No matter where you go, there are two things in life that everybody strives for: health and happiness. And while these seem to be universal goals, they also seem to be universally elusive. Americans, for example, have been getting increasingly anxious and depressed since the Great Depression--and science can’t seem to explain why. In the meantime, more and more people are turning inward, to the detriment of their health; the “millennial generation” is one of the least social groups in history (despite all those social media sites).
Why is this a problem? Because we humans are social animals. Deep down, we need human connection to keep our minds and our souls healthy. Don’t believe me? Studies have shown that people with strong social bonds--be it with their family, friends, or significant other--are 50 percent less likely to die prematurely. These people are less stressed and they have higher functioning immune systems, proving that they are what we all want to be: healthier and happier.
So how can we improve our social relationships in a time when we are more stressed, depressed, and anti-social than ever? The answer just might lie in our time on the yoga mat. As we know, yoga is more than just a way to exercise our bodies. Our practice encourages us to meditate and think mindfully, and these skills can benefit our relationships in more ways than we may know.
Meditation Reduces Stress
Unfortunately, stress is a part of all of our lives, and it’s not going away anytime soon. However, if you aren’t careful, stress can put a strain on your relationship. If you allow yourself to become overwhelmed by stress, you can end up withdrawing from or lashing out at the people you love.
Meditation is a simple way to reduce your stress level, and it is wondrously effective. In fact, as Emma Seppala, Ph.D. and author of The Happiness Track, explains, “[W]e found in research with a population that has a tremendous amount of stress—veterans returning from war— … that by using a simple breathing-based meditation (sudarshan kriya), anxiety and stress reduced tremendously.”
In meditation you strive to focus on your breath--the very basic need that keeps you living in the moment (literally). This small movement, the in and out of your breath, is automatic and often overlooked as we go through our day, but it is incredibly vital to our very existence. Once you realize this, your perspective shifts, and suddenly your stress doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
Yoga Can Improve Your Sleep
Do you remember throwing a tantrum when you were little? I’m willing to bet that by the time you’d utters a few mournful cries, someone in your family said, “Looks like somebody’s tired.” They were right, of course; after a nice nap, you’d reemerge happy as a clam.
It turns out that the relationship between our mood and our sleep cycle hasn’t changed much. If we are tired, we aren’t in a good mood. A poor quality of sleep manifests in ways that are toxic to a relationship--a short fuse, a lack of empathy, and a general disinterest in the people around you.
The best way to avoid a going through life as an exhausted grouch is to get some sleep. According to Psychology Today, a daily yoga practice can improve your quality of sleep, even for insomniacs, in as little as a few weeks. As you get more sleep--and more restful sleep at that--you will find that your mood improves significantly, as does your relationships.
Meditation Can Help Manage Your Emotions
As we’ve already mentioned, meditation focuses on the immediate action of your own breath. This practice asks you to live “in the now,” letting go of what has happened or what will happen in your day. I know - it’s easier said than done. But with time you can master this ability, and your relationships will thank you for it.
Imagine coming home after an awful day at work. What will you do now? Decompress in front of the television, shutting out everyone in your household until your anger ebbs? Lash out at the ones you love, simply because they’re near you at the moment? Neither of these options are healthy, nor will they help you build a strong connection with the people in your life.
However, if you practice mindful meditation, you just might learn how to let that bad day stay in the past. You’ll remember that it’s over now, and that in this moment you are in the comfort of your home with the people who mean the most to you. With this perspective in mind--thanks to your diligent meditation practice--you’ll be able to release your bad feelings and enjoy the company of those you love.
Yoga and Meditation Connect Your Body and Mind
So far, you might be thinking that these two exercises are compartmentalized. Yoga benefits your body. Meditation benefits your mind. On their own, this is essentially true. But here’s a little secret: you can do them both together.
Your yoga practice should marry your mindful breathing and meditation with poses and stretches that exercise your body. As these two practices merge, you will become more aware of your body and your emotions. This is a beautiful thing! It makes you a more empathetic, emotionally healthy human being--someone deserving of the beautiful relationships already blossoming in his or her life.