I love teaching yoga for many reasons. My favorite reason for teaching yoga is that I get to talk about things that happen off the mat. Yoga is not just sun salutations or handstands, yoga is a way of life in the studio and out on the street. I love teaching students about the historical and Spiritual aspects of yoga. I love learning and teaching about the science and healing powers of yoga. To show students that the practice of yoga happens in every decision we make throughout the day.
I am currently reading the book Science of Yoga by william Broad. He writes about the different myths or beliefs in yoga and finds scientific proof for and against the belief. The book is a little intense, but parts of it are so informational. I am on the chapter about mood right now. He is trying to find out whether or not yoga can affect a person’s overall mood.
He defines mood as a person’s core emotional outlook. “ Moods are the central meaning of life and thus, in the judgement of psychologists , more important than money, status, and even personal relationships because they affect the happiness quotient that we assign to life activities. As the saying goes, a rich man in a bad mood can feel destitute, and a poor man in a good mood rich beyond words. To a surprising degree, moods define our being.” he goes on to explain many reasons that yoga can better your mood.
The main physical reason is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. There are two different nervous systems in your body the one that controls your muscle movements or the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system which controls your organs and the involuntary actions of your body. Within the autonomic nervous system, there are two branches as well. Your sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for your fight or flight mode. When your body is in this mode, blood is pulled away from your digestive organs and goes straight to your muscles to get you ready to run or stand your ground. This is the mode we are in most of the day. Always on the move and never giving our body a chance to feel safe. On the opposite end, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest, digestion, and healing. When you take a yoga class, you relax your muscles and slow your breathing down. This taps into that parasympathetic nervous system and allows your body to start healing, to digest nutrients, and allows your mind space for more positive thoughts that are not driven by stress or fear. Practicing yoga often can train your body and mind to drop into this relaxed state more quickly so that you can find a more positive mood and less combative reactions to things that happen in your everyday life.
I think there are many other reasons that yoga can improve mood that are not mentioned in the book and maybe cannot be explained by science. I find that going to a yoga class is something I look forward to all week. Something I work toward like a reward or a treat. Knowing that I can go to a class and just experience these feelings make everything else that I have to get done a little more bearable. I also love the community aspect of yoga. I get to break out of my routine to spend time with people who have similar interest to my own and have no intentions of harming or judging me. Other yoga teachers are huge role models for me and their positive mood is very contagious, so the more time I spend around people in classes and around other instructors, the better my mood becomes overall. Basically what I am saying is, try out a yoga class if you haven’t. If you have, maybe do it a little more often. And, just notice the smile it brings to your face and the peace it brings to your mind.