Feel-good fitness!

2013Apr30_YogaGeneral_AHow do you measure fitness? Is it by muscle strength, performance or athletic prowess? While abilities and measurable elements might be part of the picture, one aspect that is perhaps less quantifiable is what you might call the feel-good factor. Nothing feels as good as working the body into a state of happiness and joy and what better way to do that than with an energizing yoga session?

Yoga is renowned for relaxing your whole body, reducing stress and enhancing your mood. The energy that you feel after practicing yoga also gives you an extra spring in your step. These feel-good factors are important elements to well being, which encompasses far more than your physical state, with a greater emphasis on the interconnectedness of your whole being.

Relaxing

Yoga is relaxing for the body and the mind. It it not just the classic Hatha Yoga, which is based on gentle movements that inspires this state of feeling either, but even more intense practices such as Power Yoga. After and even during a yoga class you feel restful in your body and mind. This is a feeling of ease and that your mind is unwinding, rather than an indolent state of inertia. Breathing exercises or a focus on your breathing also contributes to the active process of letting go. Stretches that massage the body internally lead to a release of physical tensions that have been keeping the body hostage to feelings of tiredness, stress and lack of mobility.

Stress reducing

The evidence that yoga is a stress buster is not just anecdotal but backed up by scientific research. Many studies point to yoga not only making people feel less fraught but possibly impacting depression and anxiety issues in a positive way too. One study in 2008, published ┬áin the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that yoga sessions increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels. This neurotransmitter has a calming effect on the brain and can lessen anxiety. Yoga’s focus on the present moment and mindful practice is also believed to be a real stress reliever, bringing with it sharper focus and greater clarity of mind.

Mood enhancing

While all types of exercise are renowned for giving your brain a feel-good boost, yoga is renowned for its impact on the nervous and endocrine system. This means that yoga can help balance hormones which can bring about a feeling of calm and groundedness. This also stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins too. These happy hormones combat pain as well as negative moods. It is the deep breathing and relaxation that yoga encourages that activates these anti-stress responses, with studies also suggesting that dopamine release levels are increased through meditation techniques.

Energy flowing

One way of looking at yoga is to imagine that it is conditioning and stimulating parts of the body, such as the lymphatic and circulatory systems. This is really about the flow of energy and the connectedness of your whole body and being. It is this flowing relationship between your muscles, connective tissue and nerves that needs to be focused on. Knots and tight muscles signify stored energy that is not flowing as it should, causing pain and tension. Experiences and emotions have an impact on the body and where energy flows, as in the case of the fight or flight response. This highlights the importance of the impact yoga has on both the physical state and the mind too.

Stress is the precursor to many debilitating health problems. On the other hand, flexibility and muscle tone can really improve functionality and movement for a better quality of life. Yoga is a dynamic practice where feel-good is far more far reaching than simply a feeling.

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