It is generally agreed that positive emotions are crucial to our health, our relationships, and the quality of our lives. It turns out that research in the world of yoga has shown that there is a clear connection between positive emotions and yoga.
POSITIVE EMOTIONS HAVE A POSITIVE PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECT.
Researchers argue that one of the evolutionary effects of positive emotions is their “undoing effects” on negative emotions. It’s probably no surprise, then, that negative emotions increase the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. For example, you may have noticed that when you feel fear your heart rate increases, your breath constricts, and basic bodily functions, such as digestion, are stifled. This is a common outcome of negative emotions. Positive emotions, on the other hand, have a neutralizing effect on negative emotions by activating the para-sympathetic which moves the body into rest, digest, heal mode.
Another great phenomenon about positive emotions is that they increase the number of perceived actions a person can take in response to a feeling. When we are experiencing positive emotions, it is easier to imagine a variety of different responses to any given situation. Likewise, when we are experiencing negative emotions we have a limited number of perceived responses. Think about the well-known response to fear: fight, flight, or freeze. Not too many options, right? Positive emotions have the ability to broaden our attention and our actions—they have implicit benefits. People experiencing positive affect show patterns of thought that are notably unusual, flexible and inclusive, creative, integrative, open to information, and efficient.
YOGA INDUCES POSITIVE MIND-STATES.
How does this relate to yoga? In many studies (at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health) before a yoga class participants have been invited to write about a current issue or struggle they are dealing with. Then, they practice yoga. At the end of the yoga class, they write about the troubling situation again and how they might take a step to resolve it. The consistent result: Participants almost always walk away from the experience with a clearer, more creative way to handle the situation—a way of managing the situation that had not occurred to them before the practice. Essentially, practicing yoga increases the “thought-action repertoire.” There is something about yoga that helps to develop a new way of being and acting in the world.
Why? We know from research that yoga increases positive affect (or positive emotions) in participants. Yoga induces a positive mind state: We feel better after yoga, happier, more content, more at ease. Subsequently, when we are under the influence of a positive emotion it is easier to make choices that are more reflective, and, hopefully, more life-affirming.
HOW TO USE THIS INFORMATION IN DAILY LIFE.
Next time you notice you are experiencing a negative emotion, pause. Observe. See if when you feel a negative emotion like fear or anger your attention narrows. Likewise, when you are feeling happy or joyful, notice if your attention feels broader, if you can, think of the various ways you might respond to situations in your life. See if the theory is true for you. If you are experiencing a negative emotion take a few minutes to do your favorite yoga poses or yogic breathing. Perhaps you’ll have more ideas afterward on how to manage whatever it may be that is bothering you. Use positive emotions as medicine.
YOU CAN BE A PART
At CHEC, you can come see for yourself if yoga sparks positivity for you. We practice together in community on Wednesdays at 4:30 in the Yoga Studio (E205). You don’t need to know anything about yoga or already be flexible or in peak condition to join us. The thing is to get yourself to class and see if you can glean a benefit.
(Ref. Article by Angela Wilson, MA, RYT in Studies, News, and Trends, Yoga)