There are four main brain chemicals that regulate those feel-good feelings in our brains: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.
Dopamine: The Reward Chemical
You feel it when you master a really hard transition on the reformer, or when receive a high five for a job well done, or even just in anticipation of something exciting. That rush of pleasure or satisfaction- that's dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in your brain's reward system and your feelings of motivation. When our brains feel it, they want more of it, and it makes us motivated to do the things that gave us the rush in the first place. Getting dopamine naturally, like through Pilates, initiates a positive feedback loop to keep doing more, which keeps us healthier in the long run. Dopamine does more than just make us feel good, it helps with getting good sleep, assists us with learning and concentration, and even helps with memory.
Ways to Boost your Dopamine:
-Enjoy pleasurable activities- listen to music you love, meditate, hang out with people who bring you joy
-Exercise- Pilates is a great way to get that dopamine boost, but if you can't get to a class today, try taking a walk outside; preferably while it's sunny for added benefit
-Work toward your goals- I've had the honor of watching so many Pilates students excel in their practice, and while everyone has down days, overall they experience the reward of a strong sense of accomplishment
-Eat a healthy diet: foods rich in l-tyrosine can also help boost dopamine levels. These include almonds, bananas, eggs, avocados, tofu, chicken, and beef
Serotonin: The Mood Stabilizer
Serotonin plays an important role in our mood, sleep-wake cycles, appetite, digestion, and sexual desire. Low levels can leave us feeling flat, while consistent and optimal levels leave us feeling focused, emotionally stable, and calm.
Ways to Boost Serotonin:
-Get Active- (Are you seeing a pattern here!?) Exercise is one of the best things you can do to release serotonin
-Get Outside- Some studies suggest that sunlight can trigger the release of serotonin
-Meditate- Meditation or other relaxation activities to you quiet your mind can boost serotonin
Oxytocin: the love chemical
When you hug or kiss someone and you get that warm feeling of bonding and closeness, that's oxytocin. Oxytocin influences our feelings of love, connection, trust, and loyalty
How to Boost Your Oxytocin
-Stay socially connected: Spend time with people who fill you with joy (as oppose to drain you). Connecting with your instructor in private lessons or the camaraderie experienced in group classes are great ways to connect socially.
-Enjoy physical touch- if you're partnered up, find opportunities to hug, holds hands, and be with each other intimately. If you're not partnered up, get a massage. Research suggests massages can both boost oxytocin and also lower your stress hormones leaving you calmer and happier.
Endorphins: the runner's high
Endorphins are the body's natural pain relievers, flooding us with good feelings in response to discomfort or stress. Our bodies create them when we do things that exert ourselves, or in response to activities that feel good like enjoying delicious food or having sex.
How to Boost Your Endorphins:
-Get Sweaty (Definitely a pattern here!) Exercise is a sure fire way to release endorphins.
-Laugh- there's a reason they say laughter is the best medicine. Watch a comedy, listen to a funny podcast, or come take a group class with friends. Laughter helps release endorphins for that high feeling
-Indulge a little- enjoy the things that bring you bliss- your true guilty pleasures. Whether that's watching your favorite reality TV show or getting an extended massage, indulging in your favorite activities release endorphins for that feel-good feeling.