We’ve all heard of the runner’s high. Runners swear by that amazing feeling that they get after finishing a sweaty and detoxifying jog. With physical and mental benefits, the practice of running releases endorphins and can help you feel stronger, clearer, and happier. But how about yoga? Can the same be said after stepping off of your yoga mat after a challenging vinyasa practice?
So does yoga release endorphins? The answer is – yes! Some styles may produce more endorphins than others. Dynamic and athletic practices such as Vinyasa or Power yoga can deliver a quick, surge of endorphins with a lasting effect. In addition, any style of yoga that is regularly practiced will lead to a positive change in your brain chemistry.
In general, most types of exercise will boost your mood and improve your energy through the release of endorphins. Regular exercise can:
- Strengthen your heart, bones, and muscles
- Lower your blood pressure
- Increase your metabolism, energy, and confidence
- Reduce body fat
- Lowers risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease
- Improve your focus and memory
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and symptoms of PMS
- Improve your brain function and overall mood
What Exactly are Endorphins?
Endorphins are chemicals naturally made in our bodies known as neurotransmitters. They transfer electrical signals throughout your body. Endorphins are mostly known to transmit information that helps us feel less stress and pain. Instead, we are able to feel more happiness and pleasure. Endorphins are also known as the ‘feel-good chemicals’ and are thought to be responsible for what is known as the runner’s high.
Endorphins react with opioid receptors that are already located in our bodies. This explains why you feel that great little buzz after a heavy workout, good sex, or a particularly tasty meal. There are numerous other activities that produce endorphins, but the effect may be felt more after a great workout or yoga practice.
The regular production of endorphins holds many benefits in the body. Endorphins can:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Boost your overall health
- Increase happiness
- Improve your self-confidence
- Help you experience feel less pain
- Increase feelings of pleasure
How Does Exercise Improve Mood?
In addition to producing endorphins, yoga and exercise in general also produce another chemical known as GABA. The combination of endorphins and GABA leads to a lasting, calming effect well after your workout or yoga class has finished. These chemicals can work to control stress and anxiety in a similar way to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.
While yoga and exercise may help to alleviate symptoms, always speak with your general practitioner regarding any mental health issues that you may be facing. A regular yoga practice or endorphin-inducing exercise can be a great addition to your self-care routine.
4 Yoga Poses to Release Endorphins
A well-rounded practice will increase your endorphins and help you feel more energized and alive. However, if you don’t have the time to dedicate to an entire practice, there are a few poses that you can practice during a quick break. Practice these poses if you need a quick pick-me-up or a break from your desk.
Downward Facing Dog
This juicy pose stretches and opens up the entire body. Bend your knees as much as you like in order to feel the stretch in your spine. Downward dog is a gentle inversion and can also help you to calm your body and your breath.
- Stand at the back of your mat with your feet hips-width distance apart and your toes pointing forward to the top of your mat.
- Bend your knees and fold forward.
- Walk your hands up to the top of your mat until your body is in an inverted “V” shape.
- Spread your fingers wide on the mat and check that your hands are shoulder-width distance apart.
- Push the mat away from you to lengthen your spine and lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling.
- Bend your knees if you need to so that you can feel more length in your spine.
- If it feels comfortable for you, start to root your heels down to the mat and straighten your legs.
- Relax your head and gaze in between your feet.
- Stay for 10 deep breaths.
Stuck at your desk all day? Ragdoll can not only increase your energy, but it can also release tension in your lower back and shoulders.
- Stand with your feet hips-width distance or wider.
- Bend your knees, draw your belly in, and gently fold forward until your fingertips graze the mat.
- Allow your stomach to touch your thighs and your chest to come close to your knees.
- Relax your head completely.
- Grab opposite had to opposite elbow and allow your upper body to be heavy.
- You can find stillness here, or sway from side to side releasing any tension in your neck or shoulders.
- Stay for 10 breaths.
- To come up safely, keep your knees bent and your core engaged as you gently roll your body up.
There is nothing like an arm balance to make you feel strong and centered. If you are working on lifting your feet off the mat, feel free to practice this pose with your toes on the ground.
- Begin at the center of your mat with your big toes touching.
- Bend your knees so that you land in a squat with your hands touching the mat.
- Take your in front of you, Plant your palms flat on the mat about shoulder-width distance.
- Spread your fingers wide and come up on your tiptoes.
- Place your knees to the back of your arms, almost into your armpits.
- Shift your weight forward to your hands and lift your hips up toward the ceiling.
- Lift one foot off the mat to start and eventually, take both feet off the mat and bring your big toes to touch.
- Push the mat away from you, lift your hips up, engage your core, and shift your gaze forward.
- Stay for 3-5 breaths.
Standing poses help you feel grounded and energized in your mind and your body. Focus on keeping your back leg straight and strong in your Crescent Lunge.
- Stand at the top of your mat with your toes pointing forward. Place your hands on your hips for balance and support.
- Bend your knee and step your right foot to the back of the mat.
- Lift your right heel off the mat and stay on the ball of your foot.
- Bend your left knee so that your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Square your hips to the front of the room by taking your right hip slightly forward.
- Draw your belly in and stack your shoulders on top of your hips.
- Lift your arms up. Point your fingertips up to the sky and face your palms toward each other.
- Relax your shoulders, gaze forward, keep your back leg strong, and hug everything toward the midline of your body.
- Stay for 5 deep breaths.
- Step your back foot forward and repeat on the opposite side.
6 Ways to Boost Endorphins
In addition to movement, yoga, and exercise, there are many other ways that you can boost endorphins in your body. Try the following for an endorphin-boost:
- Learn to a new activity: Any new activity that pushes you to your edge or gives you a surge of adrenaline can give you a euphoric feeling and sense of accomplishment. Try surfing, rock climbing, or hiking!
- Have a glass of wine: Both red and white wine have been shown to boost endorphins. Enjoy in small, moderate amounts and make sure that you are of legal drinking age in your country.
- Eat a good meal: Cooking a tasty meal or eating out at your favorite restaurant can boost endorphins. Certain foods are linked to stimulating the production of more endorphins. Try strawberries, dark chocolate, oranges, nuts and seeds, grapes, or hot peppers
- Meditate: Many people who meditate report feeling calmer during the days they meditate versus days when they don’t meditate. Try a regular meditation practice to not only make you happier, but also ground and calm your physical and mental body.
- Laugh: Laughing is a great way to release an extra round of endorphins. Turn on a funny movie, attend a comedy show or get together with your best friends for a good time. Or try some laughter yoga for an interesting and unique experience!
- Dance: Dancing is a really fun way to get an extra dose of endorphins and adrenaline. Just like yoga or running, dancing produces endorphins in the same way exercising does. That, combined with great music, is a wonderful way to reconnect to yourself and your body.
Yoga, exercise, and other fun practices are all great ways to help your body produce and release endorphins naturally. If you are prone to a mid-afternoon slump or if you are feeling sluggish, try an endorphin-boosting yoga pose or get up and dance! Or better yet –start a regular yoga practice to keep those endorphins pulsing through your entire body. You may even start to experience a ‘yoga high’!