from our subconscious. They contribute to us being more or less susceptible to stress or mistrustful than other people, for example.
2. Imprints (samskaras): By imprints, Patanjali refers to subconscious patterns of behavior and evaluation. We acquire these through our upbringing and the influence of society and our immediate social environment. This also includes the so-called “Antarayas”, mental blockages, which, according to Patanjali, you should always be aware of. For example, is it important to you to always be right? Think about this and ask yourself whether it’s really always necessary or whether you can sit back and relax without having to prove anything to others.
3. Disturbing forces (Kleshas): The Kleshas have the most far-reaching effect and are considered to be the cause of all forms of suffering. These include: Ignorance (Avidya), the misconception of oneself (Asmita), greed (Raga), aversion (Dvesha) and fear (Abhinivesha).
The bad news: According to Patanjali, we will never be able to completely overcome the Kleshas. Abhinivesha in particular, which ultimately stands for the fear of death, is too profound.
The good news is that we can mitigate them somewhat through mindfulness.
Autopilot mode off for more happiness
In everyday life, our brain often runs in autopilot mode. It interprets everyday life against the background of what we have already experienced.
On the one hand, this is good because it allows us to grasp situations quickly and act efficiently and saves us a lot of brooding and thinking – for example, when driving a car, when you don’t think much about how to shift into the next gear.
Alongside these advantages, however, autopilot mode also has a disadvantage. It prevents us from consciously focusing our attention in everyday life. As a result, unpleasant factors are perceived as particularly intense and disturbing, because our brain is geared towards keeping us safe – not happy. Beautiful things are therefore often not perceived in autopilot mode.
If we switch off this mode, we can also experience happiness. Yoga practice invites us to do this by implementing mindfulness.
Asanas for more happiness
In addition to the mindfulness that is very common in yoga classes, practicing asanas also sets physiological processes in motion that help us to reduce stress and minimize it in the long term.
Our oxygen metabolism improves, the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol is reduced, cholesterol levels and blood pressure drop. This also strengthens our immune system.
When we practice asanas, we address either the calming or activating part of the autonomic nervous system, depending on the postures we choose. This even allows us to gently regulate our mood. Of course, you won’t get out of an intense funk or even depression just because you do a yoga session with lots of backbends. However, this asana group generally has an activating effect and can help you if you are feeling sluggish, listless or tired.
In general, exercise is good for happiness. Research shows that exercise has a positive effect on our mental performance and also on our body, regardless of which form of exercise you choose.
In yoga, we move in harmony with our breath. We often flow into one position when we inhale, and exhaling into another. This rhythmic movement helps to relax the brain and activates the body’s own reward systems.
Meditation for more happiness
Meditation is inextricably linked to yoga and has a positive effect on our sense of happiness even without practicing asanas. When we meditate, the hypothalamus releases oxytocin and dopamine – which in turn leads to positive emotional states.
If you keep at it over a longer period of time and meditate regularly, your serotonin concentration in the blood can increase. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that puts us in a good mood. It can also improve our sleep and digestion.
In the long term, permanent changes can occur in the brain’s nerve cell network, especially the activity of the front left area of the cerebral cortex is increased. Meditation stimulates this area of the brain, making the nerve cell network there denser and stronger. If this area of the brain is active, balance and calmness of mind are stabilized – which also leads to a greater sense of happiness.
Exercise guidelines for more happiness
Just get on the mat and get started? Sure, even then you’re bound to feel the positive effects. But these three tips will make it even better:
1. Inner alignment: it’s important what your inner attitude is when you get on the mat. This doesn’t mean that you can only practice in a good mood. I myself have unrolled my mat several times because I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to counteract this. However, you shouldn’t be reluctant to practice because you’ve read that it can help. If you force yourself to practice, the effect will be counterproductive.
2. Focus: direct your practice towards a specific focus that contributes to happiness. How about gratitude, for example? This aspect will then also be strengthened in your experience and support feelings of happiness.
3. Form: Get fully involved in the external form of each asana. This may sound abstract at first, but it can be very effective. The warrior poses, for example, are very proud and radiate confidence. Connect with these qualities and let them spill over onto you. It works in the same way with security, which is associated with the child’s pose, or with patience, which is associated with forward folds.
If you are not yet a yoga fan and after the first point of the exercise guidelines think “then yoga is not for me to increase my happiness”, you are mistaken. You don’t have to be completely enthusiastic about yoga to benefit from it. The important thing is that you go to the mat with an open mind and without pressure. For many, it’s love at first sight – it wasn’t love at first sight for me, but maybe for you? I wish you lots of luck 😊