Most people step into a yoga class expecting the typical physical benefits, strengthening the core, toning the upper and lower body, etc. Although the physical asanas are an important part of the practice, many do not realize how yoga utilizes the effects the mind. For some, yoga is a great way to gain flexibility and strength, but there is no denying the mental aspect of as well. This mind body connection has caught many people’s attention, including those researching treatments for clinical depression.
What is depression? Clinical depression is a lot more then feeling sad every now and then. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent sadness, anxiety, or even feelings of numbness. It is the most common mental health disorder in the United States effecting nearly 16 million adults. Depression can affect the way people feel, think, eat, sleep, or even move. There are many treatments that can be used to help treat depression including medication and counseling. Yoga can help serve as a complimentary practice in helping to reduce depression symptoms.
So how can yoga help ease depression symptoms? Here are a few tips...
1. Deep Breathing The deep breathing exercises done in yoga have shown to quiet the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the “flight or fight” part of our nervous system. It becomes active during times of stress or danger. However, for those suffering from anxiety related to depression this portion of the nervous system is more active. The parasympathetic nervous system is often called the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. Deep breathing has been shown to slow down the heart rate, and activate this section of the nervous system allowing the body and mind to rest.
2. Physical Postures (Asanas) Most know that exercise is good for us physically, but it is also good for us mentally too. According to the Mayo Clinic regular exercise releases endorphins, a chemical released by the brain that increases your sense of well-being.
3. A Friendly and Welcoming Environment Yoga is a practice, not a performance, so there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do yoga. It is important to practice with healthy body mechanics to avoid injury, but other than that yoga is not about being perfect. This kind of individualized and open minded environment can help encourage people to let go of expectations that they or others might put on them, and to look more inward.
Of course, when treating symptoms of depression, its advisable to seek other forms of emotional and physical support. But there are so many body-centered Yoga practices that can help. Be sure to find a teacher and a studio that feels right to you, one that acknowledges the challenges you are facing, but helps you move forward in the direction you desire.