How Yoga Makes Us Happy, According To Science

Can we really unlock our personal power by adopting powerful body postures? Unfortunately, the findings that link these so-called power poses beloved of certain politicians with a real sense of power and control are difficult to replicate. We may not yet understand the mechanism through which body postures influence our psychological states, but our recent study is demonstrated that we may draw insights from the rapidly expanding research on the psychological the advantage of yoga.

In our study, some participants performed two simple yoga poses for two minutes, while others performed power poses for two minutes. Afterwards, those who held the yoga poses reported improved subjective feelings of energy, sense of power, and self-esteem compared to the other group.

What could lie behind this apparent boost? One theory is that yogas psychological benefits may be linked to the functioning of the vagus nerve. This, the 10th cranial nerve, is the longest of the autonomic nervous system which is responsible for the bodys unconscious functioning such as breathing, circulation and digestion. But intriguingly its functioning is also directly linked to social competence and beneficial emotional regulation.

Yoga improves mental and physical health

Yoga is the practice of non-competitive, physical exercise involving held poses( in Sanskrit, asana ) be included with regulated breathing ( pranayama ) and meditation techniques. The past few decades have seen a great increase in the practice of yoga in the West. Over 31m adults in the US have practised yoga at some point in their lives.

Multiple studies point to the positive effects of yoga on mental and physical health, as well as on personal developing. Yoga alleviates chronic pain. It helps manage coronary artery cancer, asthma, diabetes, lymphoma, and breast cancer. Yoga helps individuals suffering from mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive ailment, post traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.

Regular yoga practice also benefits healthy individuals, improving psychological well-being, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem, and reducing stress and performance nervousnes. Studies have also found that yoga reduces fatigue and negative affect, while increasing positive affect and devoting a feeling of being energised.

Yoga poses and self-esteem

Our study was unusual compared to others examining the effects of yoga practice in that it examined only the asana facet of yoga in order to investigate its effect on self-esteem. Predominantly, research into yoga has focused on the benefits of meditation and breathing. A recent review of 465 research papers devoted to yogas role in promoting well-being noted that merely 169 of those newspapers included the physical aspects of asana . To the best of our knowledge, merely two previous studies have focused solely on studying the psychological effects of yoga poses.

We compared the effect of the tadasana , urdhva hastasana and garudasana yoga poses to two high power and two low power power poses. We found that after performing two yoga poses our participants felt more energetic, empowered, and in control than those participants who performed power poses. Feeling energetic directly affected their confidence and feeling of gratification with themselves regardless of their initial levels of self-esteem.

We think such effects had less to do with the meaning of predominance associated with the poses, and more with the feedback that the body alignment in yoga poses provides to the parasympathetic nervous system the component responsible for regulating the bodys unconscious actions. The high power poses were seen as more dominant and confident than yoga poses, but were less effective in increasing participants self-esteem.

So if it wasnt the non-verbal meaning conveyed by the body postures that affected our participants self-perception, what was it? We cant answer this directly, but its consequence can be interpreted in light of the existing literature.

How do yoga poses affect the body ?

The dispersed effects of yoga practice can all be linked to a common mechanism: the functioning of the vagus nerve which connects the brain( and therefore the intellect) to the body. From the brain stem, the vagus nerve connects facial muscles, heart, lungs, digestive tract, kidneys and reproductive organs. It plays important roles in operating the parasympathetic nervous system which includes the feed-and-breed and rest-and-digest processes, and also governs heart rate, and promotes calm and soothing countries. The nerve is responsible for the neural regulation of parts of the body necessary for communication: the larynx, the eyes, the inner ears( especially helping to distinguish human voices from background noises ), and facial muscles involved in vocal and non-vocal expressions.

The vagus nerves connections to the bodys parasympathetic nervous system. OpenStax College, CC BY

It also regulates our caring behaviour, hence why a well-functioning vagus nerve leads us to feel calm, relaxed and safe in relation to others. This is also reciprocal: feeling calm, relaxed and sociable also stimulates the vagus nerve. This means its possible to start off a positive upward spiral of well-being either by affecting the nations of the body or the states of the mind.

TheResearch suggests that the proper functioning of the vagus nerve( assessed as the cardiac vagal tone indicating the degree of the vagus nerves influence on the heart) promotes emotion regulation, social proficiency, and prosocial behaviour, and dampens aggressivenes, aggression, depression and nervousnes. This supports our theory that yoga practice meditation, breathing, and performing yoga postures tones the vagal nerve. Our findings suggest that even a short practice of yoga poses may positively affect the vagal tone, building us feel more satisfied and happy.

Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London and Dorottya Lantos, Doctoral Candidate in Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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