Scientific studies show that yoga can help fight depression.
How? It influences the production of stress hormones in the body and decreases the levels of cortisol.
There’s a lot of scientific evidence that shows that yoga helps combat other issues linked to depression as well, such as anxiety, physical pain, and addiction.
There’s a lot to know about the connection between yoga and your health. Here’s how you can use yoga for depression and to increase your overall well-being.
What’s the Link Between Yoga and Depression?
There’s a strong link between yoga and depression. As one devoted yoga practitioner put it, the physical strength that yoga offers people runs parallel to the mental strength it helps one build.
But how does it change the chemicals in your brain that can lead to imbalances causing depression?
One study tried to test the effects of yoga on depression by using Iyengar yoga, a type of yoga that focuses on alignment, precision, and safety.
After 12 weeks of practicing this kind of yoga, brain imaging scans showed that the patients’ brains showed patterns of improvement in the areas where they typically see the effects of depression.
The patients themselves also noted that their mood improved and that related symptoms of anxiety went down as well.
What the scientific side of the study showed, however, is that specific postures and breathing exercises that you perform when practicing yoga work to increase GABA.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in your brain. Scientists believe that these nerve cells are part of what causes chemical imbalances in people who experience depression.
After seeing the results of the study, they also believed that people can help fight off depression by effectively using yoga to combat the blockage of these nerve cells.
How to Most Effectively Use Yoga for Depression
Make sure that you’re focusing on each of the three main pillars of yoga when you’re practicing.
This means that you’ll want to make sure that you’re engaging in or activating:
- Physical poses (or the asanas)
- Controlled breathing
- Meditation and mindfulness
It is the combination of all three of these things that make yoga effective in combating anxiety and depression.
The physical poses are important as they allow your blood to flow, which oxygenates your blood and your body’s internal systems.
Improving your circulation will help your body feel looser, but it also releases endorphins that help improve your mood. By combining this kind of physical movement with deep breathing, you are able to stimulate your heart and lungs.
One study conducted at Harvard states that this decreases physiological arousal. So you’re able to reduce your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and increase your heart rate variability.
All of this stems from putting your body into the right positions and breathing through those positions.
Deep breathing in yoga focuses on breathing deep down into your belly, which naturally helps calm the mind and facilitate mindfulness practices. This completely encompasses all of the three main aspects of yoga.
Focus on all three of them at once, or little by little, to effectively use yoga for mental health.
Engage in a lot of backbends that force you to open up your chest and rib cage, as experts believe that this helps to open up your heart to healing.
Passive backbends are best for this kind of goal, as they make you feel empowered and resilient.
What makes these backbends passive is you’re not really putting yourself into a pose as much as you are lying down in a way that stretches your back and expanding your spinal muscles.
How About Yoga for Anxiety?
Yes, yoga for anxiety works well! However, if you’re using it to improve an anxiety disorder, you’ll want to first pinpoint the actual symptoms you feel during an anxiety attack.
For most people this includes an elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, and increased body temperature. In this case, it’s important to focus on finding the right style of yoga.
Yoga experts note that if you’re using yoga for anxiety and depression, then you’ll want to focus on strong physical types of yoga to target anxiety specifically.
A strong physical practice is best as it causes you to focus on your body’s positioning and deep breathing, which inevitably force you out of your own head and into the present moment.
When it comes to specific poses, try an inversion, such as a handstand. This is a powerful pose for people who get caught up in their own thoughts.
When you’re inverted, you can’t think about anything else, which means it’s a great way to calm your mind before or during an anxiety attack.
If your anxiety manifests itself in more of a mental way rather than physical, then you can perhaps try kundalini yoga. This is one of the most spiritual forms of yoga and focuses a lot on meditation, breathing, and chanting.
Effectively learning how to control your breathing can help you work through anxiety attacks as well as help you learn how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Making Yoga a Part of Everyday Life
In order for you to truly and effectively use yoga for depression, it’s important to slowly integrate it into your daily life.
When you begin to view yoga as part of your daily routine, just the same as brushing your teeth or showering, you’ll be able to relax into the practice and really reap the mental and physical benefits of it all.
Focus on starting out slowly and allowing yourself to become comfortable with different positions, poses, breathing techniques, and even chants.
Over time, you’ll be able to find your way to what works best for you in terms of your own mental health and well-being.
Ready to start your yoga journey? Contact us today to speak with one of our yoga experts or swing by our studio to join us for a class.