Feeling under the weather or down in the dumps does not indicate depression. Depression exists entirely on another level and causes symptoms of extreme sadness, feelings of hopelessness and endless fatigue. In severe cases, people with clinical depression no longer want to live, thus resulting in suicide. Doctors prescribe drugs, group therapy, and psychotherapy, but depression does not let go of the mind so easily.
Yoga for Depression
Yoga benefits people in a variety of ways, from alleviating stress and tension to calming the mind. The brain works in overtime during depression, always thinking and causing a disconnected state with the body. Yoga quiets the mind, creates inner calm and puts people in touch with their inner selves and purposes in life.
Chris Streeter, an MD and an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine, talked about the benefits of hatha yoga for depression at a meeting with the American Psychiatric Association in 2010. A 12-week study showed an increase in GABA levels in people who participated in hatha yoga for one hour, three times a week. People with depression have decreased levels of GABA, the brain chemical that puts the brakes on anxiety.
How Yoga Helps
Hatha yoga focuses on building physical and mental strength through slow-paced movement and breathing exercises (pranayama). This yogic practice differs from vinyasa, which flows from pose to pose. Due to Hatha Yoga’s nature, it gives a student time to hold a pose and meditation takes place around the end of the class. Depending on the class, teacher and style some sessions involves more meditation, seated poses, and breath awareness exercises. With complete focus on the mind and breath, a student can learn to reduce stress and achieve states of inner calm.
People with anxiety and depression do not always take in deep, meaningful breaths. In fact, most people who are experiencing mental and emotional stress do not breathe correctly at all. Yoga ensures proper breathing through standing, seated, resting, and balancing poses. Concentration on still or moving poses helps give one’s mind the power to tackle one thing at a time, and the focused breathing delivers vital oxygen to the body and the brain.
Yoga, mantra, meditation and other yogic practices improve the symptoms of depression. Vinyasa stimulates the nervous system and helps burn off anxious and nervous energy. Hatha combines both stretching and breathing exercises to calm and strengthen the mind. No matter the yogic activity, it improves a person’s ability to focus, breathe, and relax. Therefore, yoga can help people who are dealing with depression, but there is no room for error here. Those who are at risk should not be self-prescribing and professional counseling with an expert should be sought without delay.
Side Notes for Teachers
Unless you are a psychiatrist or psychologist, you should not be in the position of a consultant. Some new students may arrive due to referrals from professional counselors, but what do you do if one of your established students is suddenly dealing with a state of depression? The logical course of action is to advise anyone who is suffering from depression to seek counseling from a professional first. Yoga is a wonderful adjunct therapy for emotional and mental health, but our field as Yoga teachers is not about counseling patients. No one knows exactly how many lives are saved by proper counseling, but it is a fact that counseling prevents suicide. The last thing any of us wants is to aid anyone who is at risk with excuses, denial or procrastination.
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