By Kimaya Singh
Is Yoga for depression a myth? Anyone who has been caught in the pit of depression knows that it can be a challenge to climb out of. Finding professional counseling is the best course of action. Along with counseling, there are adjunct options to help a person cope. Yoga has many known health benefits and now you can add reduces depression to the list. Here are five ways that yoga helps boost depressive moods and contribute to mental wellness.
Tame the Stress Lion
Yoga has long been extolled as the ultimate stress relief exercise for its focus on meditation and breath control. Off the mat these two practices are commonplace tools for reducing stress when it arises. During class students focus more on their bodies and can forget any negative mental chatter that they may have.
How Yoga Reduces Stress and Anxiety Physically
There is no doubt that most people walk out of a yoga class feeling better than when they walked in despite how challenging they found some asanas. Stretching muscles and the calm focused breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in return loosens muscle tension and lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
How Yoga Practice Busts Stress Mentally
Hormonal and chemical imbalances are the technical causes of depression. Moving through a sequence of asanas helps to turn the tables by activating the release of adrenaline, cortisol and dopamine, which are the feel-good hormones. These hormones help the mind feel better and relax rather than feeling stressed and on edge.
Yoga Cultivates Body Awareness
Depression and anxiety attacks share a distinct link. A regular yoga practice helps practitioners to become more aware of their bodies and what they are feeling in a given moment. Over time people began to recognize the signs of an oncoming panic attack or depressive mood and can take preventative action before experiencing a moody crash.
Some Uplifting Asanas to Try
Having an asana to help bust stress can be a powerful tool. Here are some suggestions of poses that work well in calming depression.
- Forward Bend – A good way to calm mental chatter.
- Legs-up-the-wall – This is a good pose for general relaxation as well.
- Corpse pose – A fitting pose to eliminate stress and just be present.
While studies have shown that yoga is effective as a way to manage depression, anxiety and stress it should not be used as an alternative to necessary medical treatment. Yoga makes an excellent supplemental addition to medical treatment and regular counseling when dealing with depression and anxiety.
Yoga As an Adjunct Therapy for Depression
There have been numerous scientific studies related to yoga’s physical and mental health benefits. Yoga has proven to be an effective complement to drug and cognitive behavioral therapies used to treat depression. This is no surprise when one considers the totality of yoga, which includes a physical practice, an emotional and spiritual practice, and an element of community.
The physical practice has been researched the most to ascertain its therapeutic value. Arm balances, inversions, and back bends provide the most benefit against depression. These intense postures increase endorphins, which are mood boosters. Arm balances flip the practitioner’s point of view and involve concentration. Inversions and back bends require that a person trust himself or herself. If someone is competent on the mat, this can translate to confidence off the mat. Renewed confidence can help to lift the weight of depression from sufferers. Restorative yoga can also address physical pain and exhaustion that occurs as a result of depression.
Asanas (postures) are one manifestation of yoga, but there are eight limbs to the practice. Dhyana (meditation) and pranayama (controlling breath and energy) can have tremendous health benefits for a person battling depression. Deep and slow breathing required in meditation and the breath control of pranayama can do volumes for anxiety, which has a high comorbidity rate with depression. Meditation can improve a patient’s quality of sleep, which decreases depression symptoms and enables other therapies to be more beneficial. Research has shown that daily mindfulness meditation can increase the effectiveness of drug therapies and cognitive behavioral therapies on depression.
One of the most devastating effects of depression is isolation. Yoga can be practiced in solitude, but becoming part of a yoga community is desirable when combating depression. There is greater energy in the practice when one is practicing in a large group. Even if the practitioners do not converse during class, they are all united in presence. Inevitably people get to know each other, which provides an indispensable network of support and feelings of belonging for the patient.
A UCLA study found that subjects treated with anti-depressants experienced greater benefits from their medication when they also engaged in regular yoga training. While this study tracked the benefits of practicing the asanas, there is even greater potential for yoga as a complementary therapy when one considers it in its entirety.
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