Yoga makes me feel better! Here are some reasons why:
1. Yoga helps me sleep better. Snooze. Boring. Boo. Who wants to talk about the importance of sleep at the very beginning of a blog? (Quick! Raise your hand!) Yoga, Restorative Yoga (passive, slow Yoga) in particular, encourages deepened, slow breath, which slows your heart rate, calming the nervous system. Restorative Yoga also helps regulate endocrine functions, like the production of melatonin, affecting circadian rhythm. Remember, Viva Las Vagus! The vagus nerve, stimulated by deep breathing, controls rest and other important human experiences besides sleep like sexual arousal, salivation, shedding tears, urination, digestion and defecation. The effects of deep breathing make falling off to dreamland a dream.
2. Yoga reminds me: It’s the little things. It’s the little things that matter. Subtle shifts can make or break our energy train. On the Yoga mat, I align and realign to find the sweet spot and my edge. I notice. Off the mat, my quality of life is improved by that habit that I began on the mat. I notice that my spicy lunch gave me gas and made me crabby and remind myself not to eat that again. I notice that it’s been three nights since I’ve had true, restorative sleep so I make a more focused effort at self-care to compensate. The little things add up.
3. Yoga makes me feel better about myself. Yoga makes you fit, yes, but something bigger is happening on the mat: GABA levels increase with exercise, measurably after only ten minutes of exercise. The neurotransmitter GABA shuts down the stress response and makes us more stress-resilient. Yoga also does this thing to your brain where the section that is responsible for sad-feeling responses as you interface with the world, the insula, gets activated. Simultaneously, with Yoga and mindfulness practices, the superior temporal sulcus and the left frontal cortex, areas of the brain that evaluate our experiences and help us to make comparisons, quiet down. Therefore, the more we learn to feel sad without getting caught up in it, without commenting on it and wondering what it all means, the less depressed we get. After Yoga and any mindfulness exercise, we feel more but judge less. The inner critic has been quieted. Our experience becomes one of less suffering and more peace.
4. Yoga gives me purpose. After being depressed for the whole winter season, going to my first Yoga class took Herculean Jedi-mind strength. I had to wrestle with myself to leave the safety of my bed. Going got easier, fast, for a few reasons: I understood from experience that it was good for me; I knew I would feel better and relieved for hours after class; I began to have hope. I was experiencing firsthand that exercise is medicine. Going to Yoga class helped me emerge from my shell, make new friends and become a part of my community in a healthy way. Today, I teach Yoga, work as a Yoga therapist helping others find that same regulation and sense of purpose that wellness describes, and, though I have had some ups and downs, I have not been hospitalized since beginning my regular practice of Yoga. That makes me feel awesome.