The happiness workout
4 physical skills to spruce up your happiness
Happiness does not need to depend on good things happening in your life. It is possible to increase happiness from the inside-out by developing certain physical skills. These skills stimulate your feel-good biochemistry to uplift, support and inspire you, no matter what you are going through.
Internationally published author and somatic (body-mind) psychologist, Noa Belling, shows you how to go about it. Whether you want to enhance your yoga practice, become more mindful, support yourself through emotional challenges, or wish for greater joy in your life, these four skills are for you.
How are you at letting go, relaxing and also falling asleep at night? These can all relate to being grounded in your experience of your body. To help you feel more grounded quickly, perhaps while exercising or simply while going about your day, pay attention to the contact of your feet on the ground, such as whether you stand more on the front, back or sides of your feet and adjust to stand more evenly over both feet. Then allow your posture to rise from the ground upwards and notice the difference in how balanced you feel both physically and emotionally.
Another excellent way to cultivate a sense of grounding is through meditation. It is often our mental chatter that can ‘unground’ us. One way that meditation helps us is by redirecting our attention away from mental chatter and into the present moment. One example is to observe natural breathing for anywhere from 2-20 minutes and when your mind wanders, as it will, simply return to focusing on breathing.
When you feel calmer, clearer and more relaxed it is conducive to healthier serotonin levels. This is the feel-good biochemical of serenity, inner joy and contentment. Being able to relax and clear our minds more effectively by day also helps with falling asleep more easily at night.
#2: Inner strength
How strong, determined and focused do you feel at this time? These are qualities that you can develop from body to mind through muscular strength. There is an association between strength and the bio-chemical testosterone that men and women both have. This may not usually be defined as a feel-good bio-chemical. But without it we might not find the courage and conviction to follow through on our goals or rise above our challenges that can influence our happiness.
To help you feel stronger from the inside out, it is recommended to keep up your favorite exercise programme. Or if you need a quick confidence and determination boost on the spot, or to find inner strength when emotionally down, you can experiment with simply sitting or standing taller and holding your head up high. Hold for a minute or two while breathing slowly and fully into your belly and chest. When you make your body bigger in this way it can trick your brain into believing that you are more confident and strong.
#3: Flow and flexibility
Are you feeling stuck, uninspired or unmotivated in any area of your life? Then you could benefit from the physical skills of fluidity and flexibility. When you reach upwards and outwards physically, such as indulging in your favourite stretches, as well as when you loosen up areas of tension in your body, it can stimulate production of the feel-good biochemical, dopamine. This gives qualities like excitement, enthusiasm and a boost to creative thinking too.
To help you tap into these enlivening feelings you can experiment with bringing more flow into the transitions between movements while exercising, as if it were a dance routine. Or make time to turn on your favorite music and dance as if no one is watching! On the spot, wherever you are, you could also simply loosen up your body by carrying out a quick body scan, bringing some breath, stretching or movement into tight areas. Then resume your posture with a nice deep breath into your body as a whole.
This is key to heartfelt joy and a deeper sense of connection with ourselves, others and our world. It is associated with the feel-good biochemical of oxytocin that gives us easier access to virtues like compassion, empathy, kindness and caring. It is also something we can stimulate whenever we feel we need it.
One quick way to do so is to place a hand over the centre of your chest and take a few breaths as if breathing through your heart area. This can remind you to come from a heartfelt place. You can also make use of visualisation by calling to mind a person or perhaps a pet that brings you joy. Then amplify the feel-good factor by sending love energetically out to them as well as to any others you feel might need it. Also remember to send love back to yourself when you need it. This can be emotionally strengthening while opening your mind and heart in ways that can be supportive.
Which of these physical skills do you feel you need most at this time? Asking your body this question from time to time and experimenting with the physical skill that feels most needed, can be a valuable life skill. In this way you can deliberately enter the creative, empowering flow of your feel-good biochemistry.
Find out more about your ability to feel happier in Noa Belling’s latest book, The Happiness Workout. It’s a book about learning to optimise confidence, creativity and your brain by developing accessible physical skills like the ones touched on in this article. Published by Rockpool Publishing and distributed by Simon and Schuster and Jonathan Ball Publishers.
Images from The Happiness Workout are courtesy of Rockpool Publishing and Monde Photo.