The ancient practice of yoga is said to cure depression, reduce anxiety, and increase overall happiness. This post will explore how yoga changes the brain and how you can benefit most from it- even if an hour-long yoga class isn’t in the works. As noted in a Sept 2011 post in Psychology Today:
First, the things you do (your actions) and the thoughts you have physically change the firing patterns and chemical composition of your brain. Second, actions as simple as changing your posture, relaxing the muscles of your face, or slowing your breathing rate, can have a profound positive impact on how your brain deals with stress.
Neuroscientist Alex Korb, Ph.D. was convinced to attend a first yoga class with his father a long time practitioner. He made some interesting observations about the practice and the brain. According to him yoga is about breathing and attention. It is not about how flexible you are. Many of the poses require you to exert all your energy in order to hold that pose. Yoga teachers tell you to breathe through the pain and smile. The positive effects of yoga occur not because the practice is relaxing but because the practice is stressful. It is your attempt to remain calm during that stress that gives rise to yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit.
You don’t have to commit to a whole practice to gain the positive benefits. By breathing deeply and slowly, relaxing your facial muscles, clearing your head of anxious thoughts, and focusing on the present you can begin to implement the benefits of yoga into your life.
Dr. Korb suggests that over time you will start to retrain your automatic stress reaction and replace it with one more conducive to happiness and overall well-being.
Remember without the sustained intentions of focus on the present and calming the mind going to yoga class is literally just going through the motions. By identifying stresses in your own life and taking a minute to breathe deeply and smile you can reap the neurobiological benefits that yoga offers starting now.