When you delve into the science of Yoga and serotonin, you realise it’s possible to feel fantastic whenever you want.
Imagine being able to handle all stressful situations feeling comfortable and relaxed in your response.
Understanding Yoga and its effect on serotonin can help you to deepen your Yoga practice and manage mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It could also give you an insight into any emotional or physical ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Here in the West, doctors tend to prescribe antidepressants. These medications boost serotonin levels to relieve depression, however they can come with unwanted side effects.
The good news is that it is possible to boost serotonin levels without drugs. That blissful and calm state you experience after Yoga practice boils down to cellular changes in the body which occur when you enter a state of deep relaxation.
Here we explore how the ‘Yoga high’ calms the sympathetic nervous system (our stress response) and awakens the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system instead, so you can cope well with what life throws at you.
Read on to learn how Yoga and serotonin help you to remain calm through times of stress.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a ‘happy hormone.’
It stabilises your mood, makes your mind sharper, and helps you remain calm in times of stress. You might be surprised to learn that serotonin is also a ‘multi molecule,’ it’s responsible for bowel movements, sleep, temperature control, nausea, and vomiting.
Nearly all animals have serotonin, even insects, jellyfish, and nematodes!
Serotonin works in two ways. In one way it works as a neurotransmitter by communicating via the central nervous system. And another way as a hormone through body tissues.
It was previously believed that serotonin is concentrated in the Raphe nuclei situated in the brain stem (central nervous system). But, more recent research reveals that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut (peripheral nervous system).
How Is Serotonin Produced?
The body makes serotonin from tryptophan in the digestional tract, blood plasma, and central nervous system. It then stores in the nerve terminals. Stimulation of these terminals causes serotonin to release through the body via serotonin receptors.
Serotonin stimulation occurs with massage, deep breathing, stretching, eating certain foods, vitamin D from the sun, exercise, laughing, and anything that relaxes you.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that does not naturally occur in the body. We can only get tryptophan from food like milk, meat, cheese, bananas, oats, and dark leafy greens such as spinach. However, research shows that the gut produces tryptophan.
What Effects Does Serotonin Have In Our Bodies?
When it releases through the body, serotonin works in several ways to keep our minds and bodies healthy.
Stabilises Your Mood
As serotonin disperses through the spinal cord and synapses, it activates neurons that produce feelings of wellbeing.
So when you’re laughing with your friends or singing your heart out in the shower, remember to thank the serotonin for making you feel good!
Healthy serotonin levels also help maintain a calm state of mind and balance when life throws stressful situations at you.
Serotonin stimulates your intestines to move food through your stomach. It also tells your brain if you overeat. A study from 2005 also found a link between IBS and abnormal levels of serotonin.
Nausea and Vomiting
Serotonin receptors tell your brain if something isn’t right in your stomach. If you vomit or feel sick, that’s because your gut is telling your brain that something is amiss in your intestines.
Equally, if something repulses you so much that you vomit, that’s your brain communicating with your stomach. Amazing!
Blood platelets are responsible for clotting the blood, and they contain serotonin. When a blood vessel gets damaged, serotonin tells it to constrict so that the platelets can plug the gap and prevent blood from escaping.
Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, which is needed for a night of great sleep, although serotonin also keeps you awake.
What Effects Do Yoga and Meditation Have On Our Serotonin?
Practicing Yoga and meditation induces a positive mood, which stimulates serotonin production. So, if you ever experience emotional distress, anxiety, or depression, Yoga can relieve it. You’ll feel the benefits immediately.
Mood influences serotonin production, and serotonin influences mood. This mutual influence helps you to become more accepting, less reactive, and able to manage difficult or stressful life events with equanimity.
Yoga is a combination of asanas, breathing, and meditation. Each component plays its role in stimulating serotonin production.
When you release a Yoga pose you’ve held for a while, blood pumps chemicals, nutrients, and neurotransmitters to ‘flow’ through the body.
Resultantly, you could experience a high similar to a runner’s high. This euphoric state is a result of serotonin release and other chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.
Slow, measured, deep breathing causes the whole body to enter a relaxed state. This calm state stimulates activity between serotonin and serotonin receptors.
Pranayama is a breathing technique that aims to achieve a state of bliss by causing our prana (our subtle energy) to flow freely through our energetic bodies. This technique is a magic bullet for boosting serotonin.
Most breathing techniques produce the same effect. You may breathe in time to poses during a high-intensity Hot Yoga class. Or, you may breathe softly during a Yoga Nidra meditation. Either way, controlled breathing stimulates serotonin and produces feelings of happiness.
If you’re not convinced, there is evidence that serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels rise after a meditation session. A 2015 review of Yoga research, shows that serotonin levels do increase during and after meditation.
During an intense Hot Yoga session, your muscles draw vital amino acids from the blood for power. Tryptophan has a better chance to cross the blood-brain barrier because it is not competing with other amino acids. Serotonin then floods through the body.
When you’ve finished your Hot Yoga session, sweat-drenched and euphoric, that’s the serotonin and other feel-good chemicals kicking in.
Try It For Yourself
Do you have to be an expert to do Yoga? Certainly not! Yoga is all about going at your own pace.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, you’ll still experience the deep relaxation that releases serotonin.
Yoga is your secret weapon. You can do it anywhere (almost) and any time (almost). It has no side effects and works instantaneously.
So now that you understand about Yoga and serotonin, why not get on the mat and try it out for yourself? You can try our online classes. Or, if you’re in Bristol why not book into a Hot Yoga class? You’ll get to experience Yoga in a heated room and meet some friendly folk, also a great serotonin booster!