The Power of Happiness

As many of you know, I enjoy learning new things. Currently, I am making my way through an online series on inflammation – and very interesting it is too. It turns out that in the modern world we spend a disproportionate amount of time in an inflamed state, and this has been shown to be the cause of a wide range of diseases. The seat of inflammation in the body is the gut and, without going into detail here, improving our gut health improves our immune system; down-regulates inflammation and has been shown to clear up, or significantly improve, a wide range of ailments. It’s worth noting that exercise, like Pilates, has been shown to have a positive impact on gut health.

But one of the most fascinating facts, I think, is that happiness is anti-inflammatory. Our mental state influences inflammation in the body:  stress, anxiety, depression have all been shown to increase levels of inflammation, whilst a positive, happy mindset can actually reduce the amount of inflammation in the body. Again, without getting too technical, happiness and joy have a positive effect on the Vagus nerve – the large nerve which runs from the brain, via the heart and lungs, to the gut. This nerve is the driver of the parasympathetic nervous system: the rest and digest side, as opposed to the fight or flight side.

Happiness and joy are feelings associated with the release of dopamine and serotonin in the body, and it is these that help to bring the positive health benefits of happiness. Serotonin particularly is very important for the body, as this is what converts to melatonin at night. This helps you get into a restful state to sleep, and helps with the body’s antioxidant defences.

Why am I telling you all this? Well exercise, particularly dance exercise and Pilates, are great ways to access those feelings of happiness and getting your daily dose of serotonin. The deep breaths, concentration and control in a Pilates class soothe the nervous system and help to create those feelings of calm and, dare I say it, happiness. Dancing along to a favourite piece of music, or feeling in harmony with your dance partner are also joyful, happy experiences.

I remember one student I used to have for dance lessons. She had a very high stress job, and used to come in with her shoulders up round her ears. By the end of a lesson, she was much calmer and de-stressed.  Her partner used to say she was a nicer person after her dance lesson. It seriously can have that much of an impact on your life, and therefore your health.

A further point worth noting is that one of the keys to happiness is said to be loving, enduring relationships. Dance and exercise classes are great ways to build long lasting relationships with fellow students, which in turn has a positive impact on your overall health and wellbeing. I can’t think of a better reason to join a class!

In the words of the famous song ‘Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy…’

I’ll see you in class soon!