Embodying Happiness: The Positive Power of Yoga

One of the best things about working at Kripalu is seeing the transformation in people’s faces over the course of their stay. As the Director of RISE Programming, I see this up close with the frontline professionals—educators, social workers, corrections officers, heath-care providers—who come here for the RISE program: five-day immersions in Kripalu core teachings. They are under tremendous pressure in their daily lives—not only due to the relentless schedules and incessant demands of what they do, but also because of how important it is. They are literally shaping the lives of the people they care for: young people starting out in life, teen mothers, incarcerated youth, youth at risk for gang violence, adults with disabilities.

The weight of this care is written on their faces, in their furrowed brows and pursed lips, in their shoulders creeping up toward their ears. By the time they leave five days later, they are smiling. Their eyes are bright. Their posture is open, their movements fluid, their thoughts hopeful, focused on what is possible. Many tell us that they have never felt better, that their time at Kripalu was life changing.

This transformation does not happen by chance. Everything about their visit is designed to empower and encourage people in embodying the most positive self: the state in which we are centered in our ability to clearly see our whole experience, the bad as well as the good; in which we calmly hold the challenges and opportunities, and are able to connect with the gifts we bring in service of what is meaningful.

The ancient yogic texts suggest that the practices that lead to increased mindfulness and a more robust stress resilience naturally give rise to more positive states. Science bears this out. We have long known that chronic, unaddressed stress leads to increased negativity. We now know that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

Yoga research, including many studies supported by Kripalu, is adding to our understanding. We know that yoga, particularly yogic breathing, is a valuable practice for enhancing vagal tone and heart rate variability—both physical indicators linked to positivity. We also know that mindfulness practices, including yoga, lead to the development of grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex, the physical seat of our capacity to focus.

With our research partners from Harvard Medical School, Kripalu has been documenting the five-day programs offered by RISE. Preliminary results, to be presented at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health, show a significant decrease in perceived stress, a significant increase in mindfulness, and, most importantly, a significant increase in positive mood.

On the mat and off the mat, the tools of yoga are making us happier, one body at a time.  

Find out more about RISE.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.

Edi Pasalis, an experienced social impact leader, is the driving force behind RISE, Kripalu’s evidence-based initiative that helps create more people-centered, emotionally intelligent workplaces.

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