We have all heard that Yoga has a multitude of benefits, but how does it make you feel happier?

Research shows, by cultivating a general feeling of gratitude, we can notably improve our quality of life. As an exercise, Yoga increases the production of serotonin and endorphins in the body, triggering a sense of happiness, by lowering cortisol levels. The neurochemical production of endorphins stimulates your brain similarly to a painkiller, or mood relaxant, resulting in a feeling of a natural ‘high’. A study by the University of Utah conducted MRI scans on yogis and they found that it also increased tolerance to pain and lowered the level of ‘brain-related’ pain activity.

Typically, a yoga sequence incorporates mindfulness with Vedic philosophy, threaded between dynamic postures and breathing techniques. The emphasis placed on moving into each pose with ‘mindful intent’ encourages you to focus on the present moment. By directing your attention to a specific muscle while you practice, you generate awareness in the mind which can assist you to recognise the transient nature of tense emotional situations.

Sitting in meditation and pranayama (breathwork) moderates your parasympathetic nervous system, naturally inhibiting your stress responders. As your teacher guides you to reflect on physically releasing tension from your body, your mind begins to relax. The use of positive affirmations and mantras to combat distractions during meditation can aid sufferers of anxiety and depression. On an energetic level, each asana, or pose, stimulates a specific chakra, balancing the body, igniting a more radiant, and flexible approach to life.

Five Poses for Gratitude

Pyramid Pose ~Parsvottanasana

From mountain pose, turn your right foot outwards and step your left leg forward into a comfortable stance. As you inhale lift the palms, rotate your arms behind you. Take hold of opposite elbows, or bring your hands into prayer position. On an Inhale, roll the shoulders back, lift the chest, gazing straight ahead. Exhale to fold your belly towards your chest, lengthening your chin towards your ankle. Release your breath and your heart in gratitude towards the earth. Slowly inhale, rolling your spine up and back to standing. Step back into mountain pose and repeat.

Pigeon Pose ~Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

Starting from downward dog, step your right foot forward, bend your knee, resting it slightly wider than your hip, behind the right wrist. Squaring your hips, draw them down towards the earth. Press into the balls of your feet, extend the left leg behind you, then, release your toes and your shin. Keeping your fingertips in line with your hips, roll the shoulders back, simultaneously lift up, and out of the waist. Breathe deeply into the centre of the chest and allow each movement to expand your heart, generating a feeling of openness. Press back into downward dog to repeat on the other side.

Fish Pose ~Matsyasana

Ground the back against the earth with your palms facing towards the sky. Slide your palms beneath your buttocks, arching your spine as you tilt your head backwards. Gently place the crown on the earth and breathe for 30-seconds. Press your elbows into the earth and lift your heart towards the sky. Softly release your head and roll the spine back into corpse pose.

Locust Pose ~Salabhasana

As you lie with your stomach on the earth, slide your arms out to the side with your palms facing upwards, in line with your body. Turn your big toes inwards and rotate your thighs. Exhale to open your heart, engage your buttocks, lift your torso, head, legs and arms. Extend your legs powerfully, and reach through your fingertips, interlacing the hands behind your back if this is within your reach. Breathe deeply for one minute and release your heart to the earth.

Mountain Pose ~Tadasana

As you stand with your feet hip-distance apart, lengthen your spine, tuck your tailbone and ground down through your feet. Activating your core muscles maintain a neutral pelvis. Keep your hands out to one side, or place them in prayer position at the centre of your heart space. As you inhale sweep the arms up and wide with a sense of openness and joy. Or, simply stand in a space of silence and peace.