As yogis, most of us are aware of the connection between body and mind. We know that our yoga practice affects our bodies; it can make us stronger, more flexible, and even help us lose weight. Yoga also affect the mind by helping to calm mental chatter so we can be more focused and in tune as we go through our daily lives.
But what about emotions? Yes, yoga can also help us manage difficult emotions too, and it’s easy to see why this works once we understand what emotions are.
What are emotions?
I like to think of emotions as messages from our brain about what is going on with us in a holistic (mind-body) sense. While it’s the brain that creates emotions, we usually feel them in our bodies. When we’re sad, for example, we feel tired and listless. When we’re angry, our hearts race and we feel agitated or tense. Joy produces an energetic, blissful feeling, and so on.
All emotions are important messages, but let’s be honest. There are some we’d rather not experience. We don’t want to feel sad, anxious, angry, or afraid. Yoga, it turns out, can help lessen the intensity of “negative” emotions on a number of levels.
How yoga help with emotions
Yoga affects our emotions on both physically and mentally. Here are four ways yoga can help us take control of our emotions.
- Yoga produces physical changes related to emotions. An energizing yoga practice, for example, can help us feel more energized if we’re experiencing sadness. A gentle practice or a targeted breathing practice may help reduce the jitteriness or racing heart associated with emotions like anxiety and anger.
- Yoga changes brain chemistry. A number of studies suggest that chemicals in the brain actually change when a person practices yoga regularly. Specifically, a regular yoga practice can raise levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is often depleted in people who suffer from depression or anxiety. Yoga can also boost levels of other brain chemicals that affect feelings of well-being, including endorphins, theta waves, and beta waves.
- Yoga helps change our thinking. By making meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, part of your yoga practice, you can begin to notice your thoughts and emotions. As you begin to accept what you notice without judgment and without being in a rush to change it, an amazing thing will happen. Your thoughts and the emotions those thoughts create will begin to change!
- Yoga can help make space for more positive emotions. Many people who practice yoga for a while begin to feel more energetic, happier, and stronger. Their confidence grows and they feel more at home in their own skin. All of these experience naturally lead to a sense of inner peace, joy, and contentment. In other words, positive emotions begin to replace negative ones.
Many who begin a yoga practice for physical exercise, to deal with stress, or to become spiritually enlightened get the results they seek and more. If you’ve practiced for a while, you may have noticed this as well. Are you happier, less anxious, braver, or slower to anger than before? If so, you’ve experienced the emotional benefits of practicing yoga. If you still struggle with troubling emotions, don’t give up. In time, your practice will pay off in big ways.