Ohmm... your way to happiness
Yoga doesn’t just get you strong. Research shows that it makes you happy too. We spoke to OhanaJo Studio founder and certified yoga instructor, Jojo Struys, for thoughts on that, along with some day-to-day yoga moves!
TThe Sunday morning pranayama class at Jojo’s OhanaJo Studio in Sunway SPK, Kuala Lumpur is a quiet affair. Well, mostly. Except for the occasional nervous giggles from a first-timer when performing the alternate nostril breathing, the session led by Jojo is meditative, and easy to follow. “Every posture is linked to the awareness of your body and the breath, which is the storehouse to many muscular tensions and stagnant emotions. Breathing techniques or pranayama, has the ability to interrupt the body’s stress response and engage the relaxation response to trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers,” explains Jojo, who’s been practising yoga for 15 years.
How does yoga affect your happiness?
There are many studies that support yoga’s mental health benefits. This includes stress relief, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety and more. A study by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre finds that the deep, physiological state of rest induced by practices such as deep-breathing, prayer and meditation, produces immediate positive change in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion. According to the founder of Psychology in Everyday Life and clinical psychologist Dr Deborah Khoshaba, yoga practice changes the firing patterns of the nerves and chemical makeup of the body’s fluids and blood gases that activate a relaxation response. By focusing on a specific posture and holding it as you breathe deeply, Dr Deborah says that the body shifts from a state of tension, to calm and relaxation. This relaxation lowers the brain’s response to threat, and the body starts to turn off arousing nerve chemicals that disrupts the mechanisms, by which nerves transfer messages to organs. This state of biochemical relaxation oxygenates the blood, restores blood acidity and alkalinity balance, and reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and motor activity. “Stress triggers off multiple biochemical reactions in the body including activating a portion of the brain that processes threats, which in turn affects one’s mental capabilities like problem solving, hence reducing your productivity level,” says Jojo. She adds that breathing techniques alone can specifically train the mind to cultivate mindfulness. For instance, modern day scientists have verified that the nasal cycle corresponds with brain function. Neuroscientist Prof Richard Davidson found that people who suffered from depression tended to have brain activity biased towards the right hemisphere. “Since the alternate nostril breathing helps to supply equal measure of oxygen to both hemispheres of the brain, it activates and maximises access to the whole brain. Breathing anchors the mind in the present as it tries to screen out other mental distractions,” says Jojo, adding that some parents who enrolled in her pranayama class, ended up bringing their kids along after experiencing the effects of proper breathing techniques.