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Science says Yoga can make you happy – Psychological benefits of Yoga

There is a new ongoing research on how our personal power can be unlocked by adopting some powerful body postures. The results have been varying, and how the reports claim that the positions used by certain politicians and other people with power can be difficult to replicate. However, a recent study conducted by theconversation.com states that we might just be able to draw certain insights from the research on psychological benefits of Yoga.

Yoga

In this study, a set of participants were asked to perform two simple yoga poses for two minutes, while the other set of participants were asked to perform “power poses” for two minutes. The results concluded that those participants who performed the yoga pose had improved subjective feelings of energy, sense of power and self-esteem than those who performed power poses.

There have been questions regarding what might have been the reason behind this boost. A part of the theory is that yoga’s psychological benefits may be linked to the functioning of the vagus nerves. This nerve is the longest in the nervous system and is responsible for body’s unconscious functioning, i.e. breathing, circulation, and digestion. The functioning is also linked with social competence and beneficial emotional regulation according to studies.

Yoga for mental and physical well-being

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In traditional terms, yoga is the practice of “non-competitive, physical exercise involving held poses (asana) combined with regulated breathing (pranayama) and meditation techniques.” Over the years, the practice of yoga in the west has increased substantially. Researchers suggest that in the US, over 31 million adults have practiced yoga at some point in their lives.

Yoga has many positive benefits. It can alleviate chronic pain, manage coronary artery disease, asthma, diabetes, lymphoma, and breast cancer. Yoga is also beneficial for those suffering from mental diseases such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and many others.

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Not only just these benefits, Yoga has other positive impacts on a person’s life such as satisfaction with life, self-esteem, psychological well-being, stress reduction and performance anxiety reduction. In turn, alleviating the positive effects and the feeling of being energized.

How yoga poses improve our self-esteem

The study conducted by theconversation.com was quite different to other research as the study only investigated the asana aspect of yoga to find its effect on self-esteem. Previous studies only focused on benefits of meditation and breathing, while the review of 465 papers showed that only 169 papers have focused on the physical aspects of asana and only two of them focus on the psychological effects of yoga poses.

Yoga Poses
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In that study, theconversation.com’s research team compared the effects of tadasana, urdhva hastasana, and garudasana yoga poses with two high power and two low power poses. They found that the participants performing yoga pose felt energized, empowered and in control than the other group and that in turn affected their self-satisfaction and confidence, regardless of their initial level of self-esteem.

They imply that it could be because the effect had less to do with the dominance of poses, and more to do with the feedback that the poses provide to the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of which is responsible for body’s unconscious actions. Even though the higher power poses were more dominant, they were less responsive to improving the self-esteem of participants.

However, they state that their study cannot be a direct answer, but their interpretations and implications are based on the existing literature.

The effect of yoga poses on body

There is a common mechanism that explains the dispersed effects of yoga practice: how vagus nerve functions to control the brain to the body. The vagus nerve connects brain stems to facial muscles, heart, lungs, digestive tract, kidneys, and reproductive organs. It has a vital role in the operation of a parasympathetic nervous system. This is responsible for feed-and-breed, rest-and-digest processes, regulating heart rate, and promoting calm and soothing states. It is also important for neural regulation of parts of body necessary for communication: larynx, eyes, inner ears, facial muscles and many others.

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Our caring behavior is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. Thus, we can conclude that “well-functioning vagus nerve leads us to feel calm, relaxed, and safe in relation to others.” This also goes both ways: feeling calm, relaxed and safe also improves the vagus nerve. What this means is that we can start off on a positive upward journey of well-being by improving our state of body or the state of our mind.

Yoga for Happiness
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The finding of theconversation.com is in alliance with the fact that short practice of yoga poses positively affects vagal tone, and thus one can feel more satisfied and happy.