If you’ve ever stepped foot onto a yoga mat, then you’ll probably be familiar with the warm, fuzzy feeling that gradually starts to envelop you as you ride the vinyasa wave. Usually, by the time you peel yourself up from savasana (relaxation), you have well and truly reached that blissful yoga high that’s keeps yoga addicts (dedicated yogis) coming back for more. But what is it that creates this amazing feeling and how can you experience more of it?
With ancient roots in Indian culture, the 5000 year old practice of yoga has well and truly stood the test of time. While yogis may have swapped their loin cloths for lululemon and their mountaintops for yoga studios, it seems the essence of the practice has remained the same and science is catching on.
Recent studies indicate that yoga and meditation can help everything from reducing blood pressure, losing weight, decreasing back pain, sharpening the mind, increasing cognitive function, lowering cortisol levels (the stress hormone), decreasing depression, triggering DNA, stimulating melatonin (the sleep hormone), and even making you look younger!
Research says that yoga and meditation may be able to influence gene expression and perhaps even limit the genes associated with inflammation. A 2014 study showed that lifestyle changes like movement, meditation and nutrition can actually reverse the ageing process at the cellular level (C. Gregoire, 2014) by elongating telomeres which are caps used to protect the end of chromosomes that make sure cells are functioning healthily (Dr Dean Ornish, 2013).
Further to this, a 2015 Havard Medical School article found that yoga has even more benefits beyond the mat. From a better body image, through to increasing mindfulness and boosting endurance and cardio vascular health, it seems crystal clear how the practice can give you such an amazing feeling both on and off the mat.
Another way of looking at what’s behind the yoga high, is through the traditional yogic model of The Koshas. Often used to describe the path of yoga itself, The Koshas suggest that a human being has 5 bodies or 5 layers of awareness and experience. These layers move from the external and the most dense (annamaya) through to the internal and more subtle dimensions of consciousness (anandamaya).
We naturally integrate these Koshas in our yoga flow as we connect mind, body and breath. Perhaps this natural integration allows us to gradually become more aware of the subtle layers or realms of our perception expanding the experience of Anadamaya or bliss.
Whatever it is behind the yoga high, whether you believe it is science or philosophy, there is one thing that we can all agree on. You will never walk out of a session wishing that you hadn’t gone and that usually, you’ll float out on a cloud of warm, fuzzy feelings that make the world seem just a little brighter.