When I was 18 years old, I stumbled upon a yoga class that was being held in my first year at college. It was hosted on the school’s basketball court. Yoga was a mysterious, almost cult-like concept 40 years ago. The teacher, dressed in white, looked like Jesus, arrived while a few students waited on the mats. After playing a song on the wooden flute and reading some Haiku poems, he led the class through a series of yoga poses. Yoga would be a great way to calm my anxious tendencies, even if it were to get off the ground in the West.
Yoga could be the oldest form of happiness. The figurines that archeologists found in India, which date back to 5,000 years ago, are believed to depict people practicing yoga poses. It is more certain that Yoga originated in Northern India’s Indus-Sarasvati civilization around 2,500 years ago as part of Hinduism.
Most people in the West know one type of yoga practice: the asanas. This Sanskrit term means “postures” in Sanskrit. The tradition includes pranayama (mindful breath), meditations, and chanting. It also contains sutras (yoga philosophy written by Patanjali), kriya, and other ethical principles that relate to kindness, non-materialism, and nonviolence. Yoga has seen many variations over its history. There have been Qi Gong and Tai Chi and hot and core-power Yoga.
More than 36 million people are practicing Yoga in the United States today. They most likely practice one of the two types of Yoga derived from Vedic Yoga. These include 12 basic poses with names such as plow and fish, cobra, locust, and bow pose. This type of Yoga includes metaphorical descriptions of the body’s movements and teaches deep breathing patterns and a mindful focus.
Is this a good practice? Yoga has shown excellent health and happiness benefits over the past decade. We should all consider hitting the mat more often.
Yoga has many health benefits
Yoga is a combination of mind and body. It has many health and happiness benefits.
Yoga is all about bringing awareness to your breath. Also known as “ujjayi pranayama,” the breath of fire, this practice is central to the course. Deep breathing, such as the one used in Yoga, activates the vagus nerve. This branch is located at the top end of the spinal cord. It stimulates the activation of vocal apparatus muscles, which move the head, eyes, heart, respiration organs, and stomach. A host of bodily functions are affected by elevated vagal tone, including digestion and immune function.
Slow yoga breathing can be described as contracting the glottis muscles of the throat. This improves your heart’s ability to regulate blood pressure efficiently. There is some evidence that Yoga can lower blood pressure.
A recent study randomly assigned 29 participants to a 4-month training program that included either respiratory yoga exercises (ujjayi breathe) or stretching. The yoga group experienced an improvement in their inspiratory, expiratory, and variability of heartbeats. These are all indicators of improved cardiovascular function. The same effect was not seen with stretching.
Jaylissa Zheng created GGSC-tailored Yoga Videos, free and available at JlissYoga.com. They combine mindful body movements with science-backed meditations.
A recent study by UC San Diego found that 38 participants in a three-month yoga retreat had a decrease in inflammatory processes. This is an immune response to high blood pressure, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.
These changes in our cardiovascular and nervous systems make Yoga a good choice for our health. Regular Yoga can help reduce pain and stiffness by loosening the muscles and connective tissue around the joints. A study found that 75 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were randomly assigned to either an eight-week yoga class or a waiting list. Rheumatoid is a painful condition that causes tender, swollen joints. It affects 54,000,000 Americans annually and costs the $19 Billion healthcare system. Patients who did Yoga experienced significant improvements in their physical, mental, and general health. These improvements lasted for nine months.
Other studies have shown that Yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. If you do it daily for over a month, it may even be better than traditional medication. It has been shown that Yoga can help people overcome their addictions. These findings are why regular yoga practitioners report feeling happier.
Yoga makes us happy
What makes Yoga happier? According to a review, 59 studies involving nearly 2,400 participants showed that Yoga might affect heart rate variability and vagus nerve activity. People with higher heart rate variability or vagus nerve activity are more kind and compassionate. This makes for happier lives.
Yoga also changes brain chemistry. Chantal Villemure and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health used magnetic resonance imaging in one study to examine the grey matter in the brain. This naturally decreases as we age. Researchers found that yoga practitioners experienced less gray matter loss in areas of the cortex associated with the experience of positive states like joy and happiness.
Yoga has been shown increase activity in the anterior prefrontal cortex and medial prefrontal cortex, brain areas associated with empathy and gratitude. Yoga can help us feel positive emotions and be more open to others. This is a way. Yoga can lead to lasting happiness.
Eight years ago, Jaylissa Zheng (I) moved to New York. I was left with many problems that plague us today, including anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, and despair. My suffering was not alleviated by medication, if any. I decided to try Yoga and became a yoga instructor. This ancient happiness practice has given me a source of ever-richer resilience. You can find new meaning in one of the oldest happiness practices of humanity.